De koloniale ruimte herbezien | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 4, Issue 3-4
  • ISSN: 2588-8277
  • E-ISSN: 2667-162X



This contribution analyses the colonial space that encompassed The Netherlands and Indonesia through the lens of historical disasters. In the past as much as in the present, Indonesia’s geophysical circumstances made the region vulnerable to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunami’s. During the nineteenth and early twentieth century such disasters confronted its victims, the other inhabitants of the archipelago and Dutch authorities with considerable challenges. Organizing relief and reconstructing the affected places and societies, prompted societal and governmental responses in colonial Indonesia as well as in The Netherlands.

This article centres around two case studies: the eruption of Mount Awu on Sangihe Besar in 1856, and the earthquake that struck West Sumatra in 1926. We show that cultural and political interpretations of these disasters varied consid-erably between Dutch and Indonesian actors. By building on new insights from the fields of New Imperial History and Disaster Studies, we understand these divergences as the results of the differences in interests, worldviews and political realities faced by those who engaged with disasters in the Netherlands East Indies. On the one hand, Dutch actors tended to frame disasters as joint experiences that bound together motherland and its colony through charity and aid in a single humanitarian space. Yet their decidedly colonial lens led the Dutch to view disasters mainly through their own interests in the archipelago, thereby obscuring the multi-layered nature of local disaster responses. We therefore foreground local disaster responses to expose the limits of colonial disaster interpretations and thereby emphasise the fragmented nature of the colonial space.


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