Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

The Trumpet Shall Sound for Rich Peasants: Kasan Mukmin's Uprising in Gedangan, East Java, 1904

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

The Trumpet Shall Sound for Rich Peasants: Kasan Mukmin's Uprising in Gedangan, East Java, 1904

Article excerpt

In late May 1904 a small band of people led by a certain Kasan Mukmin, a kyai or rural religious teacher, mounted an uprising in the village of Kebonpasar in Gedangan district of Sidoarjo regency, East Java. It was a single incident in a series of protests involving small groups of affluent peasants in Java between 1880 and 1920 which are difficult to explain in terms of the "moral economy" perspective.(1) J.C. Scott has suggested that increasing intrusion of market economic forces into the indigenous economic life in the process of capitalist economic transformation eroded the subsistence margin of peasants instigating them to mount uprisings.(2) This view may well explain some major peasant uprisings in Southeast Asia, but as Mukmin's uprising illustrates, numerous small rural protests in Java after 1880 occurred in relatively prosperous areas and involved affluent peasants. They were not caused by violation of peasants' perception of moral economy.

Mukmin's followers were allegedly going to kill Europeans in the area and overthrow the foreign yoke for a new order under Mukmin, who claimed to be an incarnation of Imam Mahdi, a messianic figure in Islamic eschatology. He would abolish all burdensome levies imposed by the colonial state, it was said, and allow people to live in peace and prosperity. The local government was caught by surprise, but quickly suppressed the uprising in a bloody confrontation, killing a number of rebels including Mukmin himself.

Coming in the wake of a series of uprisings led by rural religious leaders, the Gedangan uprising touched a raw nerve among the colonial authorities who denounced all social protests as a threat to "peace and order". Official discourse emphasized the "fanatic" character of the uprising, suggesting the necessity to act decisively against any challenge to colonial rule. Writing immediately after receiving news of the uprising, the Resident of Surabaya, L.C.A.F. Lange, reported that fanatic unrest aimed at waging a Holy War against Dutch rule had erupted in Sidoarjo regency.(3) Lange's deputy, Th. Smulders, reported that "from the inquiries made so far, this uprising appears to be entirely fanatic in nature and aimed at killing all Europeans in the area".(4) This initial view influenced all subsequent inquiries. The colonial officials later claimed that "the prime cause of this quite unexpected uprising should be found in religiosity, above all among the followers of mystic sects of Islam".(5) This was clearly an effort to repudiate the claims of one radical newspaper that economic grievances arising from the operations of the sugar industry had caused the local population to take such radical action.(6) The European press generally depicted the incident as an outburst of anti-European sentiments instigated by Islamic fanaticism, a view shared by the sugar industry as well.(7)

What appeared as mere fanaticism to the colonial authorities has been seen by some scholars as an effort to articulate popular socio-economic grievances. Mukmin's uprising was, according to Sartono Kartodirdjo, "inspired by the desire for vengeance arising out of agrarian disputes between peasants and sugar plantations".(8) These conflicts of interests had worsened recently as the local sugar mills won a major concession from the administration of Sidoarjo regency, enabling them to lease large tracts of land from peasants without making adequate compensatory payments. To make matters worse, a sudden change in the existing arrangements for cultivating rice and secondary food crops alongside sugar brought financial disaster to the local peasants immediately before the uprising.(9)

Sartono Kartodirdjo is, however, not quite convinced by his own explanation, for he concludes that "it is difficult to determine exactly the degree of economic deprivation and the consequent degree to which the disturbances might be considered to have been economically caused".(10) The difficulty arises from a logical weakness in Sartono Kartodirdjo's argument. …

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