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The formation of the pribumi business élite in Indonesia, 1930s-1940s
In: Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, Japan, Indonesia and the WarMyths and
realities 152 (1996), no: 4, Leiden, 609-632
This PDF-file was downloaded from http://www.kitlv-journals.nl
The formation of the pribumi business
elite in Indonesia, 1930s-1940s
On 19 May 1928, the Japanese-language newspaper published in Batavia,
Java Nippo, annoyed by the anti-Japanese boycotts of Chinese traders,
called for the elimination of Chinese intermediate trade in the Indies Archipelago
and suggested that Japanese companies should contact European,
indigenous, and Arab merchant houses. The newspaper stated that, were
the Japanese to take natives as their business partners, this would indubitably
stimulate indigenous commercial interest, which would benefit the
progress of native society.2
This call for closer Japanese-indigenous business cooperation came at a
time when Japan had emerged as the engine of the modern Asian economy
(Sugihara 1990). Since the 1880s the industrial heart of the country, the
Kobe-Osaka area, had developed into a dynamic, new industrial centre for
Asia, redirecting existing trade patterns and commodity flows, and
attracting Chinese, Arab, Indian, and local indigenous business groups in
the region (Post 1993b).
Recently Man Hou Lin (1993) has shown how Taiwanese merchants,
who had hardly any experience in direct foreign trade prior to 1895, were
able to play an important economic role in Fukien (South China) during
the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan. She thereby revised the convential
wisdom that the Japanese colonization of Taiwan suppressed indigenous
enterprise and that the Japanese Government-General and the zaibatsu
monopolized the foreign trade of the colony. The rise of the Korean
chaebol, too, was closely related to Japanese economic policy in that
country. Human resource development was an important aspect of
Japanese policies in Korea and indigenous entrepreneurs were given
extensive training in Japanese companies and then enabled to start large
1 The research for this paper was made possible by a fellowship from the Koninklijke
Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen. I would also like to thank the
Masayoshi Ohira Memorial Foundation for their generous support, which made
possible a lengthy stay in Japan in 1992, during which I was able to share my views
with Japanese colleagues. Moreover, I would like to thank the Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan
Indonesia for its willingness to grant me a research permit for the period
October 1995-July 1996, during which time I was able to conduct in-depth interviews
with relatives and business partners of most of the pribumi entrepreneurs dealt with in
this paper.
2 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, BUZA, Gezantschapsarchief Tokyo, TR. 47/28.
BKl 152-IV (1996) 87
610 Peter Post
enterprises with Japanese capital. These and other findings throw an
interesting new light on the historical formation of influential business
elites in the former Japanese colonies and on contemporary ‘Asian Tigers’.
Although there have been pioneering studies on East Asia, little is still
known about Japan’s impact on indigenous business formation in the
Western colonies, for example the Philippines, French Indo-China, British
Malaya, and the Netherlands East Indies. The purpose of this essay is to
investigate whether the emergence of the pribumi (indigenous) business
elites in Indonesia, in particular the group which became the main financiers
of the Soekarno regime, can be related to Japan’s pre-war and
wartime economic (and political) involvement in Indonesia.
The article is divided into four sections. I shall begin with a short outline
of indigenous entrepreneurship in the Dutch colonial economy. This will
be followed by a short description of Japan’s economic advance into prewar
Indonesia. After that I would like to discuss why and how Japanese
and indigenous business groups found each other, a phenomenon which
began in the late twenties, and what effects this had on the position of
pribumi businesses in pre-war Indonesia. Finally, I shall look at the developments
in this field during the Japanese occupation. Throughout the third
and fourth sections, the business fortunes of Agoes Moesin Dasaad, the
foremost indigenous entrepreneur during the period under study, will form
the thread which binds the two together.
Indigenous entrepreneurship and the Dutch colonial economy
The Dutch colonial economy in Java is generally depicted as an ethnically
stratified economy. The Dutch dominated the capital-intensive top layer.
The Javanese provided the labour and made a living by subsistence
farming, petty trading, and handicraft production. The Chinese (and to a
lesser extent Arabs and Indians) occupied the intermediate layer, linking
the other two groups together. Recent scholarship has modified this rather
static picture, particularly in regard to the alleged lack of a ‘capitalist spirit’
among the Javanese and the monetization of the rural economy.
By the early nineteenth century the Javanese economy had expanded
greatly, resulting in a growing population, increasing cash-crop production
and non-farming activities, and integrated indigenous trading networks
through which locally produced and manufactured goods were distributed
far beyond the boundaries of the locality (Alexander, Boomgaard and
White 1991:1-13). This was to change. During the remainder of the century
colonial rule fixed the boundaries of this expanding economy and the
Javanese were forced into market relationships in which outsiders (for
example Dutch and Chinese) set the prices. This strangulation continued
into the early twentieth century, when the Dutch decided upon what they
termed an ethical policy and the forcible expansion of the colonial state.
Even so, Javanese merchants were able to find their niche. Indigenous
The formation of the pribumi business elite 611
traders from Kudus, batik merchants from Yogyakarta and Surakarta, and
the kalang (wealthy merchants) from Kota Gede, who travelled widely in
Banyumas and Kedu, were among the best-known trading minorities in
Java. In an instructive essay, Christine Dobbin highlights the economic
performance of yet another indigenous business group in Java, the
Baweanese. These Muslim traders, from a tiny island north of Gresik (East
Java), operated successful enterprises throughout the whole of East Java,
even as far as Batavia and Semarang, until the late twenties. Their principal
item of trade was cloth and they had direct dealings with European
business houses in the three main ports of Java (Dobbin 1991:119).
Despite the fact that these indigenous merchant groups in Java were
doing well and ran enterprises of which the significance was largely either
ignored or underestimated by contemporary Dutch officials, they somehow
failed to mature into major capitalist business groups. Two general
viewpoints, one stressing cultural inhibitions and one stressing institutional
restraints, have been adduced to explain this phenomenon.3
Recently Jennifer and Paul Alexander (1991a) have put forward the
thesis that the political economy of the Dutch colonial state in Java and the
economic ideology of Dutch colonial officials in general had a negative
impact on the formation of an indigenous business elite in Java. These two
Australian scholars argue that state intervention in the rural economy of
Java restricted capital accumulation and made money-lending a more
lucrative investment than commercial agriculture, small industry or trade.
The attempt by the colonial state to reconstruct the traditional village,
which had supposedly never existed in such a form, forced the Javanese
into the lowest level of the colonial economy, stripping them of the economic
autonomy that efficient participation required.
