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Slavery and cultural creativity in the Banda Islands

Phillip Winn

Journal of Southeast Asian Studies / Volume 41 / Issue 03 / October 2010, pp 365 - 389
DOI: 10.1017/S0022463410000238, Published online: 07 September 2010

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Phillip Winn (2010). Slavery and cultural creativity in the Banda Islands. Journal of Southeast
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Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 41(3), pp 365389 2010.

The National University of Singapore, 2010 doi:10.1017/S0022463410000238

Slavery and cultural creativity in the Banda Islands

Phillip Winn

I like a plantation in a pure soil; that is, where people are not displanted, to the end, to
plant in others. For else it is rather an extirpation, than a plantation.
Francis Bacon1

In his influential edited volume Slavery, bondage and dependency in Southeast
Asia, Anthony Reid suggests that long-term slave-based systems of production were
absent from agriculture in Southeast Asia, and had an ambiguous presence at best
in other areas of economic activity. The argument he presents suggests that indigen-
ous slavery in the region merged into a kind of serfdom or household membership, a
situation that continued after the arrival of Europeans whose slave-holding practices
were profoundly shaped by the local traditions they encountered: slavery in the
European colonies owed more to the Southeast Asian environment than to
European legal ideas.2 Reids analysis is insightful and his conclusions persuasive.
But he also notes a single exception to this general picture: the Dutch perkenier sys-
tem for producing nutmeg in Banda with hundreds of slave labourers on large
estates.3 The nutmeg estates of the Banda Islands, in eastern Indonesia, provide a
rare unequivocal example of a slave mode of production in Southeast Asia, and its
sole instance in an agricultural context. The islands have a similar status within estab-
lished accounts of slavery in Asia more generally. While some degree of geographic
and historical variation is usually acknowledged, European slavery practices in Asia
are regarded as distinct from colonial slavery in the New World, where European sys-
tems were imported wholesale.4 Against this conclusion, the perkenier system in the
Banda Islands has been described as a form of exploitation unheard of in Asia,

Phillip Winn is currently a Research Fellow in Anthropology within the School of Culture, History and
Language; College of Asia & the Pacific at The Australian National University, where he is part of a
research project exploring diverse expressions of Islam in eastern Indonesia. Correspondence in connec-
tion with this paper should be addressed to:
1 Francis Bacon, Of plantations, in The essayes or counsels civill and morall of Francis Bacon, ed.
Michael Kiernan (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985 [1625]), p. 106.
2 Anthony Reid, Introduction: Slavery and bondage in Southeast Asian history, in Slavery, bondage
and dependency in Southeast Asia, ed. Anthony Reid (St Lucia, Brisbane: University of Queensland
Press, 1983), pp. 22, 18.
3 Ibid., p. 23.
4 Gwyn Campbell and Edward A. Alpers, Introduction: Slavery, forced labour and resistance in Indian
Ocean Africa and Asia, Slavery and Abolition, 25, 5 (2004): ix. See also Reid, Introduction, p. 14.

one that represented a Caribbean cuckoo in an Asian nest.5 In other words, Dutch
nutmeg cultivation in the Bandas constituted a New World style system of slavery
operating in an Asian context.
This paper questions these depictions of slavery in the Banda Islands. I contend
instead that slavery in the nutmeg estates was consistent with the general picture
described by Reid, where the Southeast Asian character of slavery always asserted
itself.6 Key traits include the prominence of domestic households in economic and
social terms and the existence of spheres of slave autonomy, along with diverse oppor-
tunities for manumission. The perkenier system (Dutch perkeniersstelsel) for produ-
cing nutmeg and mace was certainly one of very few historical situations where
Asian slaves worked on European-owned farms or plantations.7 Established by the
Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) following
their final conquest of the Banda Islands in 1621, the perkeniersstelsel represented
an early-modern vision of a totalising administrative order encompassing labour
and the environment (including both slaves and estate-holders). It is appropriate to
conceive of the perkeniersstelsel in terms of a nascent application of the rationalising
instrumentality of modernity in the service of agricultural production, and it clearly
forms a precursor of later colonial plantation regimes. I would argue, however, that
such an ambitious project was not fully realised. One critical shortcoming, of most
interest here, was that the Dutch administration failed to isolate slavery in the nutmeg
estates from broader practices existing elsewhere in the Indonesian archipelago.
Several factors are explored as contributing to this situation, which also serve to dis-
tinguish the nutmeg estates of the Bandas from slave-based plantations in New World
My fundamental concern here is not historical revision, but rather (as an anthro-
pologist) to understand key dimensions of social life in the Banda Islands today.
Established views suggest the islands were transformed absolutely by the VOC con-
quest, in which much of the pre-conquest population was killed or driven from the
islands to be replaced by imported slaves labouring in nutmeg estates.8 Bruno
Lasker, an important early scholar of slavery in Southeast Asia, refers to the
Bandas as the site of an iniquitous colonial experiment whose unforeseen legacy
involved the creation of a uniquely out-of-place population, one he characterises as
the social residue of colonialism.9 Yet the bulk of the contemporary population
today declares itself to be meaningfully Bandanese, a perspective enacted in part
through a range of ceremonial and ritual activities viewed as inherited from the

5 Vincent C. Loth, Pioneers and perkeniers: The Banda Islands in the 17th century, Cakalele, 6 (1995):
6 Reid, Introduction, p. 14.
7 Ralph Shlomowitz, Slave trade: Asia and Oceania, in A historical guide to world slavery, ed. Seymour
Drescher and Stanley L. Engerman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 362. Shlomowitz ident-
ifies just three examples, including that of the Banda Islands.
8 For example, George Masselman, The cradle of colonialism (New Haven and London: Yale University
Press, 1963), p. 422, writes: denuded of its population, the Banda Islands became virgin territory which
the Company could now exploit as it wished.
9 Bruno Lasker, Human bondage in Southeast Asia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1950), pp. 34, 75.

pre-conquest era.10 My assertion is that slavery in the post-conquest Banda Islands

played a crucial role in engendering a transformative reiteration of Bandanese iden-
tity. This was able to occur in large part because the perkenier system and the slave
labourers it imported were not isolated from the wider cultural sphere.
The result was a dynamic process of culture-building that drew together a rem-
nant pre-conquest population and imported slaves, and ultimately also involved the
estate-holders and other incomers. It is this historical process that underpins the
robust assertions of local identity found in the Banda Islands today from a population
that simultaneously acknowledges heterogeneous ancestral origins. Moreover, local
identity in the islands remains remarkably processual, where the possibility of
accessing local identity that is, of becoming Bandanese remains for more recent
in-migrants and their descendants. It is my view that this constitutes the truly unfore-
seen legacy of slavery in the Bandas, the cultural outcome of slavery practices that
eluded the administrative vision of the perkeniersstelsel and represent instead a variation
consistent with the general situation of slavery in the archipelago. By the time the
perkeniersstelsel entered its final phase of unfree labour in the latter part of the nineteenth
century, importing numbers of indentured workers or contract coolies, this historical
experience had established a ready route for their potential acceptance and incorporation
into the local populace. The continuing presence of a strongly asserted form of local
identity in the islands is testament to the elusiveness of totalising schemes of governance,
whether in the realm of economic production or colonial administration.

The perkeniersstelsel as plantation

The Banda Islands are the original source of the spices nutmeg and mace, both
products of a single tree (Myristica fragrans) native to this small island group. The
perkeniersstelsel derives its name from a series of estates established in the Bandas
by the Dutch as territorial units of silvicultural management and spice production.
This followed the final brutal conquest of the islands in 1621 by the quasi-sovereign
VOC, which sponsored a major military expedition under Jan Pieterszoon Coen to
seize possession of the still extensive areas not yet under its control as a result of
earlier conflicts. The expedition succeeded, after decimating the local population
and razing their fortified settlements. Prior to Dutch conquest, the population of the
Bandas is generally estimated as between 13,00015,000 people. Readings of historical
sources suggest around 1,000 Bandanese survived in the islands.11 The Company
re-established and intensified production of the valuable spices through establishing
a series of estates known as perken (singular: perk). This term evokes notions of a
garden-bed, but in the context of the Banda Islands it has been translated variously
10 For more detail concerning these activities, see Phillip Winn, Tanah berkat (blessed land) and the
source of the local in the Banda Islands, central Maluku, in Sharing the earth, dividing the land. Land
and territory in the Austronesian world, ed. Thomas Reuter (Canberra: Comparative Austronesia
Series, ANU E Press, 2006), pp. 6181.
11 Loth, Pioneers and perkeniers, p. 18; Willard A. Hanna, Indonesia Banda: Colonialism and its after-
math in the Nutmeg Islands (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1978), p. 55. It
remains unclear what proportion of this pre-conquest estimate of population were periodically resident
traders or in-migrants. The total number of Bandanese killed or forcibly expelled or who fled the islands
as a result of the VOC conquest remains uncertain; numbers of people are also reported as dying from
starvation, exposure and disease in the conquests immediate aftermath.

as garden concessions, orchards, groves and even parks. Perkenier then, refers to
farmers, planters or park-keepers, although colonial-era Dutch dictionaries more
often simply provide: a nutmeg planter. Hence perkeniersstelsel can be glossed as
the nutmeg-planter system, and it was unique to the Banda Islands.
The ambiguity of the term perken may reflect the status of the Bandas as an early
venture by the Dutch into tropical agriculture incorporating slave labour. This enter-
prise broadly paralleled earlier efforts by other European powers, in particular Spain
and Portugal, in which islands and island populations also played a prominent part.
In the mid-1450s the Spanish enslaved the entire indigenous population of the Canary
Islands to labour in large-scale sugar cultivation established there.12 Canary Islanders
were later imported as slaves by the Portuguese to labour in their own Atlantic sugar-
cane plantations on Madeira Island.13 This pattern of indigenous enslavement was
repeated when sugar-cane plantations began to be established in the Caribbean
between 1500 and 1580, though by this time African slaves had begun to form the
main source of labour.14 By the 1550s So Tom, the last of the Atlantic Islands,
was predominantly worked by African slaves and was the closest among these islands
to the plantation model that was to become a New World norm.15
The perkeniersstelsel of the Banda Islands is a recognisable form of early tropical
plantation. Judy Bieber defines the plantation complex in the New World as consist-
ing of large estates, funded through European capital, using predominantly slave
labour in the production of tropical export crops for European consumption, adding
that plantation societies depended on slavery as a predominant, institutionalised form
of labour.16 Alec Gordon characterises the late colonial Asian plantation by its com-
bination of foreign ownership in a conquered territory; a relatively large-size farming
unit; an export orientation; and a dependence on cheap land and cheap labour (facili-
tated by a colonial administration).17 The early modern nutmeg estates of the Bandas
feature aspects of both depictions.
However, while the Bandas provide a Southeast Asian example of a remnant
island population enslaved (in part) within plantation estates, in this case an exotic
commodity was not introduced for cultivation; this immediately distinguishes the per-
ken from both New World plantations and those in late colonial settings in Asia. The
Bandanese enslaved in the islands following VOC conquest were cultivating a forest
product they had themselves developed for trade many generations before, and
doing so in their own lands, now under Dutch authority. The essential method
remained much the same, though intensified: an understorey of nutmeg trees pro-
tected from strong winds and harsh sun by a semi-closed canopy of larger trees (nota-
bly Canarium spp., known locally as kenari). The newly enslaved Bandanese were not
simply labour in the perkeniersstelsel they were the original silviculturalists and

12 Judy Bieber, Introduction, in Plantation societies in the era of European expansion, ed. Judy Bieber
(Hampshire, UK: Variorum, 1997), p. xvi.
13 Herbert S. Klein, The Atlantic slave trade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 14.
14 Sidney W. Mintz, Was the plantation slave a proletarian?, in Plantation societies, ed. Bieber, p. 309.
15 Klein, Atlantic slave trade, p. 15.
16 Bieber, Introduction, p. xiii.
17 Alec Gordon, Towards a model of plantation systems, Journal of Contemporary Asia (henceforth,
JCA), 31, 3 (2001): 313.

traders of the islands whose expertise was recognised and utilised by the VOC.
Enslaved Bandanese were deliberately distributed about the islands to make use of
their expertise in cultivation and spice production, with several hundred individuals
initially exiled to Batavia being returned to the Bandas for this very purpose.18 In
an account of the post-conquest population in 1638, a VOC official recorded
Bandanese as forming some 13 per cent of the total slave population in the islands
of 2,199.19 Perhaps it was this situation, as much as the violence of the conquest itself,
which prompted Lasker to describe the perkeniersstelsel as a particularly ruthless
experiment in slavery by a colonial power.20
The destruction of Bandanese society was sought by the VOC as part of its ambitions
to monopolise the European spice trade at its source, both for profit and to provide lever-
age for expanding Dutch interests in wider inter-Asiatic trading.21 To this latter end, Coen
emphasised the need for Dutch colonists to be established in the Indies archipelago as a
burger class (that is, a non-VOC citizenry) balancing the native population, and at least
initially, envisaged as participants in regional trading networks.22 For several centuries
after the Dutch conquest the Banda Islands remained a regional trading entrept and
redistribution centre rather than an isolated European plantation enclave. This marked
a continuation of a longstanding status, shaped by the central location of the islands in
terms of local physical geography and seasonal sailing conditions.23 As Roy Ellen
notes, the political economy of Banda had been transformed, but with the aim of main-
taining a pattern of production and export that had preceded it.24 In short, key elements
of the pre-conquest life-world of the Banda Islands remained of vital importance under
VOC rule and in fact formed the very focus of the Dutch presence. Such differences must
be prominent in any comparative consideration of the nutmeg estates in the Bandas and
plantations existing elsewhere, especially in the same period.
Another important point of contrast between the perkeniersstelsel and New
World plantations involves the latters dependence on the Atlantic trade in African
slaves. Alongside a proportion of the remaining Bandanese, the VOC initially sourced
slaves through their established trading presence outside the archipelago (e.g. on the
Coromandel and Bengal coasts of India). But it was not long, however, before local
markets and suppliers were emphasised, especially in the eastern archipelago,
where slaves became available in increasing numbers.25 The slave trade in the

18 Hanna, Indonesia Banda, p. 55; Loth, Pioneers and perkeniers, pp. 1819, 24.
19 Hanna, Indonesia Banda, p. 66. Hanna cites the journal observations of a German named Wurffbain
in the employ of the VOC, who records 560 native Bandanese in the islands, roughly equivalent num-
bers enslaved and free. The Bandanese slaves comprised 53 men, 158 women, and 69 children; the free
Bandanese comprised 50 men, 133 women, and 97 children. A total of 1,919 non-Bandanese slaves are
recorded, consisting of 782 men, 732 women and 405 children.
20 Lasker, Human bondage, p. 75.
21 Masselman, Cradle of colonialism, p. 416.
22 Ibid., p. 312; M.A.P. Meilink-Roelofsz, Asian trade and European influence in the Indonesian
Archipelago between 1500 and about 1630 (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1962), pp. 2289.
23 Roy Ellen, On the edge of the Banda zone. Past and present in the social organisation of a Moluccan
trading network (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003), pp. 547.
24 Ibid., p. 88.
25 James J. Fox, For good and sufficient reasons: An examination of early Dutch East India Company
ordinances on slaves and slavery, in Slavery, bondage and dependency in Southeast Asia, ed. Reid, p. 250.

Maluku region where the Banda Islands are found was longstanding, consisting
mainly of people seized in raids on enemy villages.26 This trade intensified dramati-
cally after the arrival of Europeans, most notably the Dutch, who signed contracts
with local rulers in Maluku in the early seventeenth century for the provision of
slaves, as well as acquiring them directly or by proxy. This demand for slaves actually
exacerbated the incidence of inter-village warfare in the region.27 In its wider regional
form, the slave trade drew on upland and interior peoples from Seram, Timor, Borneo
and Buru as well as Papuans, Balinese and people from South Sulawesi.28 It flourished
over a considerable period Malacca, Makassar, Buton and Timor were all key
centres of the slave trade at various times, while Java, Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa,
Buton, Alor, Aru and Tanimbar were all involved in exporting slaves.29
Vincent Loths description of the perkeniersstelsel as an early example of total
colonisation by a western power relies in part on an argument that the estates con-
stituted a fully inclusive colonial system of agricultural production marked by the
extreme rationalisation of productional means.30 Drawing on VOC records, he
suggests that the post-conquest islands can be characterised by the central role of
the VOC in the lay-out and implementation of the new agricultural system and
the firm grip the colonial government kept on the activities of the perkeniers.31
The estates, perkeniers and slaves are entirely subject to the (re) organisation of
spice production via the perkeniersstelsel: every aspect of natural and human
life [was] tuned to nutmeg production.32 In this view, the administration
seems to exercise a capacity and influence in excess of the most ambitious forms of
modern governmentality: nothing in Banda can be seen outside of the framework
of VOC dominance.33 While the VOC documents Loth cites certainly suggest con-
siderable formal attention was paid to diverse realms of regulation and supervision,
other evidence would be needed to gauge the efficacy of such regimes, particularly
in respect of emerging social and economic relations involving estate-holders and
their slaves.
In practical terms, the Dutch administration in the Bandas seems to have been
unable to isolate slavery within the perkeniersstelsel from wider related socio-cultural
practices that were long established in the region. Perken boundaries quickly became
porous economically, demographically and culturally, as Company-purchased slaves
intended for the estates (the perkenslaven) blurred with the privately owned slaves

26 Leonard Andaya, Local trade networks in Maluku in the 16th, 17th and 18th century, Cakalele, 2, 2
(1991): 73.
27 J.G.F. Riedel, De sluik-en kroesharige rassen tusschen Selebes an Papua (The Hague: Martinus
Nijhoff, 1886), p. 462.
28 Ellen, On the edge, pp. 1012; Alfons van der Kraan, Bali: Slavery and slave trade, in Reid, ed.,
Slavery, bondage and dependency in Southeast Asia, p. 327; Hanna, Indonesia Banda, pp. 623.
29 See Reid Introduction, pp. 303; also H.R.C. Wright, The Moluccan spice monopoly, 17701824,
Journal of the Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society, 31, 4 (1958): 18, 47.
30 Vincent C. Loth, Fragrant gold and food provision: resource management and agriculture in seven-
teenth century Banda, in Old World places, New World problems. Exploring resource management issues
in Eastern Indonesia, ed. Sandra Pannell and Franz von Benda-Beckmann (Canberra: Centre for
Resource and Environmental Studies / Australian National University, 1998), pp. 6771, 87.
31 Ibid., p. 87.
32 Ibid., p. 75.
33 Loth, Pioneers and perkeniers, p. 28.

of perkenier households. I suggest that it ultimately becomes difficult to separate the

use of slave labour in support of spice production from that which served household
economies. At times, the latter even appears to challenge the dominance of the for-
mer. In this sense the social practice of slavery in the Banda Islands can be said to
have eluded VOC control, and exhibits key features that Reid argues were endemic
throughout the archipelago and Southeast Asia. In this respect (as in many others),
the firm grip the VOC may have sought in the Bandas proved elusive here, as

Slavery and the economic

As noted, Coens original social vision for the Banda Islands was for an migr
settler-colony dominated by a class of independent Dutch burgers. But a far more
diverse society actually emerged in the islands, by the beginning of the eighteenth cen-
tury, its chief inhabitants or burghers were listed as comprising Europeans, Batavians,
Ambonese, Ternatens and Chinese, in addition to regular in-migrants including
Tanimbarese, Balinese, Butonese and Buginese, and many emancipated slaves.34
Freed slaves, or mardijkers as they came to be called by the Dutch, constituted a
large section of the population of all major settlements in the archipelago.35
Originally this term referred to manumitted slaves and their descendants associated
with the earlier Portuguese presence. Usually Christian converts of Asian (particularly
Indian) origin, the group was enlarged during the seventeenth century by mestizos
and/or migrants from other parts of Asia, many of whom were freed slaves from
within the archipelago.36 Doubtless the mardijker population of the Bandas had a
similar character. Slaves, however, remained the numerically dominant section of
Bandas population over several centuries. In 1638, a total of 2,199 slaves constituted
some two-thirds of the islands total population of 3,843 persons.37 By 1794, slave
numbers had increased to 4,112 or around three-quarters of the islands population
at that time; importantly, more than half of these were privately owned.38

Household versus market

The predominance of the household economy is a major element in Reids depic-
tion of European slavery practices in the archipelago as more influenced by existing
regional patterns than able to impose European ones. The productive activities of
slaves in Southeast Asia before the arrival of Europeans were integrated with the
34 W.G. Miller, An account of trade patterns in the Banda Sea in 1707, from an unpublished manu-
script in the India Office library, Indonesia Circle, 23 (1980): 44.
35 Reid, Introduction, p. 22.
36 Gerrit J. Knaap, A city of migrants: Kota Ambon at the end of the seventeenth century, Indonesia,
51 (1991): 112. Ambon town was a major centre of VOC operations close to the Banda Islands; the most
regular and substantial growth of the mardijker population in this settlement consisted of freed slaves of
Makassarese, Butonese, Buginese and Balinese origins.
37 Hanna, Indonesia Banda, p. 66.
38 Wright, Moluccan spice monopoly, p. 18. This figure comprised 1,826 men, 1,760 women and 526
children. Similar numbers are reported around the same period by J.E. Heeres, Eene Engelsche lezig
omtrent de verovering van Banda en Ambon in 1796 en omtrent den Toestand dier eilanden groepen
op het eind der achttiende eeuw, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 17 (1914): 354, as fol-
lows: 4,387 slaves in a total population of 5,763 people; that is, slaves equated to some 76% of the

domestic or household realm of their owners, a situation that continued with the
European presence. For Reid, this forms a clear contrast to the slave mode of pro-
duction seen in the New World again, with the exception of the perkeniersstelsel:
A slave mode of production did not exist in the sense of a significantly different pro-
duction system from that of serfdom the only definite exception to this point is the
Dutch perkenier system for producing nutmeg in Banda.39
References to serfdom and slave mode of production suggest conceptual links
to theories of colonialism and historical transitions to capitalism.40 However, Reid
bypasses these sometimes rarefied debates by defining a slave mode of production
as simply involving centralized control of a large body of workers who would produce
on a scale different from the household-oriented economy.41 The juxtaposition of a
limited, household scale of production versus a more extensive, market-oriented har-
nessing of productive labour is a key element in his general characterisation of slavery
in the indigenous Southeast Asian environment.42
Clearly, individual perken in the post-conquest Banda Islands were eventually
able to attain levels of spice production far exceeding those of the pre-VOC period.
However, the boundary separating slave labour centrally directed towards spice pro-
duction versus decentralised household-oriented economic activity in the Bandas
emerges as ambiguous, much like the status of the perkeniers themselves. From the
very beginnings of the perkeniersstelsel, the position of the perkeniers was unclear.
Were the post-conquest Banda Islands a VOC plantation venture, an agricultural set-
tler colony or an early trading settlement? Were the perkeniers settler-farmers, perken
managers or burger-traders? The question was never absolutely settled, in part
because of disappointment with the quality of the Dutch settlers attracted to the per-
keniersstelsel scheme, combined with VOC reluctance to sanction unrestricted trading
even by Dutch civilians.43 The Company retained formal ownership of the perken and
appears to have envisaged something of a feudal relationship with the perkeniers, who
were seen as tenant-vassals (leenmannen); but the latter soon grew to regard the per-
ken as their own property and themselves as a class of landowners.44 Within decades
perken began changing hands through processes of purchase and inheritance, gener-
ally unsanctioned by the Company, in which there was both splintering and amalga-
mation of estates. As Hanna notes, in the course of a generation or two, there evolved
a new social and economic system founded as much upon precedent as upon VOC
prescription, the two of which often conflicted.45
One important area of conflict involved distinctions between publicly and
privately owned slaves. Both were present in the Banda Islands, and the number

39 Reid, Introduction, p. 23.

40 See for example: Alec Gordon, Towards a model of plantation systems, JCA, 31, 3 (2001), and
Plantation colonialism, capitalism and critics, JCA, 30, 4 (2000).
41 Reid, Introduction, p. 22; Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the age of commerce 14501680. Vol 1
The lands below the winds (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988), pp. 1345.
42 Reid, Introduction, p. 22.
43 V.I.Van de Waal, Bijdrage tot de geschiedenis der perkeniers 16211671, Overgedrukt uit het
Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, LXXIV (1934): 522; Meilink-Roelofsz, Asian
trade, pp. 22738.
44 Van de Waal, Bijdrage, p. 524.
45 Hanna, Indonesia Banda, p. 64.

associated with individual households appears at times as large as those attached to

the estates. As noted previously, in 1794 over half of the 4,112 slaves in the islands
were categorised as private or house-slaves, as against perkenslaven. By 1823, private
slaves totalled 1,437 compared to 1,727 slaves and convicts recorded as labouring in
the perken.46 Centrally managed and domestically integrated forms of slave-based
productive efforts co-existed in the Bandas, and the extent to which these two
forms of labour were consistently distinct is uncertain. Privately owned slaves offered
a range of economic benefits to their owners by engaging in a variety of profitable
activities, including public works. Though the Company maintained a small number
of slaves for this purpose in the islands (as it did in Batavia), labour needs were such
that private slaves could regularly be hired out for such work, as one observer noted
in 1796:
the want of free inhabitants to labour and attend the different trades [means that] when
works of any magnitude are carried on, it is necessary to hire at a very dear rate the few
artisans who are willing to work and the private slaves of individuals, whose labour their
masters turn to great advantage at particular times.47

Other areas of great advantage to which private slaves were directed included fishing
and growing fruit and vegetables. As managers of the perken, it seems the perkeniers
also regularly directed the labour of perken slaves towards similar ends. When a hur-
ricane in the eighteenth century caused widespread damage to the nutmeg forests, the
administration struggled to interest the perkeniers in schemes to rehabilitate their per-
ken. They apparently preferred to use their slaves to grow vegetables for consumption
or sale, rather than to care for the nutmeg or even to harvest them properly.48 And an
early-nineteenth-century observer noted that:
[the perkeniers] were in the habit of privately employing the labour of the public slaves,
which ought to be exclusively directed to the care and cultivation of the parks and to due
collection of their produce.49

Alongside direct economic return, activities of this kind likely allowed the perkenier to
supplement or even replace VOC rations, which could be in short supply and, in the
case of rice, formed a readily saleable commodity.50 At the same time, benefits also
existed for the slaves involved in such efforts. In 1796, at a juncture when the
Bandas were in severe want of rice, a British army officer then serving in the islands
the park-slaves were in general better fed and taken care of than any other, having the
priviledge of cultivating all over the park [i.e. perk], where they found it convenient,
plantains, jams [yams], sweet-potatoe, kanarynuts etc for their own use, and tho the

46 Wright, Moluccan spice monopoly, pp. 18, 94.

47 Heeres, Eene Engelsche lezig omtrent, p. 353.
48 Wright, Moluccan spice monopoly, p. 17.
49 Ibid., p. 76.
50 Hanna, Indonesia Banda, p. 81. The adequacy of Company provisions was a regular source of fric-
tion between perkeniers and the VOC administration, with perkeniers at times substituting locally
imported sago for the Company-supplied allowance of rice designated for perken slaves.

Admiral empowered me, to make such addition to their allowance of rice as should
appear necessary, they did not seem to stand in any need of it.51

It appears that perken slaves exercised a degree of autonomy over their gardening
activities, a situation that has been documented in contexts of colonial slavery else-
where. Indeed, standard conceptions of a slave mode of production in the New
World are themselves sometimes problematised by historical evidence of slaves culti-
vating their own food plots and independently selling surplus food.52 It is highly likely
that perken slaves in the Bandas were involved in similar private market-oriented
activities (almost certainly so in regard to kenari). In any case, the economic character
of their labour cannot be wholly reduced to the production of nutmeg and mace for
the VOC.
Private slaves and perken slaves seem to have engaged in very similar activities at
times. In fact the distinction between the two categories appears to have been deeply
and deliberately compromised, both by perkeniers and VOC personnel. Within a gen-
eration or two, a pattern developed whereby perkeniers would transfer frail private
slaves to plantation labour pools, while withdrawing more able-bodied individuals
as substitutes.53 This practice was documented also among leading VOC officials in
the Bandas (in the eighteenth century): it has been a custom amongst the governors
and other servants in authority to exchange from time to time their own private
slaves, that were grown unfit for labour, with the best and youngest among those
of the Company [i.e. the VOC].54
Plainly, the labour of public slaves in the Banda Islands was regularly utilised in
efforts serving private, household economies. Indeed, Hanna notes of the perkeniers:
they diverted the best of their [ perken] slaves to work as domestics in their Neira
households or as crews on their trading vessels.55 The involvement of slaves in inter-

51 Heeres, Eene Engelsche lezig omtrent, p. 308. The assertion that perken slaves may have been
granted certain privileges in the nutmeg groves in relation to kanary nuts is interesting. The term culti-
vate seems misapplied here; unlike the other items mentioned, these nuts (known as kenari) are pro-
duced by tall forest trees that form an integral part of the canopy protecting the nutmeg groves. Any
privilege likely concerns the gathering of these oil-rich edible nuts. Village communities in the islands
today strongly assert a local right to gather the fallen nuts of kenari trees, which continue to form a
key component of the now almost wholly state-owned nutmeg groves, see Phillip Winn, Everyone
searches, everyone finds: Moral discourse and resource in use in an Indonesian Muslim community,
Oceania, 72, 4 (2002): 27593. Heeres may offer evidence for the existence of such a right in the 18th
century, though it remains unclear whether this applied to perken slaves exclusively or extended also
to local villagers.
52 Mintz, Was the plantation slave, pp. 31718. In a Caribbean context, similar activities were part of a
formalised system of provision grounds, see Verene A. Shepherd, Caribbean Agriculture, in A historical
guide to world slavery, ed. Drescher and Engerman, p. 118, who observes that despite being essentially a
cost-saving measure, gardening also diluted the power of slave-owners as it limited the extent to which
food could be used as a means of control. Caribbean slaves engaged in organised protests in the face of
attempts to reduce access to provision grounds or to place limits on the range of marketing activities
associated with their own cultivation efforts.
53 Wright, Moluccan spice monopoly, p. 18.
54 Heeres, Eene Engelsche lezig omtrent, pp. 3489.
55 Hanna, Indonesia Banda, p. 81. Neira is the name of the largest settlement in the islands and the
location of its administrative centre; the island on which it is located is also known also as Neira and
as Banda Neira. Perkeniers generally maintained residences on this island.

island trading is the key arena in a Banda setting where, as Jack Goody suggests, more
discriminating attention needs to be paid to the significance of slave labour.56

Inter-island trade
Focus on the perkeniersstelsel encourages attention to terrestrial activities alone in
the Banda Islands. However, a critical dimension of the historical character of econ-
omic activity in the islands involves their role as a maritime trading nexus, ultimately
linking local spheres of trade to the Indian Ocean world (and beyond) in a pattern
established over many centuries.57 As noted previously, soon after their conquest of
the Bandas the Dutch began seeking to reinstate local and regional trading networks
which had previously ensured supplies of basic commodities to the islands. By 1650,
the regularities of local trade had re-established themselves with Banda Neira as the
hub.58 And from the earliest period, perkeniers and other burgers in the Bandas
including VOC personnel participated in this extensive and perennial inter-island
trade.59 Franois Valentijn observed of the perkeniers in the latter part of the seven-
teenth century that they have the stoutest and fastest boats which one might wish and
voyage on them to distant islands.60 It seems most wealthy Europeans in the islands
owned trading vessels, which they despatched regularly to regional markets in
Macassar, Timor and Aru for slaves and a range of other goods.61 Both legal and illicit
trading i.e. in violation of VOC trading restrictions were widespread, and formed
one of the most profitable areas of economic activity in the islands. Smuggling was
endemic, including spices, and some Banda merchants at times reputedly even sup-
plied arms and military stores to native groups on neighbouring islands who were
in open conflict with the Dutch.62
The intensity of this inter-island trade was such that it frequently threatened to
eclipse the commitment of perkeniers to managing the nutmeg groves, with many
absenting themselves from their estates in order to pursue trading profits.63 As noted
above, moreover, the perkeniers in the latter part of the seventeenth century diverted
the best slaves away from plantation labour to crew their trading vessels. Clearly such
activities were of concern to the Company, and various regulatory arrangements existed
at different times to police the activities of perkeniers. Yet the picture that emerges hardly
suggests an administration exercising complete control. In the eighteenth century, for
example, one strategy of administrative surveillance involved officials a British observer
refers to as boscwagters, charged with inspecting the perken to ascertain:
the planters employ the slaves, not for their own private purposes, but in attendance on
the nutmeg trees, to take care that the mace and nutmegs are properly cared and to note

56 Jack Goody, Slavery in time and place, in Asian and African systems of slavery, ed. James L. Watson
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1980), pp. 356.
57 Ellen, On the edge, pp. 410; Meilink-Roelofsz, Asian trade and European influence in the Indonesian
Archipelago between 1500 and about 1630 (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1962), pp. 956.
58 Ibid., p. 85.
59 Miller, Account of trade patterns, pp. 424.
60 Quoted in Hanna, Indonesia Banda, p. 75.
61 Wright, Moluccan spice monopoly, p. 1; Miller, An account of trade patterns, pp. 424.
62 Heeres, Eene Engelsche lezig omtrent, p. 355.
63 Wright, Moluccan spice monopoly, p. 18.

the quantity, that none be smuggled off. They have certain walks allotted to them, and
are to make constant reports to the Governor of the state of the different parks and the
quantity likewise yielded to them.64

The activities of these officials were supervised by the Governor or other chief
persons of the settlement, who were in turn expected to visit every perken on a regu-
lar basis. Nevertheless, the same observer states that the system proved ineffective,
with key members of the administration themselves neglecting their responsibilities
in the estates, attending only to the advantages to be derived from trade with neigh-
bouring islands.65
Local trade involved nearby island groups such as Southeast Seram, where signifi-
cant numbers of Bandanese refugees from the conquest had settled.66 The consider-
able degree of traffic between islands provided opportunities not just for the
continued circulation and exchange of traditional knowledge about the Bandas, but
for perken slaves to abscond. Valentijn, in the latter part of the seventeenth century,
describes significant numbers of perken slaves regularly fleeing the estates by sea: no
matter how close a watch they may keep, as many as 20 to 30 slaves may escape by
boat at night and few ever return.67 The VOC soon sought agreements from the
rulers of neighbouring islands concerning the repatriation of runaway slaves, but to
little practical effect.68 Gwyn Campbell and Edward Alpers note that in the larger
city ports of the colonial Indies, lacking the kinds of centralised authorities needed
to facilitate the recapture of runaway slaves, slave-owners tended to treat their dom-
estic slaves particularly well in order to retain them.69 A similar logic likely applied in
the case of Banda perken. Hanna goes as far as to assert that slaves in the Bandas
seemed to consort on friendly terms with their masters only when both were engaged
in contraband traffic in spices or other commodities.70
As with the cultivation of gardens, participation in inter-island trading offered
direct benefits to slaves, including opportunities to escape from servitude: [trading]
afforded slaves the opportunity to become both affluent and mobile and a
slave-sailor-trader soon earned his freedom or freed himself.71 Reid highlights the
existence of diverse opportunities for manumission as another persistent feature of
pre-colonial slavery. He notes that slaves often succeeded in buying themselves out
of slavery with the money they accumulated in their own time.72 That this applied
in the Banda Islands once again points to continuities between the shape of slave-
holding practices in these islands and those elsewhere in the region, notwithstanding
the presence of the perkeniersstelsel.

64 Heeres, Eene Engelsche lezig omtrent, p. 349; the term boscwagter is clearly a rendering of the
Dutch boschwachter, i.e. forester.
65 Ibid., p. 355.
66 Ellen, On the edge, p. 83.
67 Quoted in Hanna, Indonesia Banda, p. 75.
68 Ellen, On the edge, p. 86.
69 Campbell and Alpers, Introduction, p. xii.
70 Hanna, Indonesia Banda, p. 79.
71 Ibid., p. 80.
72 Reid, Introduction, p. 17.

Slaves, sociality and culture-building

It seems clear that slavery in the Bandas Islands had a far wider significance than
supporting intensive production of nutmeg in the perkeniersstelsel. A dense web of
relations came to link perkeniers and slaves across diverse realms of social life, inside
and outside the perken. Perkenier households became enmeshed with private and per-
ken slaves not just economically but socially, culturally and demographically, a situ-
ation that applied to European slave-holders throughout the archipelago. Indeed,
Reid suggests that the most common function of European-owned slaves during
the earliest period of the European presence involved various forms of domestic ser-
vice, in particular to display (and if necessary defend) the wealth and status of the
owner.73 This provides further evidence of the European adoption of extant
Southeast Asian patterns of slavery. Here again, parallels are evident in the Banda
For decades after the perkeniersstelsel was established, the precise boundaries of
individual perken were not fully demarcated, leading to episodes V.I. Van de Waal
refers to euphemistically as violent confusion.74 Hanna elaborates at this point: little
battles occurred between armies of slaves disputing prime lands on behalf of their
masters.75 Slaves were also used in defence of trading interests. One Banda perkenier
maintained a strong influence over commercial activities in the Aru Islands through a
personal fleet of seven trading vessels. He reportedly used his slaves (who are very
numerous) to provide martial assistance to the small VOC garrison in that locale.76
In addition to defending their owners wealth, slaves in the Bandas were involved
in unmistakable displays of status. In part this was direct and institutionalised:
the highest officials in the islands received personal allotments of slaves from the
Company as part of their conditions of rank.77 An observers description of the
wives of the perkeniers and other Dutch gentlemen in the Bandas in 1796, though,
suggests a more pervasive symbolic dimension:

[their wives are] fond of dress and wear a number of jewels, they pride themselves par-
ticularly in the dress of their favourite slaves, who attend them in company, where they
carry their mistresses betel-boxes, which are always an article of great fashion and
expense, and sit on the floor, at their mistress feet, unless otherwise employed or

The influence of regional culture on the very shape of perkenier households is unmis-
takable in this passage, in which slaves perform a role as a domestic entourage reflect-
ing the eminence of their owners. That perkeniers wives participated in such practices
is unsurprising, given that estate-holders began to marry non-European women at a
very early stage of their stay in the Bandas. VOC regulations demanded such wives be
Christian; according to Hanna, this was often accomplished by training a favoured
73 Ibid., p. 17.
74 Van de Waal, Bijdrage, p. 531.
75 Hanna, Indonesia Banda, p. 62.
76 Heeres, Eene Engelsche lezig omtrent, p. 354. See also Hanna pp. 934, and Wright, Moluccan
spice monopoly, pp. 19, 45.
77 Hanna, Indonesia Banda, p. 70.
78 Heeres, Eene Engelsche lezig omtrent, pp. 3245.

female slave in Christian catechism to allow for her baptism prior to seeking official
approval for a marriage to take place.79 The reference to ornate betel containers is par-
ticularly compelling a longstanding symbol of status and wealth among many local
populations in the region. The same writer goes on to note:
Most of the Dutch gentleman are married to native women of perhaps the tenth gener-
ation from Europe blood, and seem never to wish to quit the places they are in, to return
to Europe; perhaps from reflection, that their wives, who are little more than the chief
female slaves of their families, are unfit to be introduced into society there.80

The VOC itself encouraged mixed marriages in 1633 after abandoning plans to
import Dutch women to Batavia, in addition to turning a blind eye to irregular
unions.81 By the beginning of the eighteenth century Valentijn observed: there is
hardly a single Hollander of any consideration in Java that does not have a concu-
bine.82 Reid notes that by the early nineteenth century, the trade in women through-
out the region came to resemble a large-scale marriage market, which provided a
large proportion of the female population of the British Straits Settlements.83
Importantly, the exercise of some level of agency by the women involved should
not be discounted. Campbell and Alpers argue that servile labour in both Asia and
Indian Ocean Africa often sought to ameliorate their conditions and status by secur-
ing a position in the dominant society that could be improved over time. If skills in
sailing and trading offered such strategic possibilities for male slaves of the perken,
concubinage and marriage would have formed potential routes for social mobility
open to women, particularly where their children were to be born into important
families which in the Banda context meant the perken-holders.84 Reid stresses con-
tinuities with pre-European slavery in this realm, observing that opportunities for
upward mobility and an easier life appear to have been far greater for women than
men.85 Eric Jones agrees, linking several documented examples of female slaves
absconding from their owners in the archipelago to early VOC slave statutes which
attempted to remove plasticity in social relations and secure the permanent position
of slaves. The result was friction and resistance:
Absent the reciprocal relationships in which slave devotion brought filial promotion and
freedom, running away seemed the only avenue for upward advancement if allowed
to experience some degree of family intimacy, as a real part of their owners household
many slaves were willing to tolerate their position.86

Indeed, the rarity of slave revolts in Asia (and Indian Ocean Africa) has been attrib-
uted to the fact that most slaves were women often involved in intimate relationships
79 Hanna, Indonesia Banda, pp. 634.
80 Heeres, Eene Engelsche lezig omtrent, pp. 3245.
81 Fox, For good and sufficient reasons, p. 255.
82 Ibid.
83 Reid, Introduction, p. 26.
84 Campbell and Alpers, Introduction, pp. xi, xii.
85 Reid, Introduction, p. 25.
86 Eric A. Jones, Fugitive women: Slavery and social change in early modern Southeast Asia, Journal of
Southeast Asian Studies (henceforth, JSEAS), 38, 2 (2007): 224.

with their owners, and frequently offered greater opportunity to assimilate into the
dominant society than male slaves, they were reluctant to take risks that might
damage their childrens interests.87
Both Hanna and Lasker provide a description of perkenier households in the
Bandas which point to a unique level of hybridity, though both place emphasis on
ideas of racial difference rather than socio-cultural practice. Lasker observes that
Many of the Dutch settlers [in the Bandas] married native women, and the popu-
lation, with the arrival of new slaves from a wide area, became one of the most
hybrid in the Western Pacific.88 Hanna makes a similar point: Perkeniers and their
slaves began very soon to come to a mutual accommodation on the basis of
miscegenation the new perkenier households thus took on a composite racial
aspect, as ex-slaves mothered Dutch children extended households of the so-called
mixties some slave, some free, some freed slaves established themselves in the
The Dutch expressions mixtie and mixtiezen are regularly glossed in English as
mestizo. In discussing seventeenth-century Ambon, Gerrit Knaap for example points
to a chronic shortage of European women suggests this meant that the demographic
category of European citizenry (vrijburgerij, free citizenry) was liable to mestizofi-
cation. He maintains that the female partners of European burgers and VOC
personnel were to a large extent bearers of a mestizo culture, defined as a mixed
culture with several European and Asian elements.90 Anne Stoler has argued that
the contours of colonial society during the first two centuries of the Netherlands
Indies were shaped by Indische mestizo culture, referring to the practices of
Indies-born people of mixed European and local descent.91 Such terms can be proble-
matic in their potential entanglement with racial discourse concerning the conse-
quences of mixing blood (whether viewed positively or negatively), effectively
blurring the social and the biological.92 Nevertheless, they serve to emphasise
the point that socio-cultural transformations in the Banda Islands following
conquest had much in common with wider dynamics in the region, notwithstanding
the presence of the perkeniersstelsel. Importantly, moreover, any consideration of
the role and significance of slavery in the islands must consider the emergence of

87 Campbell and Alpers, Introduction, p. xviii.

88 Lasker, Human bondage, p. 34.
89 Hanna, Indonesia Banda, pp. 634.
90 Knaap, City of migrants, pp. 11, 127.
91 Anne Stoler, Carnal knowledge and imperial power: Race and the intimate in colonial rule (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2002), p. 80. See also Pauline Dublin Milone, Indische culture, and its
relation to urban life, Comparative studies in Society and History, 9, 4 (1967): 407.
92 See for example, Justus M. Van der Kroef, The Eurasian minority in Indonesia, American
Sociological Review, 18, 5 (1953): 485. In some contexts, the admixture of European blood could be con-
sidered as elevating and improving; see Dennis B. McGilvray, Dutch burghers and Portuguese mech-
anics: Eurasian ethnicity in Sri Lanka, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 24, 2 (1982): 2378. In
the Dutch Indies, such processes came to be viewed rather as a threatening subversion of white prestige
and as embodying the dangers of European degeneration and moral decay; see Stoler, Carnal knowledge,
p. 80.

cultural practices common to slaves, perkeniers and burgers (European and

Whether this phenomenon should be conceived in terms of mestizo or hybrid
culture remains moot. The notion of hybridity has its own problems, as Emiko
Ohnuki-Tierney observes: hybridisation is the sine qua non of all cultures. All cul-
tures are products of hybridity culture is hybrid by its very nature.93 In a related
critique, Marshall Sahlins dismisses the concept as being too abstract and indetermi-
nate and urges attention instead to the careful historicising of all cultural forms.94
What is notable about the Banda Islands is not that a process of mutual cultural
accommodation emerged which ultimately affected the character of perkenier families,
but the way in which this facilitated the emergence of a reiterated Bandanese identity
among the descendants of the perkeniers as well as those of slaves and other residents
of the islands. Such a process was assuredly complex, but an important shared feature
involved language.

Malay and Bandanese identity

Within the strategies for advancement pursued by slaves, acculturation generally
played a critical role. Among the most important forms of slave acculturation high-
lighted by Campbell and Alpers was linguistic change: for most [slave] owners it
was vital that the slave speak the local language in such circumstances, the native
languages of slaves quickly ceded to that of the dominant society.95 Reids work on
slavery however, attests to the fact that acculturation need not be unidirectional.
And in the Banda Islands, the language that soon dominated social life both in and
outside the perken was not that of the governing authorities, but one with a longstand-
ing presence in the islands and the region: Malay. The emergence of Malay as the
main everyday language of the Bandas was without doubt a critical factor in the
dynamics of local culture-building in the islands, and one in which the perken slaves
would have played a prominent, though unrecorded role.
Within the newly heterogeneous population of the Bandas following VOC con-
quest, and especially among the diversity of regionally sourced slaves, a pidgin form of
Malay would almost certainly have served as an immediate means of everyday com-
munication. Malay existed as a trade-linked lingua franca in the archipelago for cen-
turies before the arrival of Europeans.96 One of the earliest written examples of a
Malay word-list was collected in the sixteenth-century Moluccas by the Portuguese,
where it was described as being used like Latin in Europe.97 In all likelihood this pid-
gin Malay would have gained first-language speakers within one generation, a situ-
ation some linguists refer to as the emergence of an abrupt creole. The typical

93 Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Always discontinuous / continuous, and hybrid by its very nature: The
culture concept historicized, Ethnohistory, 52, 1 (2005): 190.
94 Marshall Sahlins, Preface, Ethnohistory, 52, 1 (2005): 6.
95 Campbell and Alpers, Introduction, pp. xiiixiv.
96 See D.J. Prentice, The best chosen language I & II, Hemisphere, 22, 3 (1978): 1823, and James T.
Collins, Malay, world language: A short history (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1998): 14.
97 John Villiers, The cash-crop economy and state formation in the spice islands in the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries, in The Southeast Asian port and polity: rise and demise, ed. Jeyamalar
Kathirithamby-Wells and John Villiers (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1990), p. 96.

elements giving rise to rapidly emerging creoles of this kind have been described as
members from various linguistic communities are uprooted from their native habitat
and, for basic survival, are forced to develop a contact language which becomes their pri-
mary language almost immediately and the first language of any of their children born
subsequent to the uprooting.98

This is an apt description of the situation in the Bandas following the establishment of
the perkeniersstelsel, and slavery is often considered an archetypical context for an
early creolised language of this kind.99 The development of a locally distinctive
form of Malay would in all likelihood have occurred relatively quickly; certainly
Malay shrugged off early efforts to establish Dutch as the main language of the islands.
As early as 1624, three years after the VOC conquest, schools existed in the
islands for the children of Europeans, Christianised former slaves and pensioned
members of local militia. The official language of instruction was Dutch, but a year
later aspects of Christian religious education were permitted in Malay for native chil-
dren.100 By the middle of the seventeenth century, just decades after the conquest,
Malay had become the main language of the islands, even in Christian preaching
and VOC directives, while its widespread utility saw it rapidly become the language
of general instruction in Bandas schools.101 The situation was formalised in 1665
when the administration in Batavia decided the use of Dutch would no longer be
encouraged, as it was deemed too expensive to provide education on the scale
required and too difficult a language to enable effective widespread communi-
cation.102 Dutch remained the official language of government, though mainly in
written form. A 1712 account of an annual ceremony of allegiance to the VOC in
the Bandas called Veroverings Dag (Conquest Day) describes Dutch officials conduct-
ing a public address in Malay to a diverse crowd that included local burgers and
village folk.103 This attests to its established status as the language of greatest intelli-
gibility among the islands general population by this time.
Dutch retained a presence in the islands as an ethnic marker and symbol of sta-
tus, particularly among Europeans (a category that included the descendants of
European-local intermarriage).104 Even among the latter, however, it is unlikely to
have provided the main medium for everyday interaction. A tract describing life in
the Banda perken in the nineteenth century refers to the prevalence of Moluccan
Malay (Moluksch Maleisch) among perkenier families, especially women.105 And
the author of a Bandanese childhood memoir notes of the 1930s:
98 Barbara Grimes, The development and use of Ambonese Malay, Pacific Linguistics, A-81 (1991):
99 Ibid.
100 Kees Groenboer, The Dutch language in Maluku under the VOC, Cakalele, 5 (1994): 7.
101 Ibid., pp. 79.
102 Ibid.
103 J.A. van der Chijs Bandas Veroverings-Dag, Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal-, Land- en
Volkenkunde, 26 (1880): 3.
104 Groenboer, Dutch language, p. 8.
105 C. Busken Huet, Litterarische fantasien en kritieken. Deel 16 (Haarlem: HD Tjeenk Willink, 1874),
p. 113.

Weakness in the Dutch language was the main reason why so many Bandanese failed at
school and became fishermen. Unlike the Ambonese, we Bandanese didnt like to speak
Dutch. Even the majority of the Bandanese burgers preferred to speak Bandanese-Malay,
rather than the language of their forefathers.106

One of my own early informants in the Bandas confirms this view. An aged member
of a colonial era perk-holding family which claimed direct descent from one of the
first Dutch perkeniers in the islands, he was also the owner of the sole remaining
privately held nutmeg estate in the Bandas.107 As a result of access to colonial schooling
and a period in merchant shipping, he was a confident Dutch speaker; nevertheless
the first language of his childhood home in the islands was Malay, and this was true
of his own household. He observed that a similar situation applied to all the older
perkenier families of the Bandas, and had been the situation for as long as anyone
could recall.
By 1876, the early Dutch linguist De Clercq had listed the Banda Islands as one of
several locations in the archipelago where a unique regional dialect of Malay could be
found, one he labelled Banda Malay.108 The local population of the islands today
asserts the distinctiveness of this form of Malay and refer to it as Bandanese
(Bahasa Banda).109 One feature of Bahasa Banda is its numerous lexical borrowings
from Dutch, altered but recognisable. Linguistic creolisation is often used to stand
paradigmatically for historical processes of cultural and demographic change, particu-
larly in settings of colonial slavery where, as noted, this was widespread.110 However,
Sidney Mintz cautions that language is not culture, only a part of culture the lin-
guistic model of creolisation is a model for languages, not a homology with culture
itself.111 Nevertheless, while culture is clearly not reducible to language, language
can play a central part in the reproduction and transmission of important cultural
ideas. The rapidly established and longstanding dominance of Malay in the Banda
Islands would have facilitated the retention and transmission of prominent ideational
motifs common both among regional populations and at least to some extent through-
out the broader Malay-speaking world. Prominent among these is a profound ontologi-
cal and cosmological significance being given to origin narratives concerning significant
sites and places in the local landscape, alongside special respect and status associated
106 Des Alwi, Friends and exiles. A memoir of the Nutmeg Isles and the Indonesian nationalist move-
ment, ed. Barbara S Harvey (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Southeast Asia Program, 2008), p. 67. The significance
of the term burgers used here in a more contemporary context refers to people of partly European des-
cent from families with a long history in the islands. These included the descendants of old perkenier
families, who by the 1930s did not necessarily own or even manage nutmeg estates.
107 This individual, now deceased, has appeared in English and Dutch travel writing where he is often
referred to as the last perkenier.
108 Grimes, Development and use, p. 119.
109 Contemporary informants are careful to note that this label does not imply that the language is
autochthonous (i.e. a bahasa tanah, literally language of the earth). They suggest it is instead a form
of Bahasa Melayu (i.e. Malay), comparable to but distinct from Bahasa Ambon (Ambonese). The latter
is a form of Malay linked to the provincial capital which has become increasingly important as a lingua
franca throughout the region. Bandanese are generally fluent in both forms.
110 Michael Craton, British Caribbean, in A historical guide to world slavery, ed. S. Drescher and S.L.
Engerman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), Craton, British Caribbean, p. 126.
111 Sidney W. Mintz, Enduring substances, trying theories: The Caribbean region as Oikoumen,
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2, 2 (1996): 301.

with those bearing such knowledge.112 In this regard, the remnant population of pre-
conquest Bandanese still present in the islands during the early period of the perkeniers-
stelsel could be expected to have exercised an influence disproportionate to their num-
ber. The local knowledge they were able to provide would have been sought after and
valued in a practical sense by the early Dutch administration and perkeniers (as we
have seen), and in cosmological terms by others, notably the perken slaves.
Contemporary Bandanese envisage local identity in terms of a necessary obli-
gation for newcomers to adapt to the customary practices associated with the islands
as a locale, rather than those linked to places of ancestral origin elsewhere. This is seen
as especially imperative for those born in the islands. A Christian Bandanese woman
in the late colonial period explained her adherence to local traditions in the following
terms: we go to church because we are Christians, but we are also Bandanese. Born on
Bandas soil we should follow the Bandanese customs inherited from the tete moyang
(ancestors).113 This rationale echoes a view still asserted among Bandanese today,
underpinning commitment to a series of ritual activities linked to significant sites
in the landscape venerated by both Muslims and Christians, in effect elevating identi-
fication with place beyond religious affiliation.114 A series of chanted verses reserved
exclusively for ritual occasions are understood as preserved from the pre-colonial past,
and have been acknowledged by linguists as preserving examples of the indigenous
language of the islands.115
It is here that some valuable historical comparisons might well be drawn
between the Banda Islands and the Caribbean, not as evidence for a non-Asiatic
mode of production in Southeast Asia but rather to consider the locally specific
dynamics of social and cultural transformations associated with practices of slavery
in different locales. In the New World, processes of this kind have often been glossed
as creolisation.116 However, Sidney Mintz has argued strongly that this term
should be reserved to signify a specific geographical and historical process involving
slaves in colonial Caribbean plantations, rather than referring to generalised cultural
[Creolisation] stood for centuries of culture-building, rather than culture mixing or cul-
ture blending, by those who became Caribbean people they were creating forms by

112 See James J. Fox, Place and landscape in comparative Austronesian perspective, in The poetic
power of place: Comparative perspectives on Austronesian ideas of locality, ed. James J. Fox (Canberra:
Department of Anthropology & Comparative Austronesian Project, Research School of Pacific and
Asian Studies, Australian National University, 1997), pp. 121.
113 Alwi, Friends and exiles, p. 54.
114 This was the case until the outbreak of extended inter-communal conflict in the region in 1999,
which rapidly incorporated a sectarian dimension. The direct result in the Bandas was the departure
of nearly all of the islands Christian minority population. At the time of writing, most had been rehoused
in government-built settlements on Ambon. See Phillip Winn, Violence, sovereignty and moral commu-
nity in Maluku, in Beyond Jakarta: Regional autonomy and local society in Indonesia, ed. Minako Sakai
(Adelaide: Crawford house, 2002), pp. 17395.
115 James Collins and Timor Kaartinen, Preliminary notes on Bandanese language maintenance and
change in Kei, Bijdragen tot de Taal- Land- en Volkenkunde, 154, 4 (1998): 525.
116 See Laurent Medea, Creolisation and globalisation in a neo-colonial context: the case of Runion,
Social Identities, 8, 1 (2002): 12541; Craton, British Caribbean, in A historical guide to world slavery, ed.
Seymour Drescher and Stanley L. Engerman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 126.

which to live they had to devise new forms of communication, new norms of inter-
action, new ways to maintain lifes meaning, and to do so using their hearts, heads and
hands as well as those materials they found lying around them.117

Creolisation emerges in Mintzs work as a form of embattled creativity involving

people in chains constrained to deal with living meaningfully in a new location.
Elsewhere, Mintz provides additional details:

Culturally, they were becoming their own persons. This involved the refashioning of cul-
tural materials from more than one source what typified creolisation was not the frag-
mentation of culture and the destruction of the very concept, but the creation and
construction of culture out of fragmented, violent and disjunct pasts.118

I suggest that the form of cultural creativity which emerged in the Banda Islands
among perken slaves, and which ultimately caught up members of perkenier and
other burger families, occurred in a far less disjunctive or fragmented setting than was
the case in the Caribbean. This was a result of the communicative opportunities, shared
social idioms, and cultural continuities available through the post-conquest dominance
of the Malay language. In this sense, the slave population of the Bandas could be con-
sidered less geographically alienated, less culturally disparate, and less socially isolated
than those in Caribbean plantations. As a consequence, the project of culture-building
that took place was likely to have been far less embattled. It would still have incorpor-
ated elements of an emerging Bandanese population becoming their own persons, in
Mintz sense of moving beyond the cultural and conceptual confines of their migrant
parents.119 At the same time, however, the process would also have involved engaging
a broad suite of common orientations and understandings that were able to find
expression in a local setting as a post-conquest reiteration of Bandanese culture.
Bandanese themselves now use the term campur (mix / blend) in describing their
distinctive Malay as a mixed language (bahasa campur) linked to lexical borrowings
from Dutch and regional languages but also as an expression of self-description in the
phrase orang campur (mixed/blended person). The term entails an acknowledgement
of heterogeneous ancestry as a widely shared and distinctive condition in the islands, in
turn enmeshed with state-promulgated representations of Indonesia as a nation of dis-
tinct (and harmonious) ethnic groups (bangsa suku). Few Bandanese feel able to claim
unequivocal affiliation with any single group framed in these terms, a situation that does
not detract from their firm assertion of a fully emplaced local identity.120 To be
Bandanese (Orang Banda) today is also to be an orang campur, a juxtaposition that
troubles national narratives of static, regionalised ethnic identities.
In my view, the Bandanese notion of being mixed involves an implicit recog-
nition of the part played by historical processes in constituting the population of
117 Sidney W. Mintz, The localization of anthropological practice. From area studies to transnational-
ism, Critique of Anthropology, 18, 2 (1998): 119.
118 Mintz Enduring substances, p. 302.
119 Ibid.
120 But see also Phillip Winn, Butonese in the Banda Islands: Departure, mobility and identification,
in Horizons of home: Nation, gender and migrancy in island Southeast Asia, ed. Penelope Graham
(Clayton, Victoria: Monash Asia Institute, 2008), pp. 85100.

the contemporary islands as they are, rather than indexing a significant concern with
prior purity (ethnic or otherwise). Being both mixed and Bandanese emphasises
post-colonial subjectivity in the islands as an effect of power and temporality,
where the valid assertion of being local relies upon practices of cultural reiteration,
deliberately enacted. Under such conditions, continuous scope exists for the incorpor-
ation of further newcomers. This process has occurred in living memory, notably
involving the final wave of unfree labour to arrive in the perken during the late
colonial period.

The final wave: contract people

By the time slavery was formally abolished in the Netherlands Indies in 1863, the
transition from slave labour in the Banda perken was already under way. In 1860,
more than 60 per cent of the total perkeniersstelsel workforce fell into the category
contract coolies or indentured workers, a total of some 967 people, mainly male
(805 men and 162 women).121 This is the form of imported labour strongly associated
with the social character of the perken by Bandanese today, still recalled from the late
colonial period by the oldest residents in the islands. Despite its historical promi-
nence, slavery does not appear in local narratives of the perkeniersstelsel era, known
as the time of the enterprise (waktu onderneming). Nonetheless, the perken slaves
left their mark in the culture-building process I have suggested originated with them.
Indentured labourers in the Banda Islands perken did not find themselves part of iso-
lated social and cultural enclaves. Rather, they constituted the final wave of unfree
labour to fill the perken, a well-worn path existed for themselves and their descendants
to move from outsider status to that of community member and to becoming
Bandanese.122 This was a route followed by many thousands of slaves and other
in-migrants over several centuries of cultural transformation in the Banda Islands.
The option of becoming local was open to the indentured labourers despite the
fact that they held the lowest status within a pervasive and complex social hierarchy
existing in the islands during the late colonial period (variously involving occupation,
ethnic and religious identity and gender). The low regard in which they were held by
village residents has a number of dimensions, which cannot be addressed in detail
here, but a critical aspect appears to be the character of the labour contract itself.
The local expression contract people (orang kontrak) emphasises perken labour
recruited under a penal sanction, with negative implications in local conceptions of
power and agency. A succession of Coolie Ordinances from 1880 promulgated in
the Netherlands Indies included a penal sanction, making it a criminal offence for
coolie labourers not to comply with the obligations of their contract.123 They were
obliged to remain on the premises of the enterprise and to serve out their contract,
121 Hanna, Indonesia Banda, p. 110.
122 The question of the unfree status of indentured labour in Indonesia is still debated among scho-
lars, alongside the historical role such labour plays in the emergence of capitalist forms of production. See
for example, Jan Breman, Review article: New thoughts on colonial labour in Indonesia, JSEAS, 33, 2
(2002): 3339, and the reply from Vincent J.H. Houben and J. Thomas Lindblad, Correspondence,
JSEAS, 33, 3 (2002): 55994.
123 Vincent J.H. Houben, Introduction: The coolie system in colonial Indonesia, in Coolie labour in
colonial Indonesia. A study of labour relations in the Outer Islands c. 19001940, ed. Vincent J.H.
Houben and J. Thomas Lindblad (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1999), p. 3.

which normally ran for three years. In effect, the labour contract bonded coolie
labourers to their employer.124 After 1911, more diverse conditions of indentured
employment were created with the emergence of different categories of coolie labour.
Free coolies were contracted without penal clause; contract coolies remained under
a penal clause.125
Maluku as a whole was a relatively minor colonial destination for indentured
labour and consisted to an exceptionally high degree of free coolies. In 1924 for
example, two out of every three indentured labourers in Maluku were free, reflecting
regional variations in recruitment (island labourers throughout eastern Indonesia
were less inclined to accept the penal clause).126 For the coolie labour that was pre-
sent in Maluku though, perken in the Banda Islands formed a key destination, and the
largest proportion of contract coolies were also likely concentrated here.127 Scholars
also note that the proportion of women in contracts with penal clauses rose over
time, suggesting that women were in a weaker position than men in negotiating
the better contract of a free coolie.128 Memories of indentured perken labourers
in the late colonial period point to a large proportion (even a majority) of women,
recruited mainly from Java. Certainly the phrases selling ones soul ( jual jiwa)
and selling oneself ( jual diri) are mentioned in the Bandas in relation to the contract
people, and these expressions have been linked elsewhere to the penal sanctions.129
One suggestion in local terms is that labour contracts of this sort were only
entered into by people of little social standing not just impoverished, but lacking
recourse to any kin who could assist them. This view sits alongside highly gendered
perspectives of labour mobility valorising the exercise of a spiritually potent masculine
agency in actively pursuing knowledge (ilmu) and good fortune (rejeki) through self-
directed travel. By contrast, tales abound of Dutch labour recruiters and their local
assistants using dark powers (ilmu hitam) to coerce or trick the contract people
into leaving their communities of origin. These recruiters are said to have targeted
women in particular, in the street or marketplace, magically robbing them of their
normal level of awareness (often using a secret touch). Full consciousness would be
restored upon reaching the Banda Islands, at which time their signed contract
would be brandished and their situation inescapable.130 The marked gender imbal-
ance among contract labour is often represented as a clever Dutch ploy to attract
the arrival of free male labour migrants. A local aphorism invariably cited in this

124 Breman, Review article, p. 334.

125 Houben, Introduction, p. 17.
126 J. Thomas Lindblad, New destinations: conditions of coolie labour outside East Sumatra, 1910
1938, in Coolie labour, ed. Houben and Lindblad, p. 96.
127 Ellen Leenarts, Coolie wages in western enterprises in the Outer Islands, 19191938, in Coolie
labour, ed. Houben and Lindblad, p. 150.
128 Lindblad, New destinations, p. 96; Breman, Review article p. 333.
129 Breman, Review article, p. 334 refers to jual jiwa as an expression used by coolies themselves with
reference to the penal sanctions.
130 Narratives of labour recruitment linked to dark practices may well be an apt metaphor. Strategies
used by colonial labour recruiters commonly involved deceitful pretexts and false promises (including
offers of marriage), alongside a host of other irregularities. See Vincent J.H. Houben, Before departure:
Coolie labour recruitment in Java, 19001942, in Coolie labour, ed. Houben and Lindblad, pp. 2830.

context suggests where theres sugar, therere ants (ada gula, ada mir).131 While such
accounts appear rather dismissive of feminine agency, they are also somewhat recup-
erative of the status of female ancestors, who some suggest may well have been indi-
viduals of some status before becoming ensorcelled.
If plantation workforces elsewhere were usually forced into a way of life that was
at complete variance with that of the local population, this was far less the case in the
Bandas.132 Shared religious affiliation was regarded as an important factor in bridging
the differences (and sometimes, points of tension) between contract people and village
residents. Dutch literacy was a condition of managerial-level appointments, essentially
limiting such positions to Christians, who could access superior levels of colonial edu-
cation. As a consequence, those who had most contact with each other on a daily basis
at the lowest levels of the perken hierarchy were invariably Muslims, as were most of
the villagers living adjacent to the nutmeg estates. Village-dwellers, particularly single
men, would sometimes work on a seasonal basis in perken. One result is that inter-
marriage between perken labourers and local people was a feature of life in the late
colonial era having a female antecedent who was a contract person is not uncom-
mon in the islands.
Crucially, such individuals were expected to actively pursue membership of the
village community. Informants maintain that this involved outsiders in demonstrating
the sincerity of their intent to abandon competing cultural affiliations, as evidenced
not just by engaging in village-based religious and social activities but also by attend-
ing, assisting and ultimately participating in the ceremonial and ritual action marking
most village communities in the Bandas as pre-European polities. As noted pre-
viously, these occasions are vital to the symbolic construction of local community,
so much so that Bandanese Christians long embraced a tradition of participation
alongside their Muslim neighbours in a set of activities concerned in large part
with marking the arrival and dissemination of Islam in the islands.133 Co-operation
of this kind was testimony not just to the importance of post-conquest culture-
building in the Banda Islands, but also to its ability to cut across axes of social distinc-
tion within the islands population. As noted, Christians had access to superior forms
of colonial education, allowing them to largely monopolise administrative and man-
agerial positions in the late colonial perken. Nonetheless, all had a part to play in these
collective ceremonial events, including members of perkenier families who still
valorised their descent links to the Netherlands in the late colonial period, and
were locally referred to as Dutch (Orang Belanda), particularly those who retained
a Dutch family name.

131 The use of the term mir for ant is an example of the everyday lexical borrowings from Dutch that
help to distinguish Banda Malay as a distinct local variant.
132 Trudi Nierop, Lonely in an alien world: coolie communities in Southeast Kalimantan in the late
colonial period, in Coolie labour in colonial Indonesia. A study of labour relations in the Outer
Islands c. 19001940, ed. V.J.H. Houben and J.T. Lindblad (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1999),
p. 173. Nierop points to several factors conspiring to isolate coolie labourers in southeast Kalimantan
from local populations, including the restricted movement of contract coolies and segregated housing,
which employers were obliged to provide under Coolie Ordinances.
133 These include placing offerings on sites linked to Muslim holy figures and attending prayers led by
a local imam.

Many of these families are recalled as active supporters of important ritual events
occurring in local villages, whether as participants, donors, sponsors or hosts. Elderly
informants with memories of the late colonial era recall enjoying lavish food and
refreshments prepared at the homes of Orang Belanda before and after ceremonial
performances. Elders of one village remember receiving substantial financial assist-
ance from Dutch perken-holders for a major village ceremony with links to surround-
ing estates. The specific ceremony, known as washing the sacred heirloom well (cuci
parigi pusaka) occurred only once each decade or so and attracted large crowds. The
core of the event involves the elaborate ritual cleansing of a well, which is understood
as sanctifying the water, ensuring its continued abundance, and generally providing
the village and its population with prosperity and good fortune. As one informant
The Dutch enjoyed the [well-washing] ritual; really enjoyed it, it ensured the well would
be clean, the water of good quality, and plentiful. They needed to use the well to water
nutmeg trees during hot weather. So when we held the village rituals the Dutch would
help senior people with the cost of the ceremony. The perek [ perken] needed that well.

Indeed, many locally resident descendants of Dutch perkenier families were regarded
as Bandanese (alongside the Orang Belanda ethnic label), and their enthusiastic invol-
vement in such activity, sometimes in a prominent leadership role, is often cited. The
permeable character of local identity in the Bandas is the more remarkable in a region
where relations to place and to place-linked forms of identity are frequently expressed
in cultural idioms of ancestral domains and the performative tracing of genealogical
origins, whether of individuals or social groups (such as clans).134 By contrast, the cul-
tural terms of emplaced identity in the Banda Islands demote concerns with ultimate
origins, emphasising instead the intent of individuals who actively seek to become

Jack Goody makes the general observation that arguments from economic prin-
ciples tend to neglect slaverys location in specific social systems.135 Mintz suggests,
moreover, that to try to address the nature of plantation slavery in general terms is
a risky and unprofitable undertaking:
Not only was slavery different in the colonies of one power to another, but even within
one imperial system, there were often significant differences in the slavery institution
from colony to colony. Moreover, time and circumstance deeply affected the way slavery
worked in particular milieu. Demography mattered, as did the prevailing work at which
slaves were employed these, and many other factors, much influenced what slavery
was and how it was experienced.136

134 See James J. Fox, Introduction, in Origins, ancestry and alliance. Explorations in Austronesian eth-
nography, ed. James J. Fox and Clifford Sather (Canberra: Department of Anthropology & Comparative
Austronesian Project, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University,
1996), pp. 117.
135 Goody, Slavery, p. 42.
136 Mintz, Was the plantation slave, p. 306.

In the book Slavery, bondage and dependency in Southeast Asia it is evident that Reid
agrees with both perspectives. At the outset, he endorses a principle that research into
slavery must begin by seeing exactly what each institution means to the people within
that system.137 In other words, careful exploration of social context is a prerequisite
to understanding the position of slave. A major strength of the volume as a whole is
the way in which its contributors avoid a priori conceptions of what slavery entails.
Against this approach, reference to the nutmeg estates of the Banda Islands as likely
representing the sole unequivocal example of a slave mode of production in
Southeast Asia seems incongruous, harking back to reductionist and synthetic econ-
omic perspectives.
Slavery in the post-conquest Banda Islands shared critical features identified by
Reid as distinguishing European slave-holding practices in the region. To represent
the Bandas as the regional exception, or as an enclave of New World-style slavery,
evokes a view of slavery as completely contained within the perkeniersstelsel and as
entirely determined by the Dutch administration. In both cases this involves depicting
perken slaves as isolated from the broader texture of economic and social life in the
islands and their region. I have argued that such a view is not sustainable. The cat-
egories of private and perken slave in the Bandas were porous, as were the boundaries
separating perken labour from the domestic economies of perkenier households.
Neither did the perkeniersstelsel monopolise economic action in the Banda Islands;
a great deal of market-linked activity both legal and illegal occurred outside the
system, relatively unmediated by the local administration. Inter-island trading was
especially prominent. For individual perkeniers, household-focused productive activi-
ties could be as important as the more centralised production of the nutmeg estate;
the inter-penetration of both realms was a feature of life in the Bandas soon after
the VOC conquest.
Yet the perken did form a critical context for culture-building by the slave popu-
lation imported to the Banda Islands, processes within which perkenier households
were themselves entangled. It is here that depictions of the perkeniersstelsel as an exer-
cise in total colonisation are most unsatisfying. Rather than representing a uniquely
un-Asian system of agricultural exploitation in a Southeast Asian setting, the signifi-
cance of the perkeniersstelsel is that it provided a specific context for the expression of
a local variant of the intercultural transformations that characterised the European
presence in the archipelago. The ultimate result was the emergence of a processual
form of emplaced identity that allowed outsiders (and their descendants) to achieve
local status as a result of actively demonstrating their intent to do so. This is the
truly unforeseen legacy of slavery in the Banda Islands.

137 Reid, Introduction, p. 2.

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