It is part of the Journal of Agrarian Change blog, hosted on the Development Studies at SOAS blog.
Mobilizing Labour for the Global Coffee Market: Profits from an Unfree Work Regime in Colonial Java, by Jan Breman. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015. Pp. 404 + 8 Plates €99 (hb). ISBN 978-90-8964-859-4.
This is a book of impressive scope. It tells the story of coffee cultivation on Java under Dutch colonialism from its beginnings in the early 1600s through to the end of the notorious Cultivation System in the late 1800s. It focuses on the Priangan Highlands of West Java, which was the main coffee-producing region during most of the colonial period. It was here that a system of forced cultivation was introduced in the early 1700s. This evolved into the model for the Cultivation System that was imposed on the whole island in the 1830s.
The book begins by describing the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC’s) efforts to take control of the thriving inter-regional trade conducted by Javanese, Gujaratis, Malays, Arabs, Chinese, and others; and to extend its territorial control inland from Batavia (modern day Jakarta). The two efforts were interrelated because the competitive advantage of the existing traders was based on the relationships they had established with the local nobility controlling agricultural production on Java. Once the VOC imposed its political control inland, it exerted monopoly control over exports from West Java, and through that over the Batavia node of the larger inter-regional trade. Continue reading