JAVA: The Prophecy

  • Share
  • Read Later

In the book of Djayabhaya, the Hindu king who ruled a vast Javanese empire eight centuries ago, it was written that a white man would come one day to Indonesia. He would stay to rule the islands many years. Then, for the three-year "life of a hen," a yellow man would reign. And after those three years, the people would govern themselves.

Last week the deposed white man was back in The Netherlands East Indies, but in paltry force. The yellow man's rule was broken, but he had not gone. Both of them had lost face. From the mute mass of the people rose fierce men who sought bloody fulfillment of Djayabhaya's prophecy. For the moment of deadlocked struggle, nobody ruled Indonesia.

The stakes were high. Besides the simple question of sovereignty—and the complex question of one people's right or duty to possess another—the riches of the Indies were involved. They lay in a galaxy of 3,000 lush islands, sitting astride the equator and peopled by a polyphyletic mass of 72 million souls.

Whose Empire? The Dutch got to Indonesia in 1595. Their empire-building East India Company soon started an acquisitive process that whittled away at the native princes' domains for a century and a half. From then on, except for a brief British occupation (1811-16), the Indies were Netherlands property until World War II.

The practical Hollanders exploited the archipelago as one vast plantation, funneling its pepper, coffee, rubber, tin, oil and cinchona bark into world trade instead of their own, less voracious home market. They neither westernized nor Christianized the old (mainly Mohammedan) cultures. They did not get around to abolishing slavery until just before the U.S. did, gave the Indonesians no voice in government until this century.

But as colonial powers went, the Dutch were enlightened. Having sired Eurasians, they accepted them into social and political life at both ends of their 9,900-mile Amsterdam-Batavia axis. During the last 125 years, Java's native population has ballooned from four million to 44 million. The island is the globe's most densely populated land mass.

Cheep to Bellow. Nationalism reared its meek head in Java a generation ago. A chick of the first Dutch efforts at native education, its first cheeps in 1908 were a safe & sane Boedi Oetomo (High Endeavor) society, founded by some aristocratic Javanese medical students. A bevy of more determined groups followed it. Within a decade such nationalists as the smooth-faced, smooth-talking Soekarno, a Bandung Technical University engineering graduate, and Mohammed Hatta, who went to Amsterdam University, were getting bold ideas. They had heard of things like Communism, self-determination, revolution. In the '20s their exuberance landed both briefly in jail. Soekarno, who uses no other name, was a founder of the lusty P.N.I, (for Partai Nasional Indonesia), which the Dutch in 1929 slapped down. Even so—except for his later career—he might have become Indonesia's George Washington.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2