Friday, October 14, 2011

Prince Diponegoro (1785-1855), Indonesian Freedom Fighter

Portrait of Prince Diponegoro. Lithograph by C. C. A. Last in 1835 to an original pencil drawing by A. J. Bik from 1830

The submission of "Diepo Negoro" to Lieutenant-General Hendrik Merkus Baron de Kock, 28 March 1830, which ended the Java War (1825–30). Painting by Nicolaas Pieneman (1835)

The same scene as above, this time painted by Indonesian celebrated painter, Raden Saleh

Prince Diponegoro back to his residence after the defeat in Magelang. Lithograph made by Francois Vincent Henri Antoine de Stuers

Statue of Prince Diponegoro in Magelang, Central Java

Diponegoro (Mustahar; Antawirya; 11 November 1785 – 8 January 1855), also known as Dipanegara, was a Javanese prince who opposed the Dutch colonial rule. He played an important role in the Java War (1825–1830). In 1830, the Dutch exiled him to Makassar.

From the foundation of Batavia (present-day Jakarta) in 1619 until its bankruptcy in 1798, the Dutch East India Company carved out a far-flung trading empire for itself in the Indonesian archipelago. In the seventeenth century, the Company secured a near monopoly of the Indonesian spice trade, but it had not yet extended its control territorially except in some areas in West Java where coffee and sugar were grown for export. Only in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when Java was drawn into the Revolutionary (1792-99) and Napoleonic wars (1799-1815), was the modern fate of the archipelago sealed. In quick succession, a Franco-Dutch regime (1808-11) under Napoleon’s only non-French marshal, Herman Willem Daendels (1762-1818), and a five-year British occupation (1811-16) under the equally dictatorial Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826), transformed the colony.

By the time Java was restored to the Dutch in August 1816, the commercial dealings of the Company had been replaced by the beginnings of a modern colonial administration. Over the next century, this would reduce the power of the local rulers and establish Dutch authority in nearly every corner of the archipelago. The boundaries of present-day Indonesia were determined at this time.

As the influence of the West penetrated ever more deeply into the lives of ordinary
Indonesians, events in the Middle East also began to shape the fortunes of the local populations and Dutch colonists alike. The eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries witnessed an increase in Arab and Ottoman Turkish influence in Indonesia when increased numbers of Arab migrants from the Hadhramaut (present-day South Yemen) – an area renowned for its religious schools and Muslim scholars – began to settle in the archipelago. The quickening tempo of pilgrim traffic across the Indian Ocean also exposed Indonesians to the teachings of Islamic reformers, in particular those linked to the strict Wahhabi sect which briefly controlled the holy cities of
Islam (Mecca and Medina) (1803-1812).

Further west, the fading glory of the Ottoman empire inspired Indonesian Muslims with an admiration for the one Islamic state which had withstood the might of Christian Europe. Such examples stiffened the resolve of Indonesian Muslim rulers and Islamic divines in the face of post-1816 Dutch imperial expansion. In West Sumatra, a Wahhabi-influenced religious leader (tuanku), Imam Bonjol (1772-1864), emerged as the principal leader of armed resistance to the Dutch in the so-called Paderi (from the Dutch padre = ‘priest’) War (1821-37).

Pangeran (Prince) Diponegoro was born on 11 November 1785 in Yogyakarta, and was the eldest son of Sultan Hamengkubuwono III of Yogyakarta. Despite being of noble blood, Diponegoro did not distance himself from his people. When the sultan died in 1814, Diponegoro was passed over for the succession to the throne in favor of his younger half brother who was supported by the Dutch. Being a devout Muslim, Diponegoro was alarmed by the relaxing of religious observance at his half brother's court, as well as by the court's pro-Dutch policy.

But it was in Java that the nascent imperial power of the Netherlands came closest to defeat during a five-year struggle which became known as the Java War (1825-30). The main Javanese protagonist of this conflict, Pangéran (prince) Diponegoro (1785-1855), whose name literally means ‘the light of the country’, was the eldest son of the third sultan of the central Javanese kingdom of Yogyakarta. A witness to the humiliation of his father’s realm at the hands of both Daendels and Raffles, the prince’s personal experiences as a young man led to his own decision to wage a holy war (jihad) against the Dutch in 1825-30. Although his attempt to force Java’s colonial masters to return to their late eighteenth-century role as merchants proved ultimately unsuccessful, Diponegoro’s struggle would become an inspiration for future generations.

Unusually for a member of the Javanese aristocracy, the young prince spent his childhood in a village environment, having been ‘adopted’ at the age of seven by his great-grandmother, the widow of Yogyakarta’s charismatic founder, Sultan Mangkubumi (r. 1749-92). A lady of great piety and forcefulness, she proved a stern stepmother to the future Java War leader. Growing up on her country estate two miles to the northwest of Yogyakarta, Diponegoro was taught to mix in his youth with Javanese of all classes, in particular farmers and wandering students of religion (santri).

