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INDONESIA – WEST SUMATRA / PADRI (MINANGKABAU) WAR: “Etappe-Kaart van het Militair Kommando, Westkust Sumatra. Schaal van 16 Palm op 1 duim Rh”.


An unique and extraordinary artifact of the successful Dutch endeavours to gain colonial dominion over West Sumatra during the 1830s, in the wake of the Padri War (concluded 1837) and the 1832 intervention against the Aceh Sultanate, being an impressively detailed original manuscript itinerary map of West Sumatra, including it rugged Minangkabau Highlands, depicting a dense archipelago of villages and Dutch army outposts, all connected by a network of routes featuring the distances between key points, made by an anonymous Dutch army cartographer, it would have been an indispensable aid to guiding military movement and strategic decision making in what was a highly unpredictable frontier theatre.


Manuscript, pen and ink with coasts outlined in blue watercolour on paper bearing the watermark of ‘J. Honig & Zoonen’ (Good, some old, seemingly contemporary, ink stains, wear along old folds, some marginal tears with old repairs to verso, small crescent-shaped tear in centre with no loss closed by old repair from verso, some toning to blank margins, traces of old wax adhesive to verso), 57.5 x 48 cm (22.5 x 19 inches).

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West Sumatra (Bahasa: Sumatra Barat) had traditionally been a ‘blind spot’ for the Dutch East India Company (VOC).  While the Dutch had controlled the region’s largest city, the port of Padang, since 1663 and had established a few trading posts along the coast over the coming generations, the VOC had little influence in what the Dutch called the ‘Bovenlanden’ (the Minangkabau Highlands), which remained under the control by the indigenous Minangkabau people.  Moreover, the narrow coastal strip lightly held by the Dutch was squeezed on both its northern and southern ends by powerful rivals.  Since 1685, the English East India Company had controlled much of the southwestern coast of Sumatra from their base of Bencoolen (Bengkulu), while to the north of the Dutch sector lay the domains and tributary lands of the powerful Aceh Sultanate.  Thus, the Dutch presence in West Sumatra was historically quite light and tenuous.


During the French Revolutionary-Napoleonic Wars, Britain seized control of the Dutch possessions in the East Indies, including all its holdings in Sumatra, which were held under British rule from 1795 to 1819.  Upon the restoration of the Dutch colonial regime in the East Indies (under the auspices of crown rule, which had replaced the defunct VOC), the Netherlands embarked upon a major policy change.  Instead of running their possessions in the region as an archipelago of trading posts, their aim was not to solidly conquer large swathes of territory, or indeed entire islands, and place them comprehensively under the the colonial yolk.


Critically, with the signing of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, Britain agreed to surrender its colonial possessions in the Indonesian Archipelago to the Netherlands, in return for the Dutch transferring its possessions in India and on the Malay Peninsula to Britain.


Critically, this gave the Netherlands control of Bencoolen and, in theory, colonial claim to the rest of Sumatra.  In line with their overarching policy, the Netherlands sought to progressively take control of Sumatra, whether by (often coerced) treaties with the indigenous nations, or by military force, if necessary.


Returning to the scene in West Sumatra, the Dutch regained control over Padang, from Britain in 1819.  In order to assume dominance over West Sumatra, including the Minangkabau Highlands, they proceeded to interfere in the ongoing Padri War (also called the Minangkabau War) (1803 – 1837), a civil conflict between two factions in Minangkabau society.  The Padri were an Islamist fundamentalist movement, ultimately led by the ultra-charismatic cleric Tuanku Imam Bonjol, who gained great success in converting many of the Minangkabau people to their cause, while seeking to depose the religiously moderate ‘Adat’, or Minangkabau noble class.  The Dutch sided with the Adat against the Padri, with the understanding that if they vanquished the former then the Minangkabau state would become a protectorate of the Netherlands, so placing all West Sumatra under effective Dutch military-economic control.


The Dutch involvement in the Padri War followed two phases.  From 1819 to 1824, the Dutch supported the Adat to reach a stalemate with the insurgents, signing a truce with the Padri in 1824.  The Dutch then became distracted by having to contend with a serious insurrection in Java, in what was the Java War (1825-30).  However, this lull only delayed the necessary decisive showdown for control of West Sumatra.


In 1830, the Dutch, having won a decisive victory in Java, resumed their involvement in the Padri War, inflecting severe defeats upon the Padri.  With Adat support, they progressively gained control of much of the interior of West Sumatra, establishing an archipelago of military outposts across the region.  However, the Padri, despite losing many skirmishes and much territory, tenaciously fought on.  While Tuanku Imam Bonjol was captured by the Dutch in 1832, he manged to escape only three months later, so reinvigorating the Padri cause.  The indefatigable nature of the Padri warriors very much surprised and frustrated the Dutch.


Meanwhile, the Dutch gained enduring control over the northern stretches of the West Sumatra coast, upon defeating the Aceh Sultanate in a short, but sharp campaingn in February 1832.


By 1834, the Dutch-Adat armies managed to surround Tuanku Imam Bonjol in his stronghold in the highlands, to the northeast of Padang, yet it took another three years for them to close the noose.  The Padri surrendered on August 16, 1837, with Tuanku Imam Bonjol being sent into exile, while Adat regained control of Minangkabau society, albeit under Dutch colonial oversight.


The Present Map in Focus


The present manuscript is an extraordinary original artifact from the time of the Padri War, or the period immediately in its wake.  Very few documents or maps from the conflict survive, even in public archives, let alone in the private sphere.


The present map was clearly made by a Dutch military cartographer (an engineer or pioneer), likely in the field.  The map embraces the entirety of the active military theatre in West Sumatra, plus, it extends across the island to touch the Straits of Malacca, by Rupat Island.  Basic topographical features are defined, such as the coastlines, major rivers, lakes and seminal mountains (expressed by hachures and named).


Padang, the Dutch regional headquarters, is in the lower part of the map, with the Minangkabau Highlands, to its interior.  The epicentre of the Padri War can be found between the lakes amidst the labelled volcanic peaks of Mount Marapi, Mount Singgalang, and Mount Sago.


Being an “Etappe-Kaart”, or ‘itinerary map’, its purpose is to depict the region’s major settlements, Dutch army outposts (being distinguished by the presence of a flag), and the routes between them, noting the distances between key waypoints, to serve as a vital aid to inform military movement.  Some routes feature annotations, for example, the line between the port of “Tappenolie Baay” and the interior outpost of “Pitjer Kolling” is described as being a “five days’ march”.


The map indicates that by the time that it was drafted, the Dutch very thoroughly controlled West Sumatra, including all or almost all the Minangkabau Highlands, as the region features many Dutch military outposts.  It also shows that by this time, the Dutch military had gained a stellar knowledge of the interior of West Sumatra, which prior the Padri War was virtually a terra incognita to Europeans.


The dashed line that runs just inland of the Strait of Malacca coast divides the lands under Dutch colonial control from those not yet subjugated, so taking in the entirety of the Minangkabau territories, and is labelled as “Deze landen nebben zich onder de bescherming van het nederlandsche Gouvernement gesteld” [These countries have placed themselves under the protection of the Dutch Government].


The coastal towns, running from Baros up to Sinkel, represent the area that the Dutch secured by having successfully countered Achinese advances in 1832.


Such a thorough and relatively accurate itinerary map would have been vitally useful to the local Dutch army command, and it would have far exceeded the quality and practical applicability of any maps from earlier periods.


The extensive nature of the Dutch military control over West Sumata as depicted on the map indicates that it was likely drafted just after the conclusion of the Padri War in 1837.  Importantly, its bears many similarities to a manuscript itinerary map, J. Thie’s “Etappe kaart der Sumatrasche Bovenlanden van Padang tot Aijerbangies” (circa 1837), preserved in the Allard Pierson Collection at the University of Amsterdam, that focuses upon the southern part of the region covered by the present work.  Please see a link to an image of this map, courtesy of the Allard Pierson website:




The present manuscript is a unique survivor and is an extraordinary original artifact of the Padri War era and the Dutch efforts to gain colonial mastery of Sumatra.  Importantly, while all manuscript maps from the period Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia are rare, it is highly unusual to encounter any such works from the first half of the 19th century.


References: N/A – Map seemingly unrecorded.  Cf. [re: cited comparable map, “Etappe kaart der Sumatrasche Bovenlanden van Padang tot Aijerbangies”:] Allard Pierson Handbibliotheek, University of Amsterdam: OTM: HB-KZL 104.03.25.


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