Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Dutch Life in Town and Country by P. M. Hough

Part 4 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

inhabitants being light brown or copper-coloured. In religion, most of the
Malays are Mohammedans, but the people of Bally and Lombok are still
Brahmins, while the Dyaks and Battaks are of very primitive faiths. From
remote times until 1478 Brahminism and Buddhism were the principal
religions, but in that year the faith of Islam began to supersede them.
The ancient religions were responsible for a degree of civilization never
arrived at by the Mohammedans, traces of which are seen in the numerous
ruins of cities and temples that must have been of great beauty and
grandeur which are found in Java, and also in the Javanese literature,
which is written in its own peculiar characters, and the 'wayangs,' or
shadow-plays, which are performed on every festive occasion, and all of
which refer to a history of conquest and wars waged in the times of

Here the problem which confronts the Dutch authorities is the old one of
uniting under one Government populations differing in blood and religion,
a problem which always presents great difficulties and even a certain
amount of danger. The system adopted resembles, to some extent, that
applied to certain native States in British India, and the islands are
governed by native kings and princes, under the paternal supervision of
the Netherlands India Government, which consists of a Governor-General, or
Viceroy, and a Council of four Councillors of State, of which the Viceroy
is President. Under these there are three Governors and thirty-four
Residents, all Europeans, with several Assistant-Residents and
'Controleurs,' each of whom has a district assigned to him, in which he
has to maintain order and see that the land is kept in proper cultivation.
The Indian princes are made Government officials by the fact of being
paid by the Dutch Government, and bear the official titles of Regent,
'Demang,' etc., but they also keep their own grander-sounding titles, such
as 'Raden Adipatti,' and so on, of which they are naturally very proud. It
is the duty of a Resident to advise the Regent of his district and at the
same time to keep a watch on him and see that he does not oppress his
subjects. If a Regent is proved to be guilty of oppression, or in case of
sedition or the fostering of rebellion, he is deposed by the Government,
and a better man is appointed in his place, if possible one of his own
relatives, so that the lower classes may be protected and the authority of
the native nobility be upheld at the same time. In some 'up-country'
districts, in Borneo and Celebes, however, the native rulers are
practically independent, and the Dutch Government is not at present
inclined to assert its authority by force of arms; while in the north-west
of Sumatra, though the Atchinese pirates have at last been suppressed, the
war party is not yet extinct.

Throughout these dependencies the aim of the Government is to rule the
inhabitants through men of their own race, not to substitute
foreigners for natives; and if fault can be found with this policy it
is that too little restraint is put upon the intermixture of the white
and coloured races.

The splendid fertility of the soil and the great quantity of land yet
uncultivated naturally led the Dutch to seek some means by which the
natural advantages of their islands might be put to better use, and to
this end they set to work to overcome the indolent habits of the natives,
who were not inclined to do more than they considered necessary for their
own subsistence, and to induce them to devote more of their time and
energies to agriculture. In return for good roads and bridges and the
protection afforded by the Government, the natives were induced to give a
certain amount of their time to the cultivation of coffee, sugar, indigo,
and other crops. In this way they were taxed not in coin but in labour;
and this system, known as the 'Culture System,' has produced very good
results, especially in Java and Madura. Gradually, however, under the
influence of the younger members of the governing nation, the cultivation
of sugar and partly that of coffee also was dropped by the Government, and
left to private enterprise, but, supervision by the Government being
thereby abandoned, cases occurred of abuse of power by the
_concessionnaires_; and though much has been done to prevent such abuse,
it must be admitted that the condition of native workmen is not so good in
the private concessions as it was under the direct authority of the

Meanwhile, the outlook is promising; the development of the natural
resources of the islands goes steadily on, though the rate of progress may
not be particularly rapid, and the inhabitants are generally peaceful and
well-behaved, while their number increases at a rate which seems to
indicate continued and growing prosperity. The schools, too, are doing
good work, and more and more of the natives are learning the language of
their rulers. When a Malay has learned enough Dutch to express himself
fairly clearly in that language, he is very proud of the accomplishment,
and seldom misses an opportunity of displaying his knowledge.