He also learnt to withstand great physical hardships, embarking in his teens on long journeys on foot to local religious schools and places associated with the spirit guardians of southcentral Java. His stepmother’s example may have also quickened such practical skills as his ability to read character from the study of faces, financial acumen and capacity for honest administration. A keen chess player and connoisseur of sweet Cape wine (Constantia), the mystic prince tempered his asceticism with a powerful and vivid intelligence which impressed even his Dutch adversaries. In 1805, Diponegoro made a significant pilgrimage to the south coast which marked his coming of age as a young man.

There in meditations in caves and holy sites near the thunderous surf of the Indian Ocean, he received the early visions which foretold his future role as a Javanese ‘Just King’ (Ratu Adil), a ruler who would restore the moral balance of the universe after a period of corruption and decline. Marked by destiny to ‘raise up the high state of the Islamic religion in Java’, Diponegoro would see himself as an agent of purification. But he was torn between his intensely lived inner life as a mystic and his visionary calling as a military and political leader.

These were exceptional times, however. The world of Diponegoro’s youth – the seemingly ageless Java of custom and tradition – had been washed away by the tsunami that was post- Revolutionary Europe. The years between 1816 and 1825 were particularly bad for the Javanese peasantry. Mercilessly taxed by the newly restored Dutch government, the rural communities also suffered from drought, famine and cholera. Such calamities quickened popular expectations of a coming Ratu Adil, expectations which Diponegoro appeared to embody. The casus belli when it came was relatively minor. A highway project--demarcated with intentional insolence by the Dutch-appointed prime minister of Yogyakarta across Diponegoro’s estate-- led to an armed stand off which in turn precipitated a Dutch led military expedition.

Fleeing on horseback to his meditation cave in the limestone hills to the south of Yogyakarta as the Dutch torched his residence, the prince set up the standard of revolt. The Java War had begun. In the next five years, it would cause the death of 200,000 Javanese and damage the livelihoods of two million more. Many others would feel its indirect consequences. At the end of hostilities in March 1830, the Dutch remained in undisputed control of Java.

In 1821, famine and plague spread in Java. His half brother Hamengkubuwono IV (r. 1814-1821) who had succeeded their father died. He left only an infant son as heir, Hamengkubuwono V. When the year-old was appointed as new sultan, there was a dispute over his guardianship. Diponegoro was again passed over, though he believed he had been promised the right to succeed his half brother. This series of natural disaster and political upheaval finally erupted into full scale rebellion.

Dutch colonial rule was becoming unpopular by the local farmers because of tax rises, crop failures and by Javanese nobles because the Dutch colonial authorities deprived them of their right to lease land. Because the local farmers and many nobles were ready to support Diponegoro and because he believed that he had been chosen by divine powers to lead a rebellion against the Christian colonials, he started a holy war against the Dutch. Diponegoro was widely believed to be the Ratu Adil, the Just Ruler predicted in the Pralembang Joyoboyo.

The beginning of the war saw large losses on the side of the Dutch, due to their lack of coherent strategy and commitment in fighting Diponegoro's guerrilla warfare. Ambushes were set up, and food supplies were denied to the Dutch troops. The rebellion turned out to be a massive mutiny. Tens of thousands of Javanese nobles and peasants rallied together under the banner of the courageous prince. The Dutch suffered one defeat after another. Each year, the Dutch lost one third of their army. The Diponegoro war suddenly became the most expensive and one of the largest wars ever fought by the Dutch in the Netherlands Indies.

The Dutch finally committed themselves to controlling the spreading rebellion by increasing the number of troops and sending General De Kock to stop the insurgencies. De Kock developed a strategy of fortified camps (benteng) and mobile forces. Heavily-fortified and well-defended soldiers occupied key landmarks to limit the movement of Diponegoro's troops while mobile forces tried to find and fight the rebels. From 1829, Diponegoro definitely lost the initiative and he was put in a defensive position. Many troops and leaders were defeated or deserted.

In 1830 Diponegoro's military was as good as beaten and negotiations were started. Diponegoro demanded to have a free state under a sultan and he wanted to become the Muslim leader (kalief) for the whole of Java. In March 1830 he was invited to negotiate under a flag of truce. He accepted but was taken prisoner on 28 March despite the flag of truce. De Kock claims that he had warned several Javanese nobles to tell Diponegoro he had to lessen his previous demands or that he would be forced to take other measures. The Dutch exiled him to Manado, and later Makassar. He died while still on custody on 8 January 1855.

Today Diponegoro is a National Hero of Indonesia, and Kodam IV/Diponegoro, the Central Java Military Region, is named after him.

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