Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution:
Unity From Diversity

Audrey Kahin (editor)

University of Hawaii Press 1985
A book review by Danny Yee © 2000
Studies of the Indonesian Revolution mostly focus on the centre, on the core of the nascent Republic and its leaders, or perhaps on one region. Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution presents studies of eight different regions: the Tiga Daerah (north-west Central Java), Banten, Aceh, East Sumatra, West Sumatra, Jakarta, South Sulawesi, and Ambon. The chapters are written by specialists, but they take a similar enough approach to make comparisons easy; Kahin also contributes an introduction and a comparative overview. Overall, the volume does an excellent job capturing the complexities of events and causal factors and their variation between and within regions, as well as their historical connections to the past and the future.

In the Tiga Daerah and Banten, the power vacuum following the Japanese surrender led to social revolution, with the newly proclaimed Republic unable to exert control and its appointed officials swept aside or sidelined. But the fragile alliance between Muslim teachers from the ulama, armed youth groups, leftist revolutionaries, and other participants soon broke down, leading to the reestablishment of central authority. In Aceh radical youth and the ulama united to displace traditional leaders and to keep the province almost totally free from the Dutch. Though Aceh was loyal to the Republic, it was almost completely autonomous as a result of its distance — and conflict came soon after independence, in 1953.

East Sumatra and West Sumatra were battlegrounds between the Republic and the Dutch. In East Sumatra ethnic divisions and competing warlords hampered nationalist unity; the period saw the destruction of the old elite and a restructuring of society, leaving the military as the main governing institution. West Sumatra saw one coup attempt, but otherwise stayed unified behind the Republican administration, helped by the immediacy of the Dutch enemy and the prominence of Minangkabau in the central leadership; as in Aceh, however, conflict appeared soon after independence.

In Jakarta, Sulawesi, and Ambon, British and Australian troops quickly took over from the Japanese and the Dutch soon took control. Jakarta, though central to the Republic symbolically and active early, saw little nationalist action while under occupation — and the more radical elements were seen as a threat. Murderous repression in the countryside and co-option of elites in Makassar kept South Sulawesi firmly under Dutch control: most nationalists either worked within the system, helping to discredit Dutch federalism from within (South Sulawesi was a key element in the Dutch-sponsored East Indonesian State), or joined the struggle in Java. And in Ambon there was a counter-revolution in 1950 by groups wanting to avoid incorporation into the Republic.

January 2000

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%T Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution
%S Unity From Diversity
%E Kahin, Audrey
%I University of Hawaii Press
%D 1985
%O hardcover, glossary, index
%G ISBN 0824809823
%P xi,306pp