Batavia - The Dutch Capital
( Originally Published 1904 )
WE are walking along the wide canal which runs through the principal street of Batavia. On each side of us quaint houses, with white walls and overhanging roofs of red tiles, look down upon and mirror themselves in the water. The buildings are like those in Dutch pictures, and were it not for the palm trees, the orchids, the groves of bananas, and the little brown natives we see everywhere, we might imagine ourselves in one of the cities of Holland.
And so we are ! Batavia represents Holland. It is the capital of the Dutch East Indies, a territory about sixty times as large as Holland itself. Away out here near the Equator the Dutch government has built up a 'town, almost European, which is largely inhabited by Dutch officials and merchants, and from here the vast population of this East Indian empire is governed.
We reach Batavia by train, for it lies a few miles back from the sea. At the station we take sados, little two wheeled vehicles drawn by ponies, and ride along the canal to the upper part of the city. Our brown-skinned, turbaned drivers sit crosslegged at the front, and we have seats behind with our legs hanging down over the back, so that we get good views as we dash through the city. We pass many little stores owned by Chinese merchants, then go by better buildings, and at last reach Weltevreden (wel'te-vra-den), where are the big hotels and where the most of the officials and Dutch merchants have their homes.
How beautiful it is! The houses are low; white structures painted to represent marble, each having a great veranda upheld by Grecian columns. There are people sitting on the verandas. The front doors are open, and we can see that the rooms are wide, airy, and comfortably furnished. Nearly every house has a garden about it. Here the drive is lined with royal palms, and there it is shaded by trees so gigantic and beautiful that you will not see their like outside of Java.
There is a store ! Great plants stand on its porch and in the garden before it. Next door is the Hotel des Indes, a vast structure in the shape of an L with banyan trees and palm trees in its court. We pass the Royal Museum and its bronze elephant given by the king of Siam, and drive on through the beautiful parks for which Batavia is noted. As we go, we see that the city has electric lights, street cars, and all other modern improvements. There is a boy crying the newspapers. That building farther on is a college ; we are again in a land of telephones, telegraphs, and schools. We enter the stores. They have sorts of goods such as are kept in our stores at home. Most of the clerks can speak English or German, and we have no trouble in supplying our wants.
Java is the most valuable of Holland's possessions in the East Indies. The Dutch have governed it since the beginning of the seventeenth century, and under them it has become one of the most prosperous countries of the world. It has a great commerce. Batavia, where we now are, is one of the principal ports, and Surabaya in eastern Java is another, while there are smaller cities on the north and south coast. Surabaya is larger than Batavia, its trade being with Europe and Asia and all the islands of this archipelago.
Java is very thickly populated. It is only a little larger than .n, but it has more than thirty million inhabitants. Of these all are Malayans, with the exception of a few thousand Dutch and several hundred thousand Chinese who have come here to trade.
The Dutch manage Java through the natives. The chief officials, including the governor general who rules all the Dutch islands of this part of the world, are Dutch appointed by the queen of Holland. The smaller offices are held by natives, who have Dutch officials whom they call their elder brothers, to advise them and tell them just what they must do. There are twenty - two residences or states in Java, each of which has a native governor, with one of these elder brothers to direct him. The elder brother will not permit the natives to be ill treated, and at the same time he sees that they pay the taxes necessary for the support of the government. There are many native under officials, who are also helped by clerks from Holland, so that in reality the whole country is managed by the Hollanders, although the natives apparently govern.
This is so not only in Java, but in most of the Dutch East Indies. The Dutch have a large army to enforce their orders, but they do not oppress the natives, and are doing all they can to better their condition.
We take the train at Batavia, and in a short time reach Buitenzorg (boi'ten-zorG), where the governor general lives. We are received at the palace and are shown through the grounds about it, including the botanical garden, said to be the finest of the whole world. The governor general has a salary larger than that of our President. He lives in great state, and he often has soldiers with him when he goes about the country.
The Dutch think it necessary to impress upon the natives that they are very rich and powerful and worthy of being their rulers. They insist on the natives paying them and all Europeans proper respect, and in some parts of Java we shall see men, women, and children squatting down on the road as we pass, and holding up their hands toward us as though they were saying their prayers. This was the way the lower classes treated their superiors when the Dutch first came, and it is thus they treat the nobles among the natives to-day. No native is permitted to smoke in the presence of an official, and he must never come before one with his head uncovered. He must use a certain humble language when speaking to his superiors, and the superior has also a special language for servants.