Rebellion to Integration:
West Sumatra and the Indonesian Polity

Audrey Kahin

Amsterdam University Press 1999
A book review by Danny Yee © 2004
Rebellion to Integration is a history of West Sumatra from the late colonial period down to the fall of Suharto. Its focus is on politics, and in particular on the balance between regional and national interests and forces, but it touches on economics and social history where relevant — education and traditional Minangkabau government, trade routes during the fight against the Dutch, changing economics under the New Order, and so forth.

Kahin begins with the geographical centres of opposition to the Dutch in West Sumatra, the 1927 rebellion, the growth of political movements, and the Dutch crackdown in 1933. She surveys the varied independence movements and their connection with religion, socialism, schools and entrepreneurs, covering local leaders as well as those with a national profile such as Mohammad Hatta and Tan Malaka. West Sumatra tended to have links to Arabia and Malaysia rather than to Java, and to Islamic education rather than Western.

"Events in West Sumatra during the two decades leading up to World War II do much to belie — at least in this part of Indonesia — the frequent contention that the Indonesian nationalist movement was restricted to a narrow, educated urban elite in Java."

With a sympathetic governor, The Japanese occupation saw the encouragement of local organisations and creation of an indigenous People's Army, but also the discrediting of the traditional leaders who had been part of the Dutch administration. In the struggle for independence, West Sumatra was a nationalist stronghold, where the returning Dutch were largely restricted to Padang until the "police action" of December 1948; it hosted the headquarters of the nascent Republic after the loss of Yogyakarta.

"Throughout the revolution [the Mingangkabau] had demonstrated their loyalty to the Indonesian Republic and they trusted the national leadership with its large Minangkabau component to act in their region's best interests."

Disillusionment with the national government soon spread, however, with minimal regional autonomy and the rejection of federalism; and attacks on West Sumatran institutions around 1950 alienated both military and civilians. Connected with military revolts elsewhere, the West Sumatra rebellion took its own course: the Banteng Council in late 1956, effective independence in 1957, open defiance with the declaration of an independent PRRI state in 1958, and disastrous defeat culminating in a final surrender in 1961. The region was effectively occupied by the left-leaning Diponegoro Division from Central Java.

"[T]he consciousness that they had suffered a humiliating defeat led to 'a kind of mental breakdown' among the Minangkabau, which would last through much of the 1960s."

In the 1965 upheaval West Sumatra saw far fewer killings than other regions — the mass murder in North Sumatra provides a contrast — but communists and those who had joined them for survival were purged from public life. Integration into Suharto's New Order saw the suppression or co-option of political parties, the near-elimination of Islam from politics, and the decline of the nagari, the traditional large village units of Minangkabau rural society. The extent and effects of the post-Suharto shift towards decentralisation are yet to be seen.

July 2004

External links:
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Related reviews:
- Audrey Kahin - Historical Dictionary of Indonesia
- Audrey Kahin - Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution
- books about Indonesia + Indonesian history
- more modern history
%T Rebellion to Integration
%S West Sumatra and the Indonesian Polity
%A Kahin, Audrey
%I Amsterdam University Press
%D 1999
%O paperback, references, index
%G ISBN 9053563954
%P 368pp