Despite the concerns of the government in Batavia about the planters in Surakarta, and the occasional uprising of a discontented populace — as in 1855 — things were generally settled and satisfactory for both colonial rulers and landleasers. The lease of land put money in the pockets of the inhabitants of the Principalities, and most of the planters treated the local residents in a less arbitrary manner than did the apanage holders. The European presence became more and more accepted. Indeed, the leaseholders were essential for all parties: for the Dutch officials who thereby increased their influence; for the royal courts, who made money from the system; for the local population, who probably experienced an initial improvement in their living conditions; and, finally, for the business life of Semarang, because the Principalities formed a good market for imported goods. Even Europeans who were not leaseholders profited from the commercial activity in the Principalities. Most of them in Yogyakarta found employment on the plantations, while one-third of the European male population worked in the civil service. A handful of Europeans set up as tradesmen or ran a shop.
There is nothing to support the view that the Javanese and European worlds, like oil and water, refused to mix. Daily life contradicted this notion. Nevertheless, an aspect of colonial ideology chose to emphasise the distinction between the rulers and the ruled. It thus became part of the colonial structure to have translators render speeches into the local language on ceremonial occasions when royalty, colonial civil servants and planters gathered. Translators who were recruited from the local European community were known to be the confidants of both residents and Javanese royalty. Their position was one requiring tact and delicacy. It would seem that many translators saw themselves more as part of the local royal court than as colonial civil servants. This might explain why Johannes Gotlieb Dietrée, interpreter in the residency of Yogyakarta from 1796 to 1825, was Muslim.
In the Principalities, and especially in Surakarta, the study of languages became a family tradition. Best known among these linguistically oriented dynasties are the Winters and the Wilkenses. Carel Friedrich Winter was born in 1788 in Yogyakarta and moved to Surakarta when he was seven years old. There, his father, Johannes Wilhelmus Winter, was appointed a translator for Javanese languages. The young Carel Friedrich did not seem to be learning much at school, so his father taught him at home, and in 1818 the young man became an assistant translator at his father’s side. When his father left for Semarang in 1825, Carel Friedrich remained in Surakarta as a translator. Three years later he assumed the extra task of secretary at the newly established Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths. This was followed in 1829 by his appointment as the director of the brand-new Institute for the Javanese Languages in Surakarta. This institute had been set up to teach Javanese languages to employees of the Binnenlands Bestuur [‘Interior Administration’]. When the institute was closed down in 1843, Carel Friedrich lost his position. There had been an inspection of the institute by four residents, who had produced a devastating report on the quality of education there, and on Carel Friedrich as a teacher. His command of Dutch was judged to be very poor, and because he was “a son of the country” (an inlands kind) he failed to gain the respect of the students, who all came from the wealthy Netherlands and Indische bourgeoisie.
Despite all this, when a new training college was set up in 1843 in Delft, the Netherlands, for civil servants to be employed in the Binnenlands Bestuur, they could not do without Carel Friedrich Winter and his proficiency in Javanese. The professor of Javanese in Delft, Taco Roorda, was undoubtedly a great linguist, but he taught a language that was not his own as a medium of daily speech. He benefited greatly from the assistance of Carel Friedrich, who made a large number of translations for him. It would seem that despite Carel Friedrich’s sporadic elementary schooling, his Dutch was not so bad after all. This also appears in the translations he made of official documents, which have been preserved in the archives. The linguistic scholar Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk remarked somewhat maliciously in 1864 that Roorda was not teaching Javanese, but Winterese. Carel Friedrich earned his place in the history books, however, when the susuhunan [ruler of Surakarta] granted him permission to bring out the first Javanese-language newspaper, named the Bromartani, which was intended for the aristocratic circles of Surakarta. The newspaper contained scientific articles, economic reports, announcements of births and deaths, notices about forthcoming public sales of household effects, and advertisements.
