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Forest Transformations in Java

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Java is one of the famous Sunda Islands in Indonesia; bordered by the Indian Ocean to the South and the Java Sea in the North. The population of Java is 147.7 million people, making it one of the most populous islands with approximately 55% of the Indonesian population. It is known as an Indonesian rice-producing island but it was originally mostly covered by forests. The Dutch were the colonial power in Indonesia, and the regulations for forest control in Indonesia and India were very similar. The Dutch began forest management on the Indonesian island of Java. They, like the British, desired Java timber for shipbuilding.

Woodcutters of Java

Kalangs of Java

The Kalangs of Java were a skillful society of forest cutters and shifting cultivators. The 6,000 Kalang families were divided equally between the two kingdoms when the Mataram kingdom of Java split in 1755. 

It would have been difficult to harvest teak and erect the monarchs’ palaces without their knowledge. When the Dutch took possession of the woodlands in the eighteenth century, they attempted to force the Kalangs to labor for them. The Kalangs resisted in 1770 by storming a Dutch fort at Joana, but the revolt was put down. 

Dutch Scientific Forestry

When it became vital to govern terrain rather than merely people in the nineteenth century, the Dutch created forest regulations in Java, restricting locals’ access to forests. Wood could now only be harvested for defined purposes, such as producing riverboats or building houses, and only from specific forests under strict control. Villagers were fined for grazing cattle in young stands, transporting timber without permission, or using horse carts or animals on forest routes. The need to manage forests for shipbuilding and railways, as in India, prompted the establishment of a forest service. All of this, however, necessitated labor to chop the trees, transport the logs, and prepare the sleepers. 

Blandongdiensten system

The Dutch first levied rents on forest land that was being cultivated, and then exempted certain settlements from these charges provided they worked together to offer free labor and buffaloes for cutting and hauling timber. This was known as the blandongdiensten system. Instead of rent exemption, forest dwellers were later given tiny wages, but their ability to cultivate forest land was limited.

Around 1890, Surontiko Samin of Randublatung village, a teak forest hamlet, began challenging the state’s ownership of the forest. He contended that because the state did not create the wind, water, earth, or wood, it could not claim ownership of them. Soon, a huge movement arose. It was organised with the cooperation of Samin’s sons-in-law. 3,000 families had adopted his beliefs by 1907. When the Dutch came to survey their land, some Saminists protested by lying down on it, while others refused to pay taxes, fines, or labor.

War and Deforestation

The impact of the First and Second World Wars on woods was substantial. At this period in India, working plans were abandoned, and the forest authorities hacked down trees at will to meet British war demands. To keep large teak logs out of the hands of the Japanese, the Dutch implemented a scorched earth policy in Java, dismantling sawmills and burning vast heaps of them. After that, the Japanese actively exploited the forests for their own war industries, forcing forest residents to down trees. Many villages took advantage of this chance to expand their forest-based farming activities. After the fighting, the Indonesian forest service found it impossible to restore this land. People’s need for agricultural land, as in India, has clashed with the forest department’s aim to manage the area and restrict people from it.

Sample Problems

Question 1: Mention the explanation for India’s expanded landmass under cultivation.


As the population grew and the demand for food increased, peasants expanded the bounds of farming, clearing forests and breaking fresh ground.

Question 2: How did the new forest laws affect the hunter and forest dwellers in 1927?


Villagers faced significant hardship as a result of the Forest Act. Following the Act, all of their daily activities, such as cutting wood for buildings, grazing cattle, harvesting fruits and roots, hunting, and fishing, became banned. They were prosecuted for poaching.

Question 3: Who were the Kalangs of Java?


The Kalangs were a talented group of forest cutters and shifting cultivators.

Question 4: Why did the Dutch feel the need to enact forest laws in Java?


When it became important to manage area rather than merely people in the nineteenth century, the Dutch implemented forest regulations in Java, limiting locals’ access to forests. Wood could no longer be chopped for anything other than specific requirements.

Question 5: What was the Dutch policy during the war?


The Dutch developed a policy of “scorched soil.” They wrecked sawmills and torched enormous piles of teak wood to prevent them from falling into enemy hands (Japanese).

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Last Updated : 29 Mar, 2022
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