South Moluccans: Teachers before Soldiers

From: Being “Dutch” in the Indies: A History of Creolisation and Empire, 1500–1920, by Ulbe Bosma and Remco Raben, tr. by Wendie Shaffer (National U. Singapore Press, 2008), pp. 173-176:

Migration to other territories within the vast Indonesian archipelago was also part of a general pattern in the Moluccas. From the letters of the Neumann family, we gain a unique picture of an Ambonese family that became widely scattered. The letters also offer an occasional glimpse of the poorer relatives who sent their children to study in Batavia in the hope that they would gain an acceptable job as office clerks. Family members who emigrated remained in contact with each other, forming a small colony in the city of Batavia and maintaining their links with Ambon. Relations with home were maintained, and presumably this held true for all the Moluccans who left their native islands and ranged out across the Indonesian archipelago. According to the 1930 census, about 16 per cent of Moluccan Christians lived outside their home islands. Traditionally, the highest status an Ambonese Christian could attain would be Burghership, and a position as clerk or teacher. In contrast, a position in the army was generally spurned. This aversion to military service had already been prevalent in the 18th century when village headmen had to furnish young men for the annual patrols guarding the clove monopoly. For those living on the Ambon islands, upward social mobility came through education, missionary work and Burghership, while the army was traditionally considered to be an instrument of economic oppression.

The bases for missionary work and education, also in the Dutch language, were already laid in the 17th century. However, these became gradually eroded in the 18th century, a period of economic decline in the Moluccas. Things began to pick up when the Reverend Joseph Kam, shortly after his arrival in 1815, installed a small printing press at the back of his home; here he produced religious matter for his local readership. Then in 1834 the missionary Bernhard Roskott founded a teachers’ training college, which by 1855 had turned out 82 teachers. Most of them found jobs in the village schools on the Moluccan islands. Although these pupil-teachers in the main received Bible instruction, the missionary background undoubtedly enhanced the status of the elementary schoolteacher. From 1856 on, children of native Christian Burghers had the opportunity of attending a European elementary school without having to pay fees. As on the island of Ternate, so too on Ambon, in most cases a distinction was no longer made between the descendants of Europeans, and Christian Burghers; admission to elementary school, and hence the opportunity of gaining a job as a low-ranking civil servant, became equally possible for them all. However, this was only in principle; the two elementary schools on Ambon could not possibly accommodate all the children of the 8,000 Ambonese Burghers. There were, furthermore, few job opportunities in the Moluccas for these junior civil servants — unlike the encouraging outlook for schoolteachers.

It is doubtful whether the missionary teaching made much impact on Dutch fluency among the Ambonese — the Bible was, after all, translated into Malay. Nevertheless, in the second part of the 19th century the Dutch language spread even to the small villages. The inspector for education. Van der Chijs, reported in about 1860 that the Ambonese were more inclined to regard Dutch as their language than were the Indo-Europeans in Java. The affection for the Dutch language would only grow stronger. After the establishment of the second European school in 1856, the Ambon Burgher School was founded in 1869; this was intended for the native Christians of Ambon and had Dutch on its curriculum. Pupils with the highest marks in their school-leaving exams received the diploma of junior civil servant. It seems that in the 1860s there was enormous enthusiasm among the Ambonese Christians to become teachers. Indeed, they were so keen that it was reported, “If they are not curbed, half the male population would become a schoolmaster”. Not surprisingly, when the government teacher training college opened its doors in Ambon in 1874, there were many applicants. Anyone with a certificate as junior civil servant or schoolteacher who failed to find work in the Moluccas left for Java, for the towns of Surabaya, Semarang or Batavia. Some students found their way to the STOVIA ([School Tot Opleiding Voor Indlandsche Artsen =] college for training native medical doctors) in Batavia, which had been founded in 1852.

Although the army did not enjoy great popularity in the Moluccas, the colonial administrations found it most important to have a sizeable contingent of local Christian soldiers in the army, since it was largely composed of Javanese Muslims. Native Christian soldiers had enjoyed the status of semi-Europeans ever since, in 1804, Daendels had declared that the military from the Ambonese islands, Timor and Minahasa were to be treated as equals of European soldiers. Nevertheless, army recruitment in the Christianised islands proved a very difficult task throughout most of the 19th century. In 1854 the local government began a recruitment campaign to increase the numbers in the military, but at the end of two years the army authorities had to concede that all their efforts had yielded no more than a meagre 77 recruits per year for Minahasa and the Ambon islands combined. In 1860, however, the army managed to recruit 1,308 “Ambonese” — this term was used in army statistics to describe soldiers from both Minahasa and the Moluccas. Half this number came from Minahasa. Midway through the Aceh War, in 1875, the numbers from Minahasa had declined to 498, and those from Ambon were merely 398. When the war started in 1873, the residents of Ternate, Manado and Ambon were exhorted to concentrate on recruiting — especially in the Christian villages; but this had little effect, despite a 50-guilder premium to the village headmen for every soldier they provided. At the beginning of the Aceh War, army recruitment moved at a snail’s pace. In addition, in 1864 the cloves monopoly was rescinded, which not only led to a growing trek towards the towns but also produced an economic revival in the villages, since during the 1870s and 1880s cloves were fetching a very good price. In Minahasa, too, the numbers of Christians from the Manado district remained meagre, despite a large number of conversions to Christianity during the 1850s. Only at the end of the 1870s, when the early losses in the Aceh War had made enlistment in the military even more unpopular, did the army authorities manage to attract more recruits. In 1879, when a school was opened in Magelang, Java, for army children from the Moluccas, Minahasa and Timor, it proved exactly what was needed. And, besides, training for the military was expanded. Thus, the army became a feasible route to social advancement, all the more since employment as a clerk or teacher proved unattainable for most
literate Moluccans.

By 1883 the Ambonese contingent in the Dutch-Indies army had doubled to 801 from Manado and 708 from Ambon. The appeal of the army would increase even more on the Ambon islands in the 1890s, when the prices of cloves fell once again. At last there were sufficient volunteers — and the same was true for Minahasa. Indeed, here the army authorities were even able to select out of the large numbers who applied. Ultimately, the greatest number of soldiers would come from Minahasa; in 1918 there were 6,388 soldiers from Minahasa compared with 3,674 from the Moluccan islands. The increasing majority from Manado can easily be explained: in the 1870s the Christian populations of these two areas were more or less the same size, that is, around 60,000. The figures for the 1900 census, however, are 72,359 native Christians on the Ambon islands compared with 164,117 in the Minahasa region.

The former military became part of the village notables, along with the raja and other village headmen and the schoolteachers, who were on a slightly lower rung of the social ladder. Both in Minahasa and on the Ambon islands it became part of the local pattern of social mobility to enter military service; it also formed a confirmation of the Christian identity of these communities. The army did not, however, initiate the integration of the Christian communities in the colonial world. The image that has evolved in Dutch colonial history of the Ambonese as a martial race is primarily a colonial picture and does not reflect a predilection for the military life on the part of the Ambonese.

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Filed under education, Indonesia, language, migration, military, Netherlands, religion

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