In most cases, translators are seen as go-betweens, but they were go-betweens for the government only in their capacity as translators of official documents and for ceremonial occasions. They were not normally required to act as intermediaries when Europeans and Javanese met. In Yogyakarta, in particular, there were close and warm relations between the leaseholders and the sultan.
Monthly Archives: February 2010
The story of the [Karel] Holles and the [Eduard and Rudolf] Kerkhovens in Priangan would appear to bear little resemblance to that of the aristocratic lifestyle of the landed gentry of West Java or the leaseholders in the Principalities. In Dutch historiography they are described as hard-working Dutch Mennonites who started growing tea in primitive circumstances and were proud of their social involvement. Their style of entrepreneurship however, was not essentially different from that of the paternalistic rule of the powerful landowners of West Java or the leaseholders of the Principalities. The Holles and the Kerkhovens were, like the first generation of planters in the Principalities, forced to move between various cultures and lifestyles in order to acquire the necessary knowledge capital and labour force. Just as in the Principalities, contacts with a British trading house were crucial; in this case it was the firm of John Peer & Co. in Batavia. This firm introduced the Holles and their Kerkhoven nephews to tea cultivation in British India, which was at that time far more highly developed than in the Dutch East Indies.
Holle earned fame as an expert in the Sundanese language and as a promoter of local agriculture. He published many articles on both these subjects, and his brochures were translated into Javanese by the Wilkens and Winter families. In acknowledgment for his groundbreaking recommendations about rice cultivation and his contributions to the reform of government-directed coffee production in Priangan, in 1871 Holle was decorated with the title of Honorary Adviser for Native Affairs. An intriguing aspect of the Holle story is his well-known friendship with Muhammad Musa, chief penghulu (Islamic religious leader) of Garut, whose sister he was to marry. More mundane, but equally important, was the fact that without his knowledge of Sundanese, Holle would never have been able to grow a single row of tea bushes. Whereas in the Principalities (unpaid) labour of the Javanese peasantry was generally included, as it were, with the lease of land, in Priangan Holle had to recruit his workers himself. Hence he set up small shops and provided housing for his loyal employees — which included the women tea pickers. Incidentally, other landholders in West Java had already done the same thing. Like the legendary Major Jantji, Holle too created his own image; he was wont to wear a turban and flaunt precious rings on his fingers. In this way he demonstrated that — notwithstanding his simple lifestyle and approachability — he was also the tuan besar, the great lord. Although his business collapsed in the great crisis of 1884, the image of him as a benevolent landlord survived after his death, and a monument was unveiled in his memory This too, fitted into the tradition of the Indies, where similar monuments had been put up for other memorable landlords.
Such monuments suggest the specific manner in which certain landlords wished to be remembered in Sundanese history — that is, as development workers avant la lettre [i.e., before the term existed]….
The sugar barons of the 19th century have received scant applause from historians. They gained their wealth from exploiting slave labour (as in the Caribbean) or corvée labour (as in the Principalities). Easily won wealth turned them into bloated and reactionary bosses, a picture that continues to persist. Leaseholders are still seen as a curb on the development of modern production methods. But in fact, the Creole sugar planters in both the New World and the Old were usually forward looking and up-to-date with the latest technology of steam and steel. The planters and commercial entrepreneurs in Central Java who built a railroad track to transport goods to the coast had been preceded by the Cuban sugar producers. Both groups understood the political and technological signs of the times. In 1870 the leaseholders of the Principalities went ahead and founded the Indisch Landbouwgenootschap (Agricultural Society of the Indies), which had its headquarters in Surakarta and by 1874 already numbered 669 members throughout Java. It published its own newsletter run by Frederik Adriaan Enklaar van Lericke, an indigo planter in Surakarta. We shall meet him later in the role of a propagandist for agricultural colonies for the benefit of impoverished (Indo-)Europeans. The newspaper DeVorstenlanden started in 1870 in Surakarta, advocated the interests of the planters. It was no coincidence that these initiatives appeared at roughly the same time: they evidenced a growing self-awareness and the increasing role of science in agricultural industry.
I suppose one could make a similar case for the sugar barons of Hawai‘i—if they hadn’t taken over the government as well.
From: Bittersweet: The Memoir of a Chinese Indonesian Family in the Twentieth Century, by Stuart Pearson (National U. Singapore Press & Ohio U. Press, 2008), pp. 125-127:
Under the provisions of the Round Table Conference which decided the terms of Indonesia’s Independence, the sensitive matter of citizenship for its 70 million inhabitants was also resolved. Native Indonesians automatically became Indonesian citizens while Eurasians could accept Indonesian nationality or the nationality of their European forebears. Likewise, peranakan Chinese, that is Chinese born in Indonesia, had a choice between Indonesia or China, but totok Chinese, that is Chinese born outside Indonesia, were ineligible for Indonesian citizenship.
In reality it was not that simple. I believe the Indonesian Government wanted to rid itself completely of Chinese, so they structured the arrangement in such a way that everyone who had not accepted Indonesian citizenship by December 1951 was automatically regarded as an “alien” and therefore liable for expulsion. In practice, however, most Chinese in Indonesia (peranakan and totok alike) ignored this government direction and continued living in the country with their nationality unresolved.
Throughout the 1950s the Government imposed progressively harsher legislation to force the issue of nationality and Indonesia became increasingly more difficult to live in if you were ethnically Chinese. After 1954, a succession of discriminatory government decrees officially sanctioned anti-Chinese prejudices which had never been far below the surface. Priority was given to financial and other government support for pribumi (native) enterprises at the expense of Chinese businesses. New laws prevented Chinese from purchasing rural property (1954), owning rice mills (1954), or studying at University (1955) and in 1957 Chinese-operated schools were forced to close. In 1958 newspapers and magazines printed in the Chinese language were banned.
Then there was a Presidential Order (Peraturan Presiden No. 10 of 1959), instigated at the insistence of some Muslim politicians, which banned Chinese from participating in any form of retail trade in rural areas. This latest edict was catastrophic! Chinese in their hundreds of thousands earned their livelihoods from trading, just as many Chinese before them had done so for centuries, but this decree suddenly denied many Chinese in Indonesia a right to earn a living. The only way out was for Chinese traders to bring indigenous Indonesians into the business at senior levels or else the Government would shut them down. For many Chinese firms, having Indonesians “freeload” as board members or senior management was a very unpalatable demand. A large number of firms decided to cease trading and leave Indonesia. These included one of the wealthiest trading houses in Indonesia at the time, Kian Gwan, which anticipated nationalization by sending my older brother to organize the transfer of some of its assets to Holland.
In 1960 Indonesian and Chinese governments belatedly ratified their Dual Nationality Treaty of 1955, giving the estimated 2.5 million Chinese Indonesians two years to decide their nationality. The Indonesian Government accompanied the directive with enforced name changes and other anti-Chinese measures. If the Chinese did not take up Indonesian citizenship and change their names, essential services and government pensions would be denied them and life would become even more difficult. Through these measures an estimated 1.25 million Chinese living in Indonesia were classified as Chinese citizens in the early 1960s and approximately a tenth of that number actually departed.
For Indonesians however, this plan was less than a complete solution. Over a million people of Chinese ancestry living in Indonesia thereby became Indonesian citizens and with their new nationality became safe from expulsion, though certainly not safe from further discrimination. Chinese Indonesians were issued with new identity cards that included their racial origins. People frequently used these new identity cards to discriminate against the Chinese, such as placing restrictions on travel inside and outside Indonesia and having to notify authorities when guests stayed in your house. Chinese Indonesians, like us, were becoming prisoners in our own country.
People who held on to their Chinese names found their utilities, such as electricity, phone, gas, water and garbage collection, suddenly cut off. The emergency services of fire, ambulance and police would not respond to calls of assistance. Then they found that they could not get a job or, in a growing number of cases, could not keep their jobs if they persisted with their Chinese names. All in all it was becoming burdensome to sustain a Chinese name, which of course was exactly what the Government wanted.
We felt that we had no choice. If we were to exist in Indonesia, we had to accept Indonesian citizenship, which also meant renaming ourselves. For many others this was the last straw and they chose to leave instead. During the early 1960s over 100,000 Chinese departed overseas, with the People’s Republic of China being the main destination. The resultant loss of commercial expertise sent the economy into a dramatic downturn. My husband and I discussed these developments quietly amongst ourselves as public comments often resulted in the loss of one’s job or even arrest. We had a real sense of sadness and concern. First the Dutch had been forced out of Indonesia causing instability and now the Chinese were being forced out, which was causing more instability. For us and many others who thought likewise, Indonesia appeared to be on a downwards spiral towards political and economic ruin.
From: Bittersweet: The Memoir of a Chinese Indonesian Family in the Twentieth Century, by Stuart Pearson (National U. Singapore Press & Ohio U. Press, 2008), pp. 79-81:
One member of the Kempeitai who had the rank of Captain visited us regularly from the district headquarters nearby at Jember, where the main bulk of hundreds of soldiers were in barracks.
While the infantry soldiers busied themselves protecting assets of value to the Japanese war effort, including our rice mills, he took charge of the civilian administration in our district. He assumed control of the existing system of colonial administration and the Wedana (District Head) reported directly to him. He also quickly established a network of paid informers to report to him on any anti-Japanese activities. Being both investigator and adjudicator in one, he had unlimited power to punish individuals, families or entire communities. Punishment ranged from fines, withdrawal of privileges such as food rations and imprisonment to, in extreme cases amputation or execution.
Our Kempeitai officer favoured occasional public displays of violence to maintain order. He was not interested in minor forms of punishment. Being the only man responsible for civilian order in a population of hundreds of thousands, his preferred method of operation was the occasional amputation, strangulation, or decapitation. Yet he was kind to us. We looked after him every time he visited and he could see we were treating the billeted soldiers very well, never provoked them, and always ensured that an agreed amount of rice was delivered to the Army.
The regular presence of the Kempeitai officer did produce one unexpected benefit. Previously, our rice mills had experienced losses due to grain theft. In fact, most mills across Indonesia suffered similarly. However, with the arrival of the Japanese, the overall crime rate dropped dramatically, including theft of grain from rice mills. For this action alone, most people including my family were grateful.
Because there were more Chinese in Indonesia than Dutch — two million compared with about a quarter of a million — the Japanese could not arrest and intern all Chinese. Moreover, they needed our expertise to run things just as the Dutch had done before them. The majority were allowed to continue working as they had before, but were now answerable to new masters. The unstated rules in our household were simple and rigidly adhered to: respect the Japanese, treat them well, and do as they say without question. Then, hopefully, they would not harm you.
Nevertheless, the treatment of the Chinese was purely arbitrary and was entirely dependent on the local Japanese commander. In some regions of Indonesia I heard that the Chinese were brutalized, tortured, and even killed, but around Tanggul we made sure that the Japanese were treated well and we never had any problems. The family heard that my brother Tan Swan Bing, who before the war had been promoted to a senior position with Kian Gwan Trading Company in Semarang, had been interned and his house ransacked. We were all worried about his safety and that of his wife Huguette, who had just given birth to their third child.
We were told later that, by a strange twist of fate, a senior officer of the Kempeitai came across my brother when Tan Swan Bing had been imprisoned for about six months and learned that my brother spoke fluent Dutch, German and English. The Kempeitai officer was busy pursuing a PhD, which required the translation of German documents. He released my brother on the condition that Tan Swan Bing would help him complete his thesis. From that point on, my brother and his family received preferential treatment and they lived out the duration of the war without coming to any further harm.
Like me, my younger brother, Siauw Djie, returned to Tanggul from Semarang when all the Dutch schools were closed by the Japanese. He married his long-term girl friend, Khouw Mi Lien, in 1942 and turned to my parents for financial support. He said he could not find any paid work, did not know what to do and expected our father to help him. This dependent attitude was so unlike that of my sister and older brother, who never asked for parental assistance, even though they suffered much hardship on their own, including internment. I found this particularly weak of Siauw Djie but my father, who had always spoilt him, gave Siauw Djie a paid position in the rice mill to help him.
I never thought for one minute that the Japanese actually liked the Chinese. There had simply been too much bloodshed in the decade-long war in mainland China for that to happen. In Indonesia, I guess they tolerated the Chinese out of necessity. However, in our specific circumstances in Tanggul we managed to cultivate a friendly relationship with the Japanese that was like being a good and faithful servant. We were never equals, but at least the Japanese were kind and pleasant towards us, as long as we never did anything wrong.
The British and Dutch Burgher communities lived — quite literally — separate lives. The British settled inside the walled fortress of Colombo, while the Burghers lived in the city. An eyewitness describes an atmosphere of cool friendliness: “They meet seldom, unless on public occasions, when they are mutually friendly and agreeable to one another. Intercourse of this nature does not occur sufficiently often to breed intimate acquaintance, or lasting attachments.” Yet as early as 27 August 1796, a short six months after the British occupation of the city, the first marriage was celebrated between a young woman from a Burgher family and an Englishman. And more were to follow. In addition, little by little the British fluttered forth from their entrenched position and started to rent houses in the city and surrounding districts from the impoverished Burghers.
Although we have little information about the material circumstances of Burghers in the 18th century, it is evident that after the British occupation many fell upon hard times. Before February 1796, most of the Europeans had been working for the Dutch East India Company; now they had to make ends meet in some other way. Anyone who owned land would try to manage by selling coconuts, areca nuts and palm wine, and by renting out houses to the English. Burghers gradually gained modest positions in the government, since they were very useful to the British, providing a cheap source of labour and being well acquainted with the island. The Burghers, who lived mainly in the colonial centres and traditionally worked for the government, continued to be a community of civil servants. Several prominent clergymen and lawyers emerged from their midst, but on the whole they held posts in the lower ranks of the law courts and various administrative government departments.
With the arrival of the new authority in Ceylon, the social position of the Burghers changed. Just as, 150 years earlier, high-ranking officials in the Dutch East India Company had looked down upon the Portuguese, so after 1796 the “Dutch Burghers” were dismissed by the British as a “mixed-race breed” with extraordinary habits. Only very gradually did a mixed British-Ceylonese community develop; hence, for a long time the local Mestizo community remained synonymous with the term “Burgher”. Their sense of unity was strengthened by their loss of status and the arrogant attitude of their new masters. Already under the Dutch East India Company the Burghers had regularly approached the government as a group, demanding certain rights and privileges. They continued to do so under the British. They were concerned about the erosion of their social standing, as exemplified by their (privileged) custom of keeping slaves, their educational privileges, and their job opportunities, which were being threatened by the emerging class of well-educated Sinhalese and Tamils. However, they seem to have lacked a strong sense of Dutch identity. When in the mid-19th century the Burghers began to voice their own political and cultural agenda in the press, it was not to Dutch examples that they turned, but rather to British models, and they found inspiration in antiquity and the rise of nationalism in Europe. It was chiefly Burghers who supported the founding of the newspaper Young Ceylon in 1850. Inspired by Giuseppe Mazzini’s Young Italy movement for the unification of Italy, Young Ceylon voiced the thoughts of a rising elite of Burghers and cautiously promulgated the sentiments of Ceylonese patriotism. It was an expression of the intellectual ambitions of a young generation imbued with Western culture yet maintaining a markedly Ceylonese perspective. Like the newspaper’s founders, Charles Ambrose Lorenz and the brothers Frederick and Louis Nell, most of those working on the newspaper were descended from Dutch East India Company employees, although there were also a few Sinhalese involved.
Last month, while watching Ten Canoes (via Netflix), a docudrama tale of traditional life among the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land in Australia’s far north (charmingly narrated by the familiar voice of David Gulpilil), I recognized two Malay loanwords in the dialog: balanda ‘white people’ and rupiah ‘money’. The former comes from the Malay word for the Dutch and other Europeans, Belanda < Hollanders. (A common Malay-language name for the long-nosed Proboscis monkey is monyet Belanda ‘Dutch monkey’.)
After hearing these loanwords, I thought, “Aha! Evidence of Malay contact with Australia during the Dutch colonial period.” But now I see that this contact has already been well documented.
While Mestizo communities were growing rapidly in the colonies in South Asia, Java and the Moluccas, things were looking very different in Batavia. Here the social spectrum was, in a manner of speaking, weighed down under the burden of two opposing immigrant streams. On the one hand were the large numbers of newcomers from Europe. They continued to occupy the upper ranks in the Dutch East India Company, fashioning their world with their conventions and status norms. Among the newcomers were thousands of soldiers living in the garrisons who were not permitted to marry. On the other hand, the city swarmed with slaves who had been brought there from neighbouring regions and who, after manumission, filled the ranks of the urban proletariat. During the 17th and 18th centuries between 200,000 and 300,000 slaves were transported to Batavia. Indeed, the majority of those living in Batavia had a background of slavery. Inside the city walls, where about 20,000 people lived, at least half the population were slaves and 10 per cent were Mardijkers [interesting etymology!—J.]. Most of the extramural communities also consisted of former slaves and their children. The demographic effects of the slave trade were enormous: when slavery was abolished in 1813, population growth ceased for a long time.
The Europeans were the largest group of slave owners. There are no statistics recording how many slaves there were per household in Batavia, but figures from other comparable cities can offer some idea. In Colombo in 1694, 70 per cent of the slaves were owned by Europeans, with an average of almost 11 slaves per household; on Ambon these figures were respectively 59 per cent and almost five. In Batavia the Mardijker community fluctuated with the number of Europeans in the city, which suggests a close correlation between the number of Europeans and the emancipation of Christian slaves. There appears to have been an almost insatiable demand for slaves. The whole of Batavia — from the company’s dockyards to household personnel, from orchestras to agriculture — depended on slave labour. The ubiquitous slaves also provided easy sexual contacts for their owner. Presumably, sexual relations between masters and their slaves were so common, and so much a matter of course, that they were seldom given special mention.
Slavery left other traces on the pattern of urban life. It was customary for Europeans to baptise their slaves. This practice took off after 1648, when baptised slaves were admitted to the religious celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the Dutch Reformed Church. In Protestant churches it was not the sacrament of baptism but that of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist or Holy Communion) that admitted a person into the community of Christian believers. Furthermore, many Batavian Europeans took pride in emancipating their baptised slaves. They would usually do this in their wills. Some of the emancipated slaves would, not surprisingly, be the natural children of slave women and European fathers. Once they had been baptised and emancipated, these former slaves merged into the Mardijker community. The Mardijkers were a flock of varied plumage. Initially, most of the slaves in Batavia came from India and Bali. This changed between 1660 and 1670, when the VOC halted its slave trade from India and Pegu (southern Burma) and, after the capture of the southern Sulawesi kingdom of Goa, channelled the extensive slave-trade network from Makassar to Batavia. The slaves of Indian origin living in Batavia quickly became a minority group. After some decades, this shift in slave supply areas resulted in the establishment of a Malay-speaking church in Batavia. The slaves from India tended to speak Portuguese, and the lingua franca in most households with slaves would probably also have been Portuguese. Thus, after their emancipation, slaves from India as well as the East Indies joined the Portuguese-speaking community. Between October 1688 and February 1708 there were 4,426 people accepted into the Portuguese-speaking church, while in the Malay-speaking church the number is no more than 306. With time, the Portuguese language began to fade out of use, and so during the 18th century the balance shifted. In the 1780s each year saw about 30 people joining the Portuguese congregation, while 31 were accepted into the Malay church.
Segregation and extra-territoriality — the principle that foreign merchants were subject to their own laws — had many advantages. The local ruler had to negotiate with only a few representatives rather than each individual trader. Maintaining law and order — especially when it had to do with family and inheritance law — could be left to the internal authority of the immigrant community. And the advantages were all too clear for the foreign merchants: they were able to continue living under their own laws. “Legal pluralism” — that is, different groups falling under different legal systems and authorities — was characteristic of the fragmented power relations in the cities and states of South and Southeast Asia. The highest authority was the king, but he was not all-powerful. He had to deal with courtiers, regional governors, religious leaders and the representatives of foreign merchants. Each one of these had their own followers, their own servants and their own slaves who remained outsidethe reach of the central ruler.
The distribution of political power was reflected in urban space. In Ayutthaya large communities of foreign merchants lived in ban (villages or districts) situated just outside the city walls. At the close of the 17th century we find mention of communities from Gujarat (Hindustanis), Coromandel (Moors), Pegu, Malacca (Malays), Makassar, Cochin-China (Vietnamese), China, Japan, Portugal, France and the Netherlands. Each of these communities had its own headman; the large Chinese community even had two. However, although in theory the ethnic groups seemed juridically and spatially segregated, daily reality was somewhat more complicated than the above might suggest. Foreigners and their descendants were not prevented from gaining access to the Siamese community. The extensive “Portuguese” settlement — outside the city walls and facing the Dutch trading post — was peopled by “a Portuguese race descended from black women”; in other words, Mestizos, children with a Portuguese father and a Siamese mother. In other communities, too, there was considerable mixing between travellers from abroad and local women, again resulting in children of mixed parentage.
The mixing went beyond family relations; some foreigners even attained high-ranking posts at court. At the end of the 17th century, for instance, the royal guard of Ayutthaya was composed of a couple of hundred Persians, while for three successive generations the chief minister (chaopraya) came from a Persian family, only to be followed by a Greek. Other first ministers were of Indian, Chinese and Mon descent. The king of Siam also employed Englishmen — for instance, as harbour master. Evidently, the king preferred to employ foreigners in key positions, since they did not command a large band of followers who might pose a threat to the throne. But their difference stopped there. Nowhere do we find the suggestion that these families behaved as foreigners. On the contrary, it seems that they adapted themselves to the culture and customs of the Ayutthaya court. They married into Siamese families and ultimately became totally assimilated.
Along the coast of the Malay peninsula and in the Indonesian archipelago, the pattern of segregation and mediation was essentially no different from that in Siam. The city of Malacca, which during the 15th century thrived on the expanding international trade and attracted many foreigners, appointed four syahbandar (harbour masters) to maintain contacts between the local government and various trading communities, and also to administer justice and act as military commanders in times of war. The syahbandar appointed from the Gujaratis of northwest India was described by the Portuguese traveller Tome Pires as “the most important of them all”. Then there was a syahbandar for the merchants from Coromandel, Bengal, Pegu and Pasai (in north Sumatra); one for the foreigners from Java, the Moluccas, Banda, Palembang, Borneo and Luzon; and, finally, one for the Chinese and other traders from the East.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Ayutthaya and Malacca were among the largest cities in Southeast Asia. Travellers from Europe estimated the population of these places to be as large as 200,000 — although in reality the number would have been closer to 10,000. But whatever the actual figure, there is no doubt that these were bustling emporiums, where a foreigner was not an uncommon sight. There was a prevailing pattern of segregation, but we cannot say with any accuracy how strictly this was applied.