The political economy of the Dutch colonial state was designed by a
group of economic theorists, of whom J.H. Boeke was the most important.
In developing a theory of social and economic needs, Boeke stressed that
the natives of the Dutch colony had different needs to the Westerners.
Whereas the economic behaviour of the latter was guided by economic
incentives and profit maximization, the indigenous economy was thought
to be based primarily on social needs. The Javanese peasant and trader
consequently ‘placed a very high value on leisure and social obligations
and preferred to share resources rather than compete for them’ (Alexander
and Alexander 1991a:370). Contemporary commentaries considered native
trade of ‘little significance and [it] scarcely merits the title of commerce’
(Alexander and Alexander 1991b:70). This is, as Alexander and Alexander
point out, a matter of perspective. Indigenous trade did not benefit the
colonial state treasury and it was therefore deemed insignificant. This
ideological bias led the colonial state to ‘protect’ the Javanese from the
3 During the late fifties and early sixties the cultural approach was made popular by
Clifford Geertz, who drew extensively on earlier Dutch colonial works.
612 Peter Post
detrimental effects of capitalism and to devise welfare rather than development
Javanese merchant-entrepreneurs faced another major obstacle in the
competition they had to face from Chinese businesses. This competition
intensified in the early twentieth century, when the local economies in the
Indies Archipelago were increasingly integrated into the world economy
and large numbers of Chinese immigrants entered the Dutch colony.
Production and consumption then became much more dependent upon
supply and demand from outside the regional sphere, while through their
wide intraregional dialect networks, the singkeh (new immigrants) were
better equipped to deal with this expanding market than the localized
indigenous merchant groups. Indigenous capitalist groups in Java therefore
had a hard time maturing within the Dutch colonial economy.
In the regions outside Java it was quite a different story. By the late
nineteenth century wealthy Acehnese and Malay business families
controlled the direct import of textiles from Penang to Aceh and East
Sumatra. These merchants travelled to Penang to buy British, German, and
Swiss textiles, which were shipped and distributed through their own
channels. The commercial shrewdness of the Buginese and Makassarese
seafaring traders is well known, although still not well documented. In
West Sumatra, South Sumatra, Celebes, and the rubber-producing areas of
East Borneo, indigenous entrepreneurs continued to hold important stakes
in the regional economy. Colonial bureaucratic control was far less
effective in these areas. The government in Batavia was mainly concerned
with creating a suitable business environment for Western capital.
Effective governmental control was lacking in large parts of the Outer
Provinces, and economic developments offered opportunities to entrepreneurs
from all ethnic groups. It is striking that H. Fievez de Malines van
Ginkel in his 1926 report on the indigenous economy, is fairly enthusiastic
about the capitalist zeal and business success of indigenous entrepreneurs
in Sumatra, East Kalimantan, and other areas (Fievez de Malines van Ginkel
1926,11:169-97). A free interplay between Chinese, Dutch, and indigenous
merchant activity was possible throughout the greater part of the Outer
Regions even up to the outbreak of the Pacific War. In Palembang the
production of and trade in coffee and rubber was dominated by indigenous
merchants. In 1925 there were about ninety large, indigenous
merchant houses in that city. In Bengkulu, where coffee was the main cash
crop, the local trade and export to Batavia was also controlled by
Palembang traders. Coffee was transported in small trucks, carts, sailing
boats and prahu. The passenger cars and trucks in the region were owned
mainly by indigenous people. In Jambi there were some large indigenous
wholesalers who exported rubber and rattan direct to Singapore. In the
province of the West Coast of Sumatra several Malayan wholesalers at
Padang and Fort de Kock traded direct with business partners at
Singapore. In all these regions local trade and the collection of local
The formation of the pribumi business elite 613
produce was controlled to a large extent by indigenous business families.
In Sumatra the indigenous entrepreneur seemingly had far more ‘economic
autonomy’ than his counterpart in Java.
Despite their local and intralocal importance, the Sumatran merchants
had very little access to the intra-Asian economy. Their only outside links
were with Batavia, Singapore and, to a lesser extent, Penang. Chinese
dominance of intra-Asian trading networks, and to a lesser extent the
competition from Indian and Arab merchants, prevented their spreading
their wings and hence their development into major business cartels. When
by the late twenties the Japanese were looking for new business partners
in the Archipelago and the ‘nationalist’ movement was gaining successes
over the establishment of indigenous business cooperations, the Sumatrans
eagerly took advantage of the opportunities offered.
Characteristics of Japanese inroads into the Indies economy
The economic involvement of Japan in Southeast Asia started at the end of
the nineteenth century with the arrival of marginal social elements from the
southwestern part of Japan: adventurers, itinerant traders, shopkeepers,
and, above all, prostitutes.4 In 1899 the Japanese migrants were given
European status, allowing them to travel around freely and to establish
enterprises in all areas which seemed to offer economic potential. Japan’s
trade with the Indies was carried out mainly by Overseas Chinese networks.
Coal, matches, medicines, earthenware, hairpins, and yarn were
among the major export items to the Indies, while Java sugar was sold in
huge quantities to Japan. Several Japanese trading firms had established
branches here as early as 1905 and were regularly sending agents all over
the Archipelago. After the foundation of the Sarekat Islam (SI) in 1912,
these agents and small shopkeepers were approached by local SI leaders
anxious to bypass Chinese networks. The data on these early links are
very scarce, but certainly in some areas in Central and East Java genuine
and successful attempts were made in this direction.
The SI at Muntilan (Kedu, Central Java) acquired weaving looms from
Japan through the mediation of a pharmaceutical trader, K. Tomimasu, in
Yogyakarta. The same source mentions that indigenous weaving mills in
the area had worked for years with Japanese looms. Haji Edris, desa head
of Getaksantren and chairman of the SI in Muntilan, owned a lurik
weaving mill with eight hand looms which he had bought from a Japanese
merchant in Magelang (Post 1991:181-2). In 1915, in the wake of the
Twenty-One Demands, when anti-Japanese boycotts by the Chinese
affected the sale of their products, prominent Japanese shop owners in
Java wrote an angry letter to the Japanese consul-general and threatened
4 In the past decade much work has been done on the pre-war economic expansion
of Japan in the Netherlands East Indies. See among others Shimizu 1988, 1991; Dick
1989; Post 1993a, 1993b.
614 Peter Post
to ‘incite’ the Sarekat Islam against the Chinese if the Dutch colonial
government did not intervene. Although it is doubtful if they would have
had the power to carry out their threat, it shows that even at this early
stage Japanese merchants viewed the Islamic business community as a
strategic instrument in attacking Chinese control of intermediate trading
networks in the Indies.
