Banditry in West Java 1869-1942

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By Margreet van Till, Translated by David McKay and Beverley Jackson

Banditry was rife around Batavia (modern Jakarta) during the late colonial period, with at least one major robbery committed every day. Banditry in West Java identifies the bandits and describes their working methods and their motives, which often went beyond simple self-enrichment. It also explores the world of the robbers' victims, city-dwellers for whom the robbers were the antithesis of civilization, convenient objects onto which respectable citizens projected their own preoccupations with sex, violence, and magic.

The colonial police force in the Dutch East Indies was reformed in the early 1920s, and banditry was subsequently brought under control. However, the bandit tradition lived on in Javanese popular imagination and folk culture, not least in tales of Si Pitung, a Robin Hood figure who flourished in nineteenth-century Batavia.

The author argues that banditry in Batavia was closely linked with the modernization process, particularly the ready availability of firearms and the rise of a money economy. However, her findings do little to support suggestions that banditry should be seen as part of the revolutionary struggle for independence in Indonesia.

Banditry in West Java is a translation of Batavia bij Nacht: Bloei en ondergang van het Indonesisch roverswezen in Batavia en de Ommelanden, 1869-1942. (Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Aksant, 2006).


"...offers some important correctives to the historiography of banditry, and to histories of violence in Indonesia, that deserve investigation by further local studies." - Susie Protschky

"The theme, armed gang robbery in and around Batavia over a period of some eighty years, is rich and colourful; the sources are various, and include not only the colonial archives, but also, and particularly, the local press (both Dutch and Malay). This under-appreciated resource proves to be a mine of illuminating anecdotal information. Other aspects of popular culture, such as novels, are also used successfully, while the photographs are relevant and well chosen." - 
Heather Sutherland

Margreet van Till is a Researcher at the Institute for Netherlands History, and deals primarily with the colonial Netherlands East Indies.

Publication Year: 2011
292 pages, 229mm x 153mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-502-6, Paperback

NUS Press