East Kalimantan: The Decline of a Commercial Aristocracy

East Kalimantan: The Decline of a Commercial Aristocracy

East Kalimantan: The Decline of a Commercial Aristocracy

East Kalimantan: The Decline of a Commercial Aristocracy

Excerpt

In recent studies of Indonesia’s regional politics one important aspect has largely been neglected — the role of the local aristocracies which dominated many of the regions outside Java from the precolonial period through to the formation of the independent Republic of Indonesia in 1949. In his work Burhan Magenda has begun to remedy this neglect. He has studied the aristocracies in various regions of the Outer Islands from the colonial period through into the New Order government of President Suharto. In covering their history he has examined the strategies used by the local aristocrats to survive and attempt to continue their domination of political power in their regions.

The focus of this present monograph is East Kalimantan, where the local aristocracy was commercial in nature, tracing its origin back to the establishment of a “spice trade” route in the sixteenth century. The decline in the nineteenth century of the main harbor principality of Borneo, Banjarmasin on the south coast, opened the way for other states on the island to play a greater role, in particular the sultanate of Kutai in eastern Borneo.

In the harbor principalities, the commercial aristocracies stood at the top of the social pyramid and dominated important positions in the states, from the Sultan down to lesser levels. Their main source of power was the wealth they acquired from their trading activities and their monopoly of force. As trade flourished, arms were easily purchased from the Western powers, and the mercenaries, hired by these aristocracies and using these arms, came to occupy the second stratum in the social structure — in Kutai made up largely of Buginese adventurers.

The harbor principalities did not exercise actual authority over the interior people of Kalimantan, controlling only the market and contact . . .

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