During and after World War I Japan greatly extended its economic
networks in the region, bringing them into closer contact with the local
population and indigenous entrepreneurs. Rather than establishing
themselves in the major towns of the Archipelago, as most Western
merchant houses did, Japanese businessmen moved into the district centres
and Javanese rural areas.5 The bank crisis of 1927 in Japan, which led to
massive unemployment and local poverty, forced many young rural
Japanese to seek their fortunes further afield. The Indies Archipelago was
one of the areas to which they migrated, and between 1927 and 1930 the
Japanese male population in the Dutch colony more than doubled, namely
from 2,061 to 4,598 (Swan 1988:108-10). Most of these migrants engaged
in retail trade and set up shops {toko Jepang). Occasionally they also
bought up local produce. In roughly the same period large Japanese
trading companies and the zaibatsu established their own distributive
outlets in the interior of Java. The Japanese set their sights on the Indies as
one of the major targets for their textile trade, which had suffered on the
Chinese market (Sugiyama 1994:40-1). This local penetration of Japanese
businesses enabled them to acquire a thorough knowledge of rural credit
networks and local demand, while at the personal level it fostered intimate
personal contacts, which sometimes led to close business cooperation.
In 1927 the Menadonese G.B. Kullit, in collaboration with the Japanese
S. Nawata, established the Trade Exchange Bureau at Kobe. Their small
office provided information about Japan’s trade with Indonesia and India.
Besides doing translation work for Japanese and Indonesian businessmen,
the Trade Exchange Bureau issued a fortnightly paper, the Warta Dagang
(Trade Report), which soon had more than 3000 readers in the Indies and
some 500 subscribers in Japan. Publication costs were covered by some
large Japanese companies and the Nanyo Kyokai (South Seas Association).
6 The magazine maintained close connections with the Japanese-
5 On the divergent market strategies employed by large Japanese and Dutch
merchant houses see Post 1994.
6 Gustaaf Berendhard Kullit was born in 1900 at Kansar, Tonsea (Minahasa). After
being involved in a shipwreck he found himself in Japan at the age of fourteen. At
first he lived in Osaka and Tokyo, but by the end of 1919 he had moved to Kobe,
where he became a Malay language teacher at the School for Foreign Languages at
Osaka and the Nautical College at Kobe. During the late twenties he worked as an
agent for the Japanese lumber traders Itonaga at Posso (Menado). In 1933 he entered
the service of the Deli-Atjeh Handelmaatschappij for a short period. Soon he
established his own small trading firm. In May 1934 Kullit’s younger brother moved
The formation of the pribumi business elite 615
Malay newspaper Bendee, published in Surakarta, which was owned by
Ricahiro Ogawa, one of the most prominent Japanese merchants in Central
The Arab owner of the Rasjid Kanaekan trading company at Sibolga
(Tapanuli, Sumatra) in 1928 went to Tokyo with a view to importing
Japanese goods direct. Around the same time the Sumatran trader Ismael
bin Haji Masir from Deli established a branch of his import firm in
Yokohama and started selling Japanese products direct to indigenous
merchants in Java. Indian businesses like Danamal, Wasiamull, and
Chotirmall, which had been well established in the Asian textile trade for
decades and which operated several branches in Sumatra and West Java,
also became increasingly involved in the Japanese textile trade with South
and Southeast Asia (Brown 1994:189-212). By the late twenties
indigenous, Arab, and Indian business families all over the Archipelago
were showing an increasing interest in developing commercial contacts
with Japan and, more importantly, were actually doing so. The Arab and
Indian business groups, which belonged to extended merchant networks
stretching from India and Singapore to Thailand and China, were of course
in a better position to do so. Indigenous business families in Sumatra which
lacked these contacts with intra-Asian networks waited for an opportunity
to establish contacts with outside allies.
Indigenous business elites and their Japanese connections1
According to Robison (1986:50-4) and P.T. Data Consult (1992), the
following indigenous entrepreneurs were the most prominent during the
‘Benteng Period’, 1950-1959:
1. Abdul Ghany Aziz (1896, Palembang)
2. Agoes Moesin Dasaad (1905, Sulu, Philippines)
3. Djohor Soetan Perpatih (1902, Padang)
4. Djohan Soetan Soelaiman (1896, Padang)
5. Eddy Kowara (1919, Banten)
6. Frits Eman (1917, North Celebes)
7. Haji Shamsoedin (1902, Palembang)
8. HasjimNing(1916, Padang)
9. Herling Laoh
to Kobe to assist Gustaaf and to finish his studies in Kobe. See Post 1991:190-1.
7 In rewriting this and the following sections, I was able to draw upon information
gathered in extensive interviews with relatives and business associates of most of the
pribumi enterpreneurs dealt with in this paper. These interviews were conducted in
Jakarta during the period August to December 1995. In particular, I would like to
thank Eddy Dasaad, Emilia Moesin, Rachmania Djoemena Tamin and H.A.R.
Soerianata Djoemena, Sofyan Tamin, Soedarpo Sastrosatomo, Idham, Toto Bachrie,
and Teuku Moh. Daud. I am also grateful to Peter Keppy for sharing some
biographical material on Abdul Ghany Aziz with me.
616 Peter Post
10. Koesmoeljono (1905, Pemalang)
11. R. Mardanus
12. Moh. Tabrani (1902, Madura)
13. Nitisemito (1881, Kudus)8
14. OmarTusin
15. Pardede (1916, Tapanuli)
16. Rahman Tamin (1907, Padang)
17. Rudjito (1889, Ambarawa)
18. SidiTando
19. Soedarpo Sastrosatomo (1920, Pangkalansusu)
20. Soetan Sjahsam
21. Sosrohadikoesoemo
22. Usman Zahiruddin
23. WahabAffan
24. Ahmad Bakrie (1916, Lampung)
25. Aslam Bakrie
Sources for dates and places of birth : Apa & Siapa 1986; Gunseikanbu 1944;
MestikaZed 1991.
These businessmen were important financiers of the Soekarno regime. This
first generation of entrepreneurs – those born before the First World War –
particularly the Sumatrans, had been sympathetic to the various nationalist
movements. With the exception of Haji Shamsoedin, who was a member of
the Islamic Masyumi, most of them belonged to the Partai Nasional
Indonesia (PNI) and its successors. One of the most influential entrepreneurs
under the Soekarno regime was Agoes Moesin Dasaad. By the
mid-fifties the Dasaad family ranked fifth among the wealthiest families in
Indonesia.9 An economic animal and a non-political opportunist, Dasaad
enjoyed a career that was to a large extent typical of the Sumatran traders.
