Dutch East Indies - Social History

Social History

See also: Dutch Ethical Policy

In 1898, the population of Java numbered twenty-eight million with another seven million on Indonesia's outer islands. The first half of 20th century saw large-scale immigration of Dutch and other Europeans to the colony, where they worked in either the government or private sectors. By 1930, there were more than 240,000 people with European legal status in the colony, making up less than 0.5% of the total population. Almost 75% of these Europeans were in fact native Eurasians known as Indo-Europeans.

1930 census of the Dutch East Indies
Rank Group Number Percentage
1 Indigenous islanders 59,138,067 97.4%
2 Chinese 1,233,214 2.0%
3 European 240,417 0.4%
4 Other foreign orientals 115,535 0.2%
Total 60,727,233 100%

As the Dutch secured the islands they eliminated slavery, widow burning, head-hunting, cannibalism, piracy, and internecine wars. Railways, steamships, postal and telegraph services, and various government agencies all served to introduce a degree of new uniformity across the colony. Immigration within the archipelago—particularly by ethnic Chinese, Bataks, Javanese, and Bugis—increased dramatically.

The Dutch colonialists formed a privileged upper social class of soldiers, administrators, managers, teachers and pioneers. They lived together with the "natives", but at the top of a rigid social and racial caste system. The Dutch East Indies had two legal classes of citizens; European and indigenous. A third class, Foreign Easterners, was added in 1920.

In 1901 the Dutch adopted what they called the Ethical Policy, under which the colonial government had a duty to further the welfare of the Indonesian people in health and education. Other new measures under the policy included irrigation programs, transmigration, communications, flood mitigation, industrialisation, and protection of native industry. Industrialisation did not significantly affect the majority of Indonesians, and Indonesia remained an agricultural colony; by 1930, there were 17 cities with populations over 50,000 and their combined populations numbered 1.87 million of the colony's 60 million.

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