One of the greatest drawbacks to the moral advance of the native is the
bad example set by Europeans, on which it will be needful to say more
later. Things are not nearly so bad in this respect as they formerly were,
but still the unprincipled life which many of the white men are leading
gives rise to doubt in the native mind as to the blessings of Western

That the native races are generally well-disposed towards the Dutch is
borne out by the number that take service under the Government as police
and as soldiers. Every two or three miles along the Government roads in
Java one may meet a 'Gardoe,' or patrol of the country police, consisting
of three bare-footed Javanese constables, in uniform of a semi-European
cut and armed with kreeses.

As we have already seen, the Army which the Dutch maintain in their East
Indian colonies is quite distinct from the Home Army of Holland. On their
arrival the men are quartered in barracks, and the officers and married
non-commissioned officers find houses at a moderate rent close by. The
barracks consist not of single buildings but of many separate ones, so
that the different races among the native troops may be kept distinct.
Malays, Javanese, Madurese, Amboinese, Bugis, Macassarese, and the rest
must all have separate buildings to themselves. Formerly there were
Ashantees too, but the recruiting of these was stopped when the colony of
St. George del Mina, on the Gold Coast, was transferred to England on the
surrender of British claims in the north of Sumatra; very good soldiers
they were, but cruel in war, giving no quarter, and very difficult to
restrain in the heat of action. The native troops are officered by
Europeans, but the sergeants and corporals are always of the same race as
the men under them.

Great care is taken to safeguard the health of the troops, not only in the
arrangement of barracks and in the selection of positions for garrisons,
which are chosen as much on hygienic as on strategic grounds, but also by
the establishment of military hospitals. In most large towns, and in
smaller places on the coast where forts have been built, there are
military hospitals, and to these any European, whether soldier or
civilian, who falls ill is immediately taken; in fact, no others exist,
except some sanatoria recently founded in the hills. A naval officer who
often visited these hospitals, as well as hospital ships in war time,
describes them as 'models of neatness, cleanliness, order, and
usefulness.' 'Life in such a hospital,' he declares, 'is a luxury, not to
be compared with anything of the kind in neighbouring colonies.'

For many years a considerable force has been constantly employed in
Atchin, and a number of ships of war have been cruising along the coast to
assist in the suppression of piracy.

The Colonial Fleet is made up of some warships built in Holland and others
built in India, expressly for the Indian service, including a number of
small coasting-steamers and sailing-vessels, and a steamer or two
specially detailed for hydrographical work. The necessity for these last
arises from the shoals and coral-reefs which abound in the Java and Flores
Seas, in the Straits of Macassar, and among the Moluccos, and from the
fact that the creeks and river-mouths are very shallow, and full of
convenient hiding-places for pirate proas; it is most important,
therefore, that both men-of-war and merchantmen should be kept supplied
with good charts.

Piracy is an evil which the Colonial Fleet is specially designed to check,
and it used to be very bad at one time before the Ballinese War of 1845.
In the year before this, a Dutch merchantman, the _Overyssel_, stranded on
the coast of Bally, and the crew were massacred, and ship and cargo looted
by the Ballinese. This led to three expeditions; one in 1845, another,
which was undertaken with an insufficient force and ended in disaster to
the Dutch, in 1847, and the third and final one, successfully carried out
by an army of 10,000 men and six warships, together with 6000 auxiliary
troops from the island of Lombok. But while piracy was thus put down to
the east of Java, the Atchinese pirates grew bolder than ever in the west,
and complaints from Malay traders who were Netherlands subjects became
more and more frequent. Numerous punitive expeditions were sent against
the piratical Rajas in the north-west of Sumatra, but in most cases the
real culprits escaped. At last, about 1873, the Government resolved to put
an end to this state of things, and a force under General van Swieten
seized the Kraton, or chief fortress. General van der Heyden took over the
command in 1877, and soon captured and fortified Kota Raja, and two years
later, though his troops suffered heavily from the climate, he had the
whole country of Atchin subdued. The Home Government, however, misled by
the apparent submission of the enemy, did away with military rule before
they had made certain that no treachery was meditated, and on the arrival
of a civil Governor all the advantages which had been won were again lost,
and at last a state of war had to be proclaimed once more. From that time
onward the Atchinese War became a chronic disease, but since an aggressive
policy was adopted in 1898 the war party in Atchin has rapidly diminished,
and it is now almost extinct. Fighting of a guerilla kind is reported from
time to time, but peace is so far restored that the General is able to
send some of his men home, and the people can cultivate their rice-fields
and pepper-gardens unmolested. They are for the most part well disposed
towards the Dutch, whose officers, in their proclamations, have always
been careful to explain that the war was only against the murderers and
robbers who made the coasts and country unsafe, and that no one would be
harmed so long as he went peacefully about his business. Piracy on the
Atchinese coast is now also a thing of the past, and will be so as long as
the Government remains firm.

To turn to more peaceful subjects, Netherlands India is favoured above
most lands in the richness and variety of its products, its mineral wealth
alone being sufficient to make it a most valuable possession from a
commercial point of view. A part of the Government revenue is derived from
the sale of tin, which is found in several islands, and coal-fields exist
in Sumatra and Laut, while gold is found on the west coast of Borneo and
also in Sumatra, where the Ophir district no doubt owes its name to the
presence of the precious metal. Another mineral product is petroleum,
which has made the fortunes of several lucky colonists; it is found in
many places, but the principal supply comes from Sumatra. These are some
of the chief products, but they by no means exhaust the list, nor is the
wealth of the colonies confined to minerals; there are the
pearl-fisheries, for example, amongst the little islands lying south-west
of New Guinea, and the Moluccos contribute mother-of-pearl and
tortoise-shell, but the real wealth of the islands lies in the
extraordinary fertility of the soil. Most of the land is clay, coloured
red by the iron ore which it contains, and will grow almost anything,
besides being very suitable for making bricks. Sugar, tea, coffee, indigo,
and tobacco are grown in large quantities for export, and the principal
crops cultivated by the natives are rice (in the marshy districts), maize,
cotton, and many kinds of fruit which are also grown in British India.
Most of the inhabitants are tillers of the soil, but the maritime natives
are naturally occupied chiefly in the fisheries, and it is a very pretty
sight, at any little fishing village, to see the boats start out for the
hoped-for haul. Just before sunrise scores of little fishing-boats with
bamboo masts and huge triangular mat-sails slip out of the creeks before
the fresh land-wind, which lasts just long enough to carry them to the
fishing-ground in the offing, and about four o'clock in the afternoon a
sea-breeze springs up, and back they all come, generally laden with
splendid fish. The evening breeze often attains such strength that the
little boats would capsize if it were not for a balancing-board pushed out
to windward, on which one or two, or sometimes three, men stand to act as
a counterpoise, so that it may not be necessary to shorten sail. The
Malays excel in boat-building, and rank very high in the art of shaping
vessels which offer the least possible resistance to the water, and their
boats fly over the surface of the sea in the most wonderful manner. If we
except the rude tree-trunks used here and there, the vessels made by the
Malays may serve, and have served, as models for swift sailing-craft all
over the world.

Amongst the other industries for which the Malays, and the Javanese
especially, are noted, the principal is the manufacture of textile
fabrics; sometimes these are very skilfully dyed in ornamental patterns,
and show considerable artistic taste.

Besides boat-building and weaving, the crafts of the blacksmith and
carpenter should be mentioned, and also that of the gold and silver smith,
for this indicates the source of many of the treasures with which wealthy
Dutch homes in the old country abound.

Now that the war in Atchin is practically over it is not unlikely that
the next few years may see greater advances in the commerce and industries
of Netherlands India, especially as the trade returns report that a great
industrial awakening is taking place at the present time in Holland, in
which case there will be a rush of emigrants to the colonies. As has been
said before, the climate out there is not unhealthy as a rule, but of
course Europeans have to adapt their life to their surroundings. Profiting
by the example of the natives, they have learned to make their houses very
airy and cool. A large overhanging roof shades the entrances, front and
rear, and the windows are without glass, except in the old cities, its
place being taken by bamboo Venetian blinds. Verandahs run along the front
and back of the house, which has generally one story only, and never more
than two, and the rooms open either on these verandahs or on a central
room which divides the house through the middle. The kitchen and
store-rooms are in outbuildings at the back, and the garden all round the
house is planted with cocoanut, banana, and mango trees, for the sake of
their shade as well as for the fruit.

On paying a visit to such a house you go up two or three steps on to the
front verandah, where a servant-boy offers you a chair and a drink, and
then goes to find his master, who presently joins you. You are never
asked to 'come in;' if the front verandah is too hot, an adjournment is
made to the back. Sometimes, in the interior of the country, visitors are
received in the garden, where they enjoy their cheroot Indian fashion,
reclining rather than sitting. But this _dolce far niente_ does not kill
work, for merchants in the towns work pretty hard, and have to be at
their offices during the heat of the day, from nine to five, and even on
Sunday, if it happens to be mail-day. Other people take life rather
easier, especially in the country, where the routine is as follows more
or less: rise at six, bathe, breakfast at seven; then dress and go to
work at nine; at twelve o'clock lunch, after which one lies down to sleep
or read for a couple of hours; tea at four, and then a second bath. After
five it is cool enough to dress and go for a walk or drive until
dinner-time, and after dinner you may go for another drive or visit your
neighbours. On Sundays you go to church from eleven to twelve, and take
things easy for the rest of the day.

Travelling, if for any distance, is done at night, both by Europeans and
natives, and if a native has to walk far he usually carries a mat, and
when the day begins to get hot he unrolls his mat and lies down on it by
the roadside. It does not surprise any one, therefore, to find seeming
idlers asleep in the daytime along the roadside. Naturally, the little
wayside shops which are found at every corner are not shut up or removed
at night, as most of their trade is done then, but if customers are few
the shopkeeper will fall asleep among his wares. The Government roads are
well guarded by the native police, and at regular intervals there are
stations where fresh horses can be procured if they are bespoken in time
by letter or telegraph.

The colonist's life does not seem to be a very hard one on the whole,
though no doubt there are drawbacks, such as, for instance, the want of
schools. At present many Dutch children born in India are sent to Holland
to be educated, not, as in the case of Anglo-Indians, for the sake of
their health, but because there is not a sufficient number of schools in
these colonies. This want will be remedied in time, so that colonists may
be spared the trouble and expense of sending their children to Europe; but
the only Dutch schools in Java that I know of are the 'Gymnasium' at
Willem III (Batavia) and one high school for girls. Native schools are
more numerous, and are being multiplied not only by the Government but by
the missionaries. The attitude of the Indian Government towards missionary
work has changed immensely for the better in the last forty years, and the
labours of the missionaries are now appreciated very highly by both the
Indian and the Home Government, and deservedly so, for the task of the
Government has been very much lightened through the improvement in the
attitude of the natives, owing largely to the work of the missions.

As to the life and customs of the natives, it is not necessary to
describe all the different races, but the Malay villages deserve notice.
In Java and Sumatra these are not arranged in streets, but the houses are
grouped under large trees, and are separated from the road by a bamboo
fence, on the top of which notice boards are fixed at intervals bearing
the names of the villages; these are necessary, because it is often
difficult to see where one village ends and the next begins. In the open
spaces may be seen a few sacred 'waringin' trees, in which are hung
wooden bells, used to sound an alarm or call the villagers together.
Before the house of a native Regent is an open square, with a 'Pandoppo,'
or roof on pillars in the centre, and here meetings are held,
proclamations read, and distinguished visitors received. The houses are
built of bamboo and roofed with palm-leaves; and sometimes they have
floors of split bamboo, but often the hard clay soil serves as a floor.
There are usually two or more sleeping-places, called 'bale-bales,' also
made of bamboo, split and plaited, and over these another floor, which
forms a sort of loft or store-room. There is no fireplace, all the
cooking being done outside. Such a house can be bought for about five
shillings! It takes a few men two or three weeks to build one, but to
take it down and remove it to a new site is a matter of only a few hours.
Near the houses are the stables, where the buffaloes and carts are kept,
and here and there is a well, over which hangs a balancing-pole with a
bucket at one end and a stone at the other.

The children play about naked until they are ten years old, when they
dress like their elders, and consider themselves men and women. The
costume of the Malay women consists of the 'sarong,' a cloth about 31/2
yards long and 11/2 wide, which is wound round the body and held by a belt
and then rolled up just above the feet; over this a wide coat called a
'kabaya' is worn, and over all a 'slendang,' which is very like a
'sarong,' but is worn hanging over one shoulder, and in this is slung
anything too large to be easily carried in the hands--even the baby. The
men wear either 'sarongs' or trousers, or both, and a cotton jacket, and
are always armed either with kreeses or chopping-knives, carried in their
belts; the weapons are for cutting down cocoanuts and bamboo, and for
protection against snakes and tigers. Both sexes wear their hair long, the
men with head-cloths and the women with flowers and herbs, and all go
bare-footed. The men are very good horsemen, and ride, like the Zulus and
other coloured men, with only their big toes in the stirrups.

In Bally and Lombok the inhabitants are of the same race as the people of
Java and Sumatra, but differ in religion and habits, having never been
wholly subjected by the Mohammedans. The difference is chiefly noticeable
in the construction of their houses, which are of stone in many cases,
and built in streets. Each house has three compartments and a fireplace,
or altar, which stands in the middle, opposite the door, the floors are
sometimes paved, and the roofs are often covered with tiles instead of
leaves, and supported by carved pillars.

These Brahmins have numerous temples, which are quite different from
anything in the neighbouring islands, being built of brick and divided
into sections by low walls, but without roofs; walls and gates are painted
red, white, and blue, and inside stand a number of altars, on which
offerings are laid. Brahminism survives in some of the other islands, at
some distance from the coast, and occasionally a religious festival ends
in a riot between Brahmins and Mohammedans.

The staple food of the Malay races is rice, which is cooked very dry, with
fried or dried fish or shrimps and vegetables, and flavoured with chilis,
onions, and salt. Dried beef and venison are also used, and wild pig and
chickens and ducks are plentiful; other articles of food being maize,
sweet potatoes, and many kinds of fruit, such as cocoa-nuts, bananas,
mangoes, mangusteens, and so on. In the Moluccos the staple crop is not
rice, but sago, which is prepared from the sap of the sago-palm. To an
inhabitant of Java or Sumatra the cocoa-nut tree is indispensable; when a
child is born, a nut is planted, and later on, if the child asks how old
he is, his mother shows him the young palm, and tells him that he is 'as
old as that cocoa-nut tree.' The nuts are boiled for the oil, and the
white flesh is eaten, cooked in various ways, generally with other food.
All kinds of provisions and other goods, from butcher's meat to needles
and thread, are sold at the 'passars,' or markets, which are attended by
large crowds.

Mention has been made of the moral example set by some Europeans to the
natives. Generally the relations between the white and coloured races are
those of superiors and inferiors, but in the matter of matrimony there is
a difference. Many white men in Netherlands India never dream of marrying;
they take to themselves 'Njais,' or house-keepers. The same thing is done
in other colonies, at least in provinces far removed from European
society, when native customs allow it. The ancient customs of the Malays
and Javanese did not prescribe any religious ceremony for marriages; they
had their 'adat,' or customs, which were as strictly adhered to as if they
had been religious, but there was nothing consecrating the marriage tie.
Moreover, their notions of hospitality, which are similar to those of most
primitive races, no doubt encouraged the above-mentioned free marriages,
or at least they explain how it was that the Malay women had no objection
to becoming the 'Njais' of Europeans. Where such a woman was the daughter
of a prince or chief, the European who took her was invariably some high
official, whose position brought him into contact with noble Javanese
families. These young women are remarkably graceful, even fascinating, and
besides have received a good Javanese education, and it is not surprising
that such 'marriages' were sometimes happy and permanent.

The sons were sent to Europe to be educated, being entrusted to the care
of a guardian, uncle, or friend, and on their return to India soon found
employment in the service of the Government; the girls stayed at home, and
generally married well.

Such instances, however, are rare; more often the man regarded his 'Njai'
merely as a temporary helpmate, and if he saw a chance would marry some
rich European girl, when the Indian wife would be set aside--'sent into
the bush,' as the phrase was. That such behaviour should have roused the
wrath and hatred of the discarded wives and their relatives was but
natural. Often the European bride, sometimes the faithless husband too,
fell by the hand of a murderer who could never be found, or was poisoned
by a maidservant or cook who was bought over to assist in the work of
vengeance. The cast-out children sometimes played a part in these
tragedies; if not, they certainly retained a hatred of Europeans
generally, and rumours of mutiny were the consequence.

How this state of things can be remedied is a question which has long
occupied the attention of the Government. Gradually, however, the mixed
population is becoming more educated, and can find employment in
Government and mercantile offices, as all excel in beautiful handwriting.
A better feeling generally exists, and a keener sense of social duty is
coming over the Europeans, so that a good many have really married the
mothers of their children, a thing which fifty years ago was never heard
of. There now exists a mixed race of Eurasians, children of the children
of European fathers and Indian mothers, which at one time threatened to
become a source of danger and insurrection, but all fear of trouble in
that quarter is past. Of the 'inland children' many are now receiving a
good education. In the Government schools they can learn enough to hold
their own in point of knowledge against a large proportion of the
Europeans in the colony, and they find employment in offices and shops, on
the railway and post-office staffs, and on public works almost as quickly
as pure whites.


Administrative system
Amusements, national
Army, the
Art, modern

Canals and their population, the
Capital, life in the
Capital punishment
Characteristics, national
Christmas customs
Church, relation of State to
Churches, Dutch
Clergymen, Dutch
Colonies, the Dutch
Costume, rural
Court, the
Customs, popular

Divorce, the law of
Dykes, the

Easter customs
Education, public

Farms and farmers
Freemasonry, Dutch
Friendly Societies
Funerals, customs at

Games, children's
Girls, freedom of Dutch

Home life

Indies, the Dutch

Justice, administration of

'Kermis,' the

Labour, conditions of
Law court, description of a Dutch
Literature and literary life

Marriage and marriage customs

National Characteristics, types,
Navy, the
Newspapers, the

'Palm Paschen,'
Peasantry, the
Poets, modern Dutch
Political life and parties
Press, the
Professional classes, the

Queen Wilhelmina

Readers, the Dutch as
Reading Societies
Religions life
Renaissance, the literary
Rural customs

Schools, the
Sculpture in Holland
Skaters, the Dutch as
Social life
Society, Dutch
Song, national love of
State, relation of Church to
St. Nicholas, festival of
Student life
Sunday in the country

Theatre, the
Thrift, Dutch

Universities, the

Village life

Wages of labour
Wedding customs
Women, position of
Working classes, the

The End

Book of the day: