“Courageous but insolent”: African soldiers in the Dutch East Indies as seen by Dutch officials and Indonesian neighbours

Ineke van Kessel


Labour shortages were endemic in colonial societies. Plantation and mining labour was notoriously unattractive, but the army posed problems of its own. In their search to satisfy the voracious appetite for labour in commercial empires and colonial societies, rulers developed racial and ethnic stereotypes as to which “race” was most suitable to perform certain jobs. Africans were deemed most suitable for hard physical labour in tropical climates. They were also portrayed as “martial races”, fit to fill the manpower needs of both Islamic and European armies. This article will first give a brief overview of the use of African labour in the Dutch East Indies. Next, I discuss in more detail one peculiar aspect of inter colonial labour migration in the Dutch colonial empire: the recruitment of West African soldiers for the Dutch East Indies army in the 19th century.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5130/tfc.v4i2.1387

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