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The Malay Peninsula and Indonesian Archipelago, to 1700

Indonesian Arachipelago

Islam and a few Portuguese

Traders from China and India had arrived at several islands of the Indonesian archipelago centuries before. Some Indians had stayed, and their religion had spread, some island kings becoming Hindu. From the 700s, in south Sumatra, the Hindu kingdom of Srivijaya had arisen, at Palembang. Muslim traders from Arabia and Persia arrived, staying at seaport towns for months at a time, waiting for favorable weather for return voyages, and they converted local potentates to Islam. Srivijaya gained control over the strait at Malacca and over international trade. Srivijaya was predominantly Mahayana Buddhist and a stopping place for Chinese Buddhists on their way to holy places in India.

By the 1200s, Srivijaya had been overrun by another kingdom, Majapahit, a Hindu kingdom centered in southern Java. Majapahit's rule extended as far as the Malay Peninsula, and Majapahit maintained diplomatic and trade links with China and other Asian states.

By the end of the 1200s, Islam had taken hold in northern Sumatra. Between the mid-1400s and early 1500s, Islam spread to Java. And around the year 1520, Muslim seaport towns in northern Java asserted their independence and warred against Majapahit.

A few Portuguese traders arrived in the islands in the last half of the 1550s. The English and Dutch arrived soon after, to trade in the spices much in demand in Europe and elsewhere. The Europeans quarreled over who was to dominate this trade from the Indonesian Archipelago. Portugal was in decline. The Portuguese were weakened by a depletion of manpower. The Dutch were rising economically, also in shipbuilding. Sixty years of union between the Spanish and Portuguese monarchies, to 1640, was also a detriment for the Portuguese. Spain pursued a policy of neglect toward Portugua'ls colonies. The Dutch were better equipped and better-disciplined when they met the Portuguese in battle at Malacca in 1641. The Dutch won. Portuguese lost their posts in present-day Indonesia and from Ceylon and parts of the Indian coast but survived at Goa, the island of Timor, and at Macao.

The kingdom of Mataram and the Dutch

Meanwhile, on Java, an Islamic kingdom had arisen: Mataram. By the 1620s, the sultan of Mataram, Agung, had conquered a rival power on the island of Java, Surabaya. And, after bloody fighting, Agung forced submission from his fellow Muslims on the island of Borneo.

The Dutch East India Company had established itself at Batavia, in northwestern Java, and they made trade agreements with local princes.  The Dutch at Batavia were besieged by Sultan Agung and threatened by the sultan of nearby Banten, just south of Batavia, but the Dutch East India Company had an armed force strong enough to maintain the company's existence in the islands.

Mataram then suffered from internal conflict. In 1671 people at Mataram revolted against the harsh policies of Agung's successor, Amangkurat I, who, with his family, sought assistance and refuge with the Dutch. Amangkurat died among the Dutch in 1671. The Dutch East India Company allied itself with Amangkurat's exiled successor, Amagkurat II, who agreed to give the company a monopoly in the trade of sugar, rice, opium and textiles in exchange for military support to regain power. In 1684, the company also allied itself with the son of the ruler of Banten, who was rebelling against his father.

By giving support to contenders for power, in the coming century the Dutch East India Company became a greater military power in the region, allied with Mataram, with permission to build forts anywhere it wished and the right to station a garrison at the royal court, paid for by Mataram's royal treasury.

Copyright ? 2001-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.