Postscript: Additional Indonesian Impressions

1 May

Postscript: Additional Indonesian Impressions


It occurs to me that two additional impressions of Indonesia seem relevant enough to be worth a short supplement to my post of a few days ago.


Multituli, Max Havelaar, or the coffee auction of the Dutch trading company  (Penguin Classics, 1866)


Multituli is the pen name of Edouard Douwes Dekkar, a 19thcentury Dutch civil servant who worked in the East Indian Civil Service as a colonial official. Multituli produced an extraordinary critique of the colonial mentality from the standpoint of a disenchanted colonialist with eyes wide open, who eventually resigned his position out of disgust, returned to Holland, and subsequently lived in poverty despite an upper class marriage, while trying to survive as an author.


This novelistic treatment of Dutch colonial rule is deservedly viewed as a literary masterpiece, written in an engaging style that has a contemporary feel, especially by inserting illusions and subtle qualifications pertaining to scene and character. What makes this novel worth reading so long after when it was written is its contemporaneous appreciation of the false consciousness that artificially sustained the colonialist sense of Dutch superiority. What Multituli shows so vividly is that the condescension of the Dutch toward the Javanese was pure racism, and that in fact it was the deep traditions of culture and civility native to Java that far exceeded in virtue and ethical quality the empty pretensions of the Dutch claims to be a vehicle for the dissemination of ‘civilization.’


A couple of quotations suggest the tone and direction of the novel’s critique. After discussing some of the functions of administration in a particular region of Java, Multituli writes: “All this, then, results in a strange situation whereby the inferior really commands the superior.” (italics in original) A bit later in the text is this reinforcing observation: “Even the lower-class Javanese is far more polite than his European equivalent—making this apparently difficult relationship more tolerable than it would otherwise be.”


I strongly recommend reading Max Havelaar not only for the pleasure of encountering an intriguing work of fiction reflecting a lively imagination, but also for its capacity to convey a strong sense of how the colonial mind manipulated reality to validate its exploitative relationship to the land, resources, and people of Java, achieved by distorting and deforming social relations between foreign intruder and native inhabitant., producing suffering and humiliation followed by resistance Max Havelaarcan be valuably read in conjuction with the wonderful quartet of Pramoedia, which addresses the evolving political consciousness of a native resister.





The President of Indonesia—Joko ‘Jokowi’ Wadido


Joko Wadido or Jokowi is the seventh president of Indonesia, elected in 2014  for a five year term, and the first president that does not come from an elite military or civilian past. Jokowi, riding his motorcycle around the country, creates the sense of ‘a man of the people’ and is given widespread credit for needed infrastructure reforms and a popular crackdown on tax evasion. His election, popularity, and governing style confirms the impression of a democratizing trend in Indonesia that is benefitting the population as a whole and runs counter to the rise of autocracy throughout Asia and the world. Despite this generally positive assessment of Jokowi’s leadership serious problems remain in the country, including treatment of refugees, corruption, poverty, class tensions, unmanageable traffic, serious pollution, an ethnic and religious grievances among non-Indonesians and non-Muslims. 



8 Responses to “Postscript: Additional Indonesian Impressions”

  1. Nada Pretnar May 1, 2018 at 1:01 pm #

    It s me Nada. I wanted to order the book but it doesn t appear on amazon. Any idea where I could order it? Thanks!

    • Richard Falk May 1, 2018 at 10:45 pm #

      Hi Nada: I am sorry about this, and have no information about how to acquire a copy. I fear the book may be out of print with Penguin Classics. It was given to me a few
      weeks ago by someone in the audience of a talk I gave in Lund, Sweden. A pure coincidence that it was just prior to the visit to Indonesia. I will try to find out more and let you know. Warm greetings from Turin. Richard

      • Gene Schulman May 1, 2018 at 11:58 pm #

        Still in Turin, Richard? One of my favourite Italian towns. We’re actually geographically close enough to shake hands over the Aosta Valley between there and Geneva. Only the Mont Blanc stands between us. It is a town of excellent art museums, book stores and great restaurants. As for finding the book, you might try (I forget the name of it) a used bookshop under the arcades in the centre. It has everything, or can find anything, one would want.

        Bon chance.

      • Gene Schulman May 2, 2018 at 12:40 am #

        Should have no trouble finding it at Amazon.

    • Richard Falk May 2, 2018 at 10:14 am #

      Nada: A second more positive response: if you look up the title MAX HAVELAAR via Amazon you will find a variety
      of options, including French, English, and German translations, and a cheap English edition via Kindle. I
      hope this helps. Richard



  2. Schlüter May 2, 2018 at 1:47 am #

    And I´d like to mention again the case of New Guinea´s Western part:
    “Colonialism Alive and Well, Better Say as Bad as Ever! Part 3: Proxy Colonialism in West Papua”:
    Best regards

  3. Beau Oolayforos May 2, 2018 at 9:56 am #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    Not to minimize the Indonesians’ discomfort, and probably much pain, at the hands of the Dutch, but isn’t it true that one would have to magnify it 1000 times to get to the bloody Brits’ trampling on India?

    Multituli’s book isn’t even on Bookfinder…too bad…lower down the literary scale, maybe, would be “The Year of Living Dangerously”…don’t know if it’s any good, but at least it was banned by Suharto.

    • Richard Falk May 2, 2018 at 10:11 am #

      If you look up the book under the title MAX HAVELAAR on Amazon you will find an assortment of
      editions, including French, German, English. There is an English Kindle version for under $5.00.

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