With him material gain took precedence over political loyalties. As in the
case of his famous Chinese contemporary Oei Tjong Hauw, the president of
the Oei Tiong Ham Concern in the thirties and forties, Dasaad’s fortune
depended on his ability to establish profitable personal relations with
powerful political figures. He succeeded quite well during the period under
discussion in this essay, but once Suharto took over, the Dasaad-Musin
Concern soon became history, leaving only an impressive office complex in
Jakarta Kota, which it had occupied already during the Japanese
11 Nitisemito founded a kretek company in 1910 and opened a large factory at Kudus
in 1934. In that year he reportedly employed over 10,000 workers and produced 8
million clove-scented cigarettes daily. He acquired the nickname ‘Kretek King’, but
his fortunes rapidly declined at the end of the Dutch period, after receiving a claim
for several hundred thousand guilders in back taxes. See Sutter 1959,1:48-9.
9 Interview with Emilia Moesin, niece of A.M. Dasaad, Jakarta.
The formation of the pribumi business elite 617
Agoes Moesin Dasaad and the Sumatran business families
Dasaad’s father was a guru agama (religious teacher) from the Islamic Sulu
Archipelago (South Philippines), where Dasaad was born at Jolo on 25
August, 1905.10 When he was one year old, his father and mother (who
was from one of the royal lineages in Sulu) migrated to Indonesia and
settled in the Lampung district in South Sumatra. Indigenous agriculture in
Lampung was based on rice and cash crops like pepper and coconuts.
European estates produced mainly coffee, rubber, and hemp. Pepper was
far and away the main export product and local trade was controlled by
wealthy indigenous business families. These merchants were often very
well-to-do and Pakuan Ratu was known as an important centre of local
merchant activity in which Chinese traders were unable to gain a foothold.
After finishing primary school in 1918, Dasaad went to a school for
commerce in Singapore, where he studied until 1922. He then took one
year’s service as an assistant bookkeeper in the Loa Mock & Coy printing
works. From 1924 until 1934 he was associated with the Anglo-Egyptian
Trading Co., probably located in Palembang. He bought up indigenous
produce in Lampung and transported it to Palembang for export to Java,
Singapore, and the Philippines. In the mid-twenties Palembang was an
important centre of indigenous business. Coffee from Bengkulu, rubber,
rattan, and copra from Jambi, and pepper from the Lampung districts were
all collected by local indigenous traders, transported to native wholesalers
in Palembang and thence exported by indigenous export houses to Singapore
and Batavia. By 1926 Dasaad had risen to be one of the directors of
the Soerabajase Sigarettenfabriek (Surabaya Cigarette Factory), which was
a subsidiary of the British-American Tobacco Co. Ltd. The story is not all
absolutely clear on this point, and other sources claim that he was working
for a Chinese cigarette merchant, Tio Swie Liang, in Surabaya and was
dismissed for embezzlement. By his mid-twenties Dasaad had already seen
much of Southeast Asia and was well acquainted with local conditions.
This was typical of most of the Sumatran traders. For instance, Haji
Shamsoedin, who became the owner of one the largest textile factories in
Java, left Palembang in 1917 at the age of fifteen and moved to Java. In
Kediri he saw machine-powered weaving looms for the first time, which
made an enormous impression on him. In 1926, when he was given the
opportunity to buy a small factory in Cirebon, he did not hesitate to do
so.” Djohan Soetan Soelaiman, to take another example, went to Batavia in
1921 at the age of twenty-five, to start buying goods for Djohan &
10 The information on Dasaad is taken from several extensive Dutch reports written
during and immediately after the Japanese occupation. ARA, Algemene Secretarie,
1942-1950, nr. 2586; ARA, Archief van de Procureur-Generaal, nrs. 350, 538, 843.
Additional information was kindly given by Eddy Dasaad, eldest son of Dasaad, and
Emilia Moesin.
11 Volksalmanak Melajoe 1937:177-80.
618 Peter Post
Djohor’s shop at Padang. Their partner and relative, Ajoeb Rais, had come
to Batavia in 1916 and from that moment onward tried to extend their
family business all over West and Central Java.12 On the other hand, Haji
Abdul Ghany Aziz was born in Batavia in 1893, three years after his father,
Kiagoos Haji Abdul Aziz, had moved from Palembang to the colonial
capital to expand his trading business. In 1904 the Firma Kiagoos Abdul
Aziz & Co., which exported kain batik to Palembang and imported forest
produce (rattan and damar) from South Sumatra into Java, was established
in Jakarta Kota. Having entered his father’s business in 1911, Abdul Ghany
Aziz went on the haj in 1912 and returned to Batavia in 1913. From that
moment on he slowly extended his father’s business and by 1927 the
Firma Kiagoos Abdul Aziz & Co. was operating branches in Palembang,
Padang, and Bengkulu, as well as having an agency in Singapore (Ghany
Aziz 1972:19-24).
At this point it is important to note that these Sumatran trading groups
did not operate locally. It is even doubtful whether they earned their
original capital by dealing only in local produce. From the information I
have gathered, I have gained the strong impression that, although these
entrepreneurs used their native places as sources af products and export
markets, their main businesses were centred on and run in Batavia. So,
instead of developing from local trading groups into interisland and
international trading firms, as for example Robison (1986:52) states, the
Sumatran businessmen who are the subject of this essay started out as
interisland traders and wholesale merchants using, among other things,
their extensive kinship ties for their trading networks.
By the mid-twenties, Javanese intellectuals under the leadership of
Soetomo were exerting increasing pressure on the Dutch colonial government
to actively support and thereby stimulate indigenous membership of
the capitalist top layer of the colonial economy. On the initiative of
Soetomo’s Indonesische Studieclub a weaving school, a meat cooperative,
a handicraft centre, trade unions, and the NV Bank Nasional Indonesia
(1929) were set up (Sutter 1959,1:122). Following the 1927 government
ordinance on indigenous cooperatives, the position of Indonesians in
commerce showed some improvement, but in general the colonial ‘welfare’
policy set legal limitations on the acquisition of capital and greatly
hindered the aspirations of middle-class would-be businessmen (Liem
1947:75-81; Sutter 1959,1:102-4). The Indonesische Studieclub set up a
central purchasing organization, the Persatoean Koperasi Indonesia, and in
December 1931 the Kongres Koperasi Indonesia decided that it would
establish direct links with Japanese business houses and manufacturers in
order to eliminate ‘foreign’ (that is, Chinese) control of intermediate trade
and distribution networks.
12 Volksalmanak Melajoe 1937:182-5.
The formation of the pribumi business elite 619
Eager to seize every opportunity, Dasaad entered the commerce
between Indonesia and Japan in the wake of this decision. He combined
forces with Djohan Soetan Soelaiman, Djohor Soetan Perpatih, Ajoeb Rais,
and Abdul Ghany Aziz to break the Chinese monopoly on the import of
textiles from Japan. This move coincided with the Manchurian Crisis, when
anti-Japanese boycotts by Chinese merchants forced Japanese exporters to
seek new partners. The devaluation of the yen in December 1931 facilitated
the direct purchase of Japanese goods by indigenous entrepreneurs.
The Sumatran traders called in the help of Djohan and Djohor’s nephew,
Mohammed Hatta. In April 1933 Hatta went on a tour of Japan, where he
stayed until August. Hatta’s trip to Japan had been viewed mostly from a
political point of view, and this idea was fed by an article in a Japanese
daily, the Osaka Mainichi, calling Hatta the ‘Gandhi of Java’, and by
articles in Dutch newspapers and weeklies in colonial Indonesia. In
Chinese business circles, Hatta’s political motives received scant attention.
To them he was ‘The Merchant of Padang’, a tool in the hands of the
business cliques of Minangkabau and Palembang.13 One of the purposes of
his trip was to establish contacts with Japanese textile manufacturers who
were willing to export direct to the Sumatran traders (Goto 1986:352-6;
Post 1993a). Hatta’s party included Ajoeb Rais, managing clerk and
business partner of Djohan & Djohor.
Rais can be considered to be the godfather of modern pribumi enterprise
in Indonesia.14 He was born in Kroi (South Sumatra) at the end of the
nineteenth century (probably around 1895) and learned his trading skills
as a sales clerk at Reiss & Co. at Medan. After a few years he felt he was
being discriminated against by his Dutch superiors and colleagues and
decided to start his own business. In his early twenties Rais moved to
Batavia, where he fell under the spell of Japan’s industrial power. His
house became a meeting place for aspiring pribumi entrepreneurs. Like
Abdul Ghany Aziz, Rais had a strong desire to establish an independent
Indonesian class of merchants, which would have its own direct links with
foreign markets and its own production centres. Dasaad, who was of a
younger generation, became a regular visitor to the Rais residence, while
the latter was to become Dasaad’s business advisor.
On his trip to Japan Hatta was also accompanied by two Japanese, Ando
Sadaichi, manager of the Batavia branch of the Nanyo Sei-ei Shokai at
Nishinomiya, and Itogawa Seishichi, owner of a wholesale trading firm in
Palembang.15 Ando Sadaichi had learned Malay with the Dasaad family
13 Hatta’s parents and relatives were among the most prominent indigenous businessmen
at the time. Haji Ning, grandfather of Hashim Ning, was his stepfather. Hasjim
Ning later became Hatta’s personal secretary ; Ajoeb Rais, Djohan and Djohor, and
Mohammed Saleh were his uncles. He was also related to Haji Oesam, a relative of
14 Information drawn from an interview with Eddy Dasaad, Jakarta.
15 Itogawa arrived in Palembang in 1913. He exported rubber, rattan, and raw cotton.
620 Peter Post
and was one of those Japanese in pre-war Indonesia who greatly inspired
pribumi businessmen, never tiring of teaching them the rules of
international trade and always ready to assist them with practical advice,
business contacts, and sometimes Japanese capital.
In May 1933 Djohan & Djohor appointed a purchasing agent in Tokyo.
Soon two hundred cases packed with woven sarongs were sent to the
Indies and unloaded in Batavia, Surabaya, Semarang, Cirebon, Telok
Betung, Palembang, Padang, and Bengkulu. In August that same year,
Djohor Soetan Perpatih travelled to Kobe and Osaka to establish branch
offices. On this trip Djohor was accompanied by Moeridan, scion of a
wealthy batik-manufacturing family in Yogyakarta.16 Moeridan was in
charge of a toko in Yogyakarta which was to become Djohan & Djohor’s
agency for Central Java. In Yogyakarta he worked in close collaboration
with the Toko Jepang Fuji. This warehouse was frequented by members of
the Mangkunegoro royal family.17
These were the years in which Dasaad’s commercial network was
rapidly expanding. Soon thereafter the whole group of Sumatran traders
established purchasing offices for Japanese textiles in Batavia, Semarang,
Sukabumi, and Malang. Their interests in Japan were represented by Ando
Sadaichi and Noerdin Moeri, a commercial agent from Tapanuli who had
been living in Japan for several years.111 M. Gaoes Mahjoedin, a student in
Tokyo, and other Indonesian students in Japan were also engaged in
commercial activities (Goto 1986:355). A ‘Sarekat Indonesia’ was established
in Tokyo in December 1933 to coordinate their respective interests.19
The Sumatran merchants’ most influential Japanese relations were
Ishihara Shinsaburo and Handa Jisaburo. The former was managing
director of the Ishihara Sangyo Kaiun Kaisha (Ishihara Industrial and
Shipping Company, ISK), a company that had started iron ore mining in
Malaya in 1919 and through this original venture had managed to build up
a huge conglomerate of mining, trading, and shipping companies. Handa
Jisaburo had reorganized Nanyo Veem, a warehousing company with
premises in all the major ports of Southeast Asia. After the ISK entered the
Japan-Java shipping route, Nanyo Veem became its agent. Both Ishihara
In 1931 Itogawa’s trading firm had ten employees and the company had the sole
agency for two large Japanese export firms in Osaka, the Kyodo Boeki and the Nihon
Bussan. BUZA, Archive Consulate-General at Kobe, no. M36.
16 Report of Hendrik Mouw, Head of the Office of East-Asian Affairs, on Japanese
indigenous cooperation. ARA, Ministerie van Kolonien, vb. 7-9-1935, Lt.I18; MR
17 The owner of Toko Fuji was a certain Sawabe, whose nickname, according to the
Osaka Asahi of 19 November 1993, was ‘King of Yogya’. The same article claims
that when Sawabe was summoned to an audience with the Governor-General, who was
then visiting Yogya, the natives knelt along the side of the road. Economisch
Weekblad voor Nederlandsch Indie, 22 December 1933:1034.
lx Economisch Weekblad voor Nederlandsch Indie, 22 December 1933:1034.
19 Indische Gids 56 (1934):264; Goto 1991:26.
The formation of the pribumi business elite 621
and Handa were well-known (and in Dutch eyes notorious) Nanshinron
advocates. The Batak journalist Parada Harahap, an ardent supporter of the
‘nationalist’ movement, who went to Japan at the end of 1933, was also
welcomed and escorted around by Ishihara Shinsaburo and by agents of
the warehousing company Nanyo Veem.
The goods imported by the Sumatran traders were shipped on the ISK
lines and Djohan & Djohor obtained credit from the Taiwan Bank. The
initiatives taken by these Sumatran business groups brought Japanese
industry important new markets. This was one of the main reasons the
Nanyo Yusen Kaisha, the largest Japanese shipping company, extended its
Java line to Padang in September 1932 and Palembang in May 1933.
The entrance of the Sumatran traders into the intra-Asian commercial
arena was quite an astonishing achievement and proved to be a turningpoint
in the long-term history of indigenous business activity in the Indies
Archipelago. Several officials in the Dutch colonial office in Batavia had an
inkling of the significance of this development. And they warned against
it. The ensuing Crisis Import Ordinance, which was issued in September
1933, and the subsequent Importers’ Licensing of 1935 put the screws on
direct imports from Japan by Sumatran business families. Indeed, one of the
major objects of the implementation of this was to cut the links between
indigenous business houses and large Japanese capitalist enterprises (Post
In 1934 Dasaad became director of the Handelmaatschappij Lawsim
Zechna Co. Ltd., a Chinese trading company which held the sole agency
for Parker propelling pencils. Dutch sources claim that by that time he had
already earned his first million. By 1937 new opportunities were
beckoning. The outbreak of the war between Japan and China triggered
off a rash of anti-Japanese boycotts throughout the region. This was the
moment Dasaad and Abdul Ghany Aziz chose to establish the ‘Ghandas’
commission office in Batavia.20 Abdul Ghany Aziz was already a wellknown
businessman. With very little capital at its disposal, the company
soon found itself in hot water, however. Aziz was sued by Behn Meyer
Co. Ltd. for corruption and was arrested, tried, and jailed for a few
months.21 When Raden Soedjono was appointed as a teacher in Japan,
Dasaad succeeded him as chairman of the Inheemsche Handelsvereeniging
(Indigenous Trade Association). That same year he, Ajoeb Rais and Abdul
Ghany Aziz founded the Malaya Import Company, which lost no time in
establishing a branch office, called the Malaya-Nippon Trading Co. in
Japan (Ghany Aziz 1972:32). The Malaya Import Co. Ltd. was granted
credit by the Effendi Bank, a bank set up by Soeleiman Effendi (at
20 The Ghandas firm was regarded by its contemporaries, and by Dutch commentators,
as an Indian company. The name ‘Ghandas’ is an abbrevation of ‘Ghany-
Dasaad’, however. See Ghany Aziz 1972:38.
21 ‘Dasaad File’. ARA, Archief van de Procureur Generaal, nr. 350.
Former Head office of the Dasaad Musin Concern in Jakarta Kota (photo Peter Post)
The formation of the pribumi business elite 623
that time 68 years of age) working with Japanese capital in Surabaya.
Effendi, who spoke Japanese, had close contacts with Yoshizumi
Tomegoro, both a correspondent of the To-indo Nippo and a businessman.
Up to this point Rahman Tamin, another famous pre-war Sumatran
businessman, had not become affiliated with Dasaad and Rais and their
confreres.23 Although Tamin was friendly with them and knew most of
them quite well, thus far he had operated on his own very successfully.
With capital from his father, who was a well-respected trader in Minangkabau,
Rahman Tamin had set up his own textile shop in Padang in the late
twenties. In 1930 he went to Batavia to open the Firma Rahman Tamin and
in 1933 he established the Toko Jacatra in Pasar Senen. Not content with a
position as intermediary in the retail textile business, Tamin worked hard to
gain a foothold in the wholesale business. Determination won the day, and
in 1936-37 he was able to open an office and warehouse at Pintu Kecil, the
heart of the Chinese textile business in Batavia. This achievement gained
him enormous respect in indigenous business circles, and he was drawn
into Hatta’s orbit. In 1938 Rahman Tamin combined some of his capital
with that of Dasaad and together they opened a branch office in Singapore
(Mestika Zed 1991:395, note 47). This step marked the beginning of
Rahman Tamin’s involvement in the Japan-Indonesia trade.24
In 1941 Dasaad bought the textile factory Kantjil Mas at Bangil (East
Java), which had belonged to a German.25 He ran this factory jointly with
Abdul Ghany Aziz, using credit provided by the Javasche Bank. Dasaad’s
purchase of Kantjil Mas was made possible by Ir. Raden Mas Pandji
Soerachman Tjokroadisoerjo, an official in the Department of Economic
Affairs, and through his personal links with Mr. G.G. van Buttingha
Wichers, president-director of the Javaasche Bank from 1930 to 1941.26
This same year Rahman Tamin went to Japan on a business trip. He wanted
to establish new branches and to see whether it would be possible to
22 On Yoshizumi Tomegoro (1911-48) and his relationship with Nishijima Shigetada,
Achmad Subardjo, and others see Nishijima 1986:251-76.
23 The information in this part is taken mostly from several extensive interviews with
Rachmania Tamin Djoemena and Drs. H.A.R. Soerianata Djoemena, daughter and
son-in-law respectively of the late Rahman Tamin.
24 Although I have not yet found any concrete evidence, it seems highly likely that
Rahman Tamin was asked by Moh. Hatta to affiliate himself with the Dasaad-Rais
group at that particular point in time. In the interviews conducted in Jakarta I was
increasingly impressed by the central role Hatta played in bringing all these different
Sumatran entrepreneurs together in the late thirties and mid-forties.
25 The N.V. Textielfabriek en Handel Maatschappij Kantjil Mas was registered by A.
Schonmann on 18 June 1937, and was capitalized at 200,000 guilders (De Bussy
26 Soerachman was one of the few high-ranking Indonesian officials in the
Department of Economic Affairs. He worked in the manufacturing section and had
conducted extensive research into the Javanese textile industry. See Gunseikanbu
Inside the Kantjil Mas textile mill. In the centre is Agoes Moesin Dasaad (Ghany Aziz, 1972)
The formation of the pribumi business elite 625
purchase weaving looms and other equipment to furnish his and Dasaad’s
expanding textile business with.
On the eve of the Japanese invasion of British Malaya the foremost
indigenous entrepreneurs of the Netherlands East Indies had successfully
combined forces and were holding their own in the intra-Asian commercial
arena. Their international businesses, preponderantly in textiles, centred on
Japanese capital and industry. They were emerging as major entrepreneurial
groups which were able to compete, albeit on a minor scale, with Dutch
and Chinese business interests.
The effects of the Japanese occupation on pribumi business formation
When the Japanese military took over Dutch economic institutions and
companies, many aspiring Indonesian businessmen were able to move into
positions which had formerly been closed to them (see Sutter 1959,1:135-6,
173-6). Younger indigenous entrepreneurs – of whom many came from
Sumatra, like T.D. Pardede, Achmad Bakrie, B.R. Motik, and Harlan Bekti –
were able to capitalize on the Japanese occupation period. T.D. Pardede,
for example, left his job at a Dutch plantation in 1942 and began his own
trading business: collecting sugar and salt in Sibolga and other places in
North Tapanuli, then selling these goods in Siantar and Medan. He owned
his own truck, and within three years became one of the richest people in
Tapanuli (Bangun 1987:186-7).27 Pre-war peranakan Chinese firms found
themselves in disarray. Once affiliated with large Dutch trading firms and
banking institutions and now deprived of this support, these companies
were soon to lose their grip on the Indonesian economy (Twang Peck
Yang 1987). The economic environment during the Japanese occupation
proved inimical to the sorts of business practices which flourished in peace
time (Twang Peck Yang 1987:52).
The zaibatsu seized control of the foreign trade of the Indies as well as
the interinsular trade between Java, Borneo, and Celebes. Japanese business
in general occupied those economic sectors which were thought to be
indispensable to the Japanese war effort, for example oil, coal, copra, tin,
bauxite, mangane, and rubber production. The sugar estates, too, were
brought under direct Japanese control (Sutter 1959,1:148-9, 219-21). The
remaining sectors of the economy, like food production and manufacturing
industries, were left to pribumi, Chinese, Arab, and Indian merchantentrepreneurs.
Although daily necessities like foodstuffs and textiles soon grew scarce
in Java, the majority of the pribumi entrepreneurs continued their trading
activities and out of sheer necessity moved into fields into which they had
27 After the war T.D. Pardede became one of the foremost pribumi entrepreneurs. He
went into the textile business and in 1953 opened a textile factory in Medan. In the
early 1960s he acquired the nickname Raja Tekstil of Indonesia. Later on, he moved
into real estate and the hotel business. See Bangun 1987:188-9.
626 Peter Post
not ventured before the war. Haji Abdul Ghany Aziz, in his autobiography,
describes the Japanese occupation as an extremely gloomy period in which
many people suffered. Referring to himself, he writes that, despite the
difficult circumstances, he kept on trading and always had sufficient stocks
of rice, coffee, tea, and other agricultural produce. In 1943 he established
the Masayu Trading Co. in Bandung (Ghany Aziz 1972:41-3).
By introducing the kumiai (business cooperative initiated to control the
production, sale, and prices of all kinds of agricultural produce and
manufactured goods), the Japanese authorities did their best to gain
control of the local economy with a view to achieving self-sufficiency in
most of the Indonesian daerah. The kumiai operated at every level (from
the regional shu level to the kabupaten). As the Japanese had granted the
different ethnic groups the same legal and political rights, members of each
of these groups were appointed to the boards of different kumiai. Actually,
in certain kumiai the position of manager was reserved for Indonesians,
while membership had to be divided equally between Indonesians and
Chinese (Twang Peck Yang 1987:58). On 3 April 1942, the Persatoean
Waroeng Bangsa Indonesia (Perwabi, Union of Indonesian Retailers) was
set up. The man in charge was B.R. Motik, a thirty-year-old merchant from
Palembang (Sutter 1959,1:145; Bangun 1987:vi). Although Perwabi was
founded as a competitor to the Chinese association of shopkeepers, it
failed in its attempt to obtain goods for sale from the Japanese authorities.
Rather than having a variety of different ethnic associations, the Japanese
preferred Chinese and Indonesian businessmen to work together. The
kumiai were organized in such a way that each member would bring in
capital on a share-holding basis. There was a limit to the number of shares
members could own, and the price of each share was kept low in order to
ensure that Indonesians could play an adequate role in the cooperative
(Twang Peck Yang 1987:58). It is indisputable that the controlled economy
the Japanese tried to establish greatly benefited Indonesian
participation in commerce. In Jakarta, the cloth that was available was
distributed partly through the Poesat Pembelian Gaboengan Perniagaan
Indonesia (PPGPI, Purchasing Centre of the Indonesian Trade Association)
and could be obtained from the twenty-eight Indonesian shops united in
the PPGPI. Among them were Djohan Djohor in Pasar Senen and Rahman
Tamin in Pintu Kecil. In April 1943, Rahman Tamin opened another branch
for the sale of cloth and other goods in Pasar Baru (Asia Raya, 27 March
1943,5 April 1943).»
28 The firm of Alsaid bin Awad Martak was the largest non-European textile
company in Java. Originally a construction firm in Surabaya, the company established
a textile mill in that city in 1934 on the advice of Ir. Darmawan Mangoenkoesoemo,
who was government industrial adviser there. The following year, the brothers Faradj
and Achmad Said Martak, of the Arab firm founded an even larger weaving mill at
Kesono, near Mojokerto, which operated 1000 looms (600 of them mechanized)
under a Dutch plant manager. All of these mechanized looms, called the Suzuki
The formation of the pribumi business elite 627
Agoes Moesin Dasaad was one indigenous businessmen who was able
to expand his operations considerably during the Japanese occupation. He
was one of the favourites of the Japanese authorities and had close
connections with high-ranking Kempetai officials. Through his chief of
sales, a fellow Lampongese, R.D. Goestam, Dasaad built up an extensive
network within the Japanese (military) bureaucracy. Goestam was a
brother-in-law of Pangeran Ratoemega, who had a business partnership
with T. Mori, a Kempetai agent, under the name Perseroean Dagang Mori-
In June 1942 the Japanese established the Kigyo Tosei Kai (Textile
Control Board) which supervised the purchase, sale, and storage of yarn
for weaving throughout the whole of East Java. As one of the heads of a
leading textile enterprise in the region, Dasaad was appointed to a seat on
the managerial board. The other directors were S. Achmad bin Said Awad
Martak, of the firm of Alsaid bin Awad Martak, M. Surtel (a Dutchman),
‘plant manager’ of the Martak weaving mill at Kesono, and C. H. Caals,
head of the N.V. Java Textiel Industrie in Surabaya.29 The Textile Control
Board decided which weaving mills could remain open and which firms
could act as wholesalers.
That same month Dasaad, Rahman Tamin (who had just returned from
Tokyo), and Rais were to raise 25,000 guilders to bring Soekarno from
Padang to Java. When the Persatoean Perniagaan Indonesia (Indonesian
Trade Association) was reorganized under its chairman Mesdani and
secretary Z. Aziz in September 1942, Dasaad joined J. Salim, Djohor,
Soetomo, and Soedarsono as its advisors (Asia Raya, 11 September 1942).
Two months later he opened the central office of Kantjil Mas in Jakarta
Kota. The official opening was attended by Hatta, Soekarno, Ir.
Soerachman, H. Dahlan Abdoellah, Mr. Samsoeddin, and other prominent
Indonesian political and business leaders (Asia Raya, 20 October 1942).
Dasaad also became involved with the theatrical troupe Warnasari,
which served as a vehicle for Japanese propaganda as part of the Perserikatan
Oemoem Sandiwara Djawa. The day-to-day production of sandiwara
was in the hands of Goestam, while Dasaad pulled the strings behind
the scenes. Warnasari was also engaged in the provision of Javanese and
Dutch women for the Japanese military. Dutch sources saw the whole
undertaking as nothing more than a cover-up for activities connected with
looms, came from Japan. See Sutter 1956,1:43; Harahap 1952:191-4. After the war
Darmawan served on the board of directors of N.V. Handel Mij. Antara-Asia, a
trading company owned by the Martak family, who were close business associates of
Dasaad. The N.V. Textiel Industrie Java was established with a capital of only 30,000
guilders in July 1937. De Bussy 1940:1053.
29 I am deeply indebted to Thung Ju Lan (LIP1), currently a PhD graduate at
Melbourne University, for thoroughly scrutinizing Asia Raya for news of local
business developments.
628 Peter Post
By mid-1943 the tide of war had turned significantly against Japan, and
the military authorities in Java were ordered by Imperial Headquarters to
create local defence forces and initiate programmes for winning massive
popular support. The Japanese authorities set up advisory boards to
promote Indonesian political participation. Among the topics which
unavoidably came up for discussion here were economic issues, so that
businessmen like Dasaad were also appointed to these boards. The Chuo
Sangi-in (Central Advisory Council) became the key institution for political
participation and economic matters. Its membership, comprising men with
economic experience, fluctuated at around thirteen (Sutter 1959,I:180-2).30
In September 1943, Dasaad was made a member of the Sangikai (Advisory
Council) in Batavia, and within a month he became vice-chairman of the
Board. His friend and business associate Ir. R.M. Soerachman was
appointed to an executive position in the Sangyo Bu, the key economic
The military administration in Java announced its plans for a new
economic order in April 1944.31 Western liberalism was regarded as
essentially wrong, because liberty and the pursuit of individual profit
conflicted with equality and fraternity and had borne the bitter fruit of
Asian exploitation by Western colonial powers. Rejecting the West, it
decreed that the economic order in Indonesia should be based upon a socalled
‘Oriental Morality’, of which loyalty, cooperation, and public service
comprised the essential elements (Sato 1994:14-7). By that time most
pribumi entrepreneurs were convinced that the Japanese administration
would not deliver the economic opportunities which they sought. But
they also shared a common feeling that the pre-war colonial economic
system, in which the Dutch and Chinese ruled the roost, should not be
allowed to return. Towards this end they were prepared to ‘play along’
with the Japanese as long as this was necessary (Ghany Aziz 1972:43-4).
By the autumn of 1944 the writing was on the wall and it became clear to
many that the Japanese occupation would not last much longer.
Dasaad, Haji Abdul Ghany Aziz and A. Bakrie were among the members
of an Investigative Committee for the People’s Economy set up on 25
April 1945. This forum was dominated by Indonesians but included
Chinese, Arab, and Japanese businessmen as well. Making the most of their
opportunities, the Indonesians stepped up their business activities, and
associations of Indonesian manufacturers were established. As there were
signs that independence was a realizable possibility in the short term, indigenous
businessmen were buoyed up by the belief that their efforts and
labour would contribute to the future economy of a free Indonesia. In the
30 On the structure and workings of the Central Advisory Board, see Sato 1994:64-
7 1 .
31 There five measures were designed to increase Indonesian participation in the
Javanese economy. See Sutter 1956, 1:200-11.
The formation of the pribumi business elite 629
spirit of the times, Masyumi-oriented businessmen had formed the Soesoenan
Ekonomi Bangsa Indonesia Islam (Islamic Indonesian Economic
Organization) in January 1945.
Dasaad met several other leading business and political figures in
Bandung in June to discuss the necessity of establishing a Java-wide
Indonesian business organization. This meeting gave rise to the major
business event of the year: the Permoesjawaratan Kaoem Ekonomi
Indonesia Seloeroeh Jawa (All-Java Conference of Indonesian Businessmen).
This conference was held in Bandung from 20 to 24 July 1945.
There were many speakers here (Soekarno, Raden Soejoed, and Soenario,
for instance), but the principal speaker was Hatta, who called for a socialisttype
of economy based on the spirit of gotong royong. All the businessmen
present were conscious of an atmosphere of unity, service, and
brotherhood. One of the resolutions passed at the conference led to the
setting up of the Persatoean Tenaga Ekonomi Bangsa Indonesia (PTEBI,
Union of Indonesian Businessmen). The members of its board included
major Indonesian businessmen like Haji Abdul Ghany Aziz and B.R.
Motik. On 1 August 1945, the PTEBI opened its office under the name
Poesat Tenaga Ekonomi (PTE, Economic Centre) (Twang Peck Yang
1987:98-9). It seems that this was the first major Indonesian business
association for the whole of Java.
By the end of the Japanese occupation, Agoes Moesin Dasaad had
amassed a substantial fortune. In September 1945 he donated 100,000
guilders to Soekarno, and with this gesture turned his attention to the
creation of the Indonesian Republic, which, he anticipated, would increase
his fortune.32
Concluding remarks
In this article I have tried to show that the formation of the pribumi
business elite during the 1930s-1940s was related to Japanese infiltration
of the pre-war and the wartime economy of Indonesia. In the thirties,
Minangkabau and Palembang business families were able to take part –
albeit on a minor scale compared with Dutch, Chinese, Arab, and Indian
merchant houses – in Japan’s trade with the Dutch colony. As in the case
of Taiwanese merchants, it was through their Japanese ‘connection’ that
they acquired knowledge and skills in direct foreign trade. Japanese
economic policy during the occupation favoured Indonesian participation
in the economy. Moreