(TURN of the CENTURY IMPERIALISM – continued)
At the beginning of the 20th century the Dutch ruled a few islands just north of Venezuela called the Netherlands Antilles, and they ruled in Surinam on the South American continent just east of British Guiana. But their biggest holding was in the East Indies, now known as Indonesia. The Dutch East India company had established itself in the East Indies in the 1600s, and of the more than three thousand islands in that area the Dutch established rule over the big islands of Java and Sumatra and most of Borneo. Singapore remained British, and Bali remained independent.
Before 1900 in Indonesia the Dutch wiped out local merchants and traders. They behaved much as the French did in Vietnam, instituting forced labor and acquiring monopolies. They took control of local lands and began growing crops for export: pepper, rubber, tea, kapok and copra. Local peoples disliked the intrusion and the Dutch suppressed numerous rebellions.
By the turn of the century, the Dutch had established an order in Indonesia called the "Dutch Peace" – much as the British were doing in Africa. Meanwhile, European-owned estates had grown, and only a small percentage of the products being exported were grown by Indonesians. The bulk of profits from Indonesian agriculture was not benefiting Indonesians. The Dutch were not investing in or stimulating modernization among the Indonesians, and Indonesian intellectuals resented the Dutch for what they saw as Dutch responsibility in maintaining backward conditions for the majority of their fellow Indonesians.
At the turn of the century, Portugal controlled a portion of Guinea in Africa's far west. They controlled the coastal region of Angola, and they controlled the coast of Mozambique. Portugal held a few islands in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa. It held Goa (a 1,394 square-mile speck of land on the southwestern coast of India), and it possessed Macao, an island off the coast of southern China.
Slavery had been abolished in Portugal's colonies in 1878, but some slavery continued under the name of contract labor. Portugal was itself a poor and mostly agricultural nation. Its colonies remained the poorest in Africa. And British and German observers saw Portuguese colonial administrations as corrupt, cruel and inefficient.
Every year, the Portuguese shipped thousands of people from Angola to coffee and cocoa plantations on the Island of Sao Tome, to do forced labor. Another migration of labor went from Mozambique to work in mines in British controlled Rhodesia – a voluntary move as men preferred the better working conditions in Rhodesia. The Portuguese controlled the recruitment of this labor to Rhodesia, taking revenue from each worker that they allowed to leave – a passport fee bringing millions of dollars in revenue for the Portuguese.
In what was called the Belgian Congo, a Belgian company, Union Miniere, was extracting minerals, while other companies were extracting rubber and ivory. These companies were forcing local people to work for them. Gang bosses used whips to motivate workers, and the companies gave gang bosses incentives to increase production. When villages failed to produce their assigned quota of rubber, they might be attacked by soldiers recruited by the Belgians from among Africans. Or the errant villages might by attacked by company guards. Villages were looted. Village chiefs and women were taken as hostages against deliveries of the required production of rubber. Men were assigned to control local villages, and they established themselves as despots, using women as they pleased, taking what food supplies they wished, and killing or maiming those who resisted. In an effort to control their supply of workers, the Belgians resorted to mutilation – cutting off a hand, arm or some other extremity. In May 1903, members of Britain's House of Commons began complaining about the Belgian treatment of people in the Congo, and in August that year Britain sent a note of protest to Belgium. And King Leopold of Belgium responded by rejecting what he called British interference in his colonial affairs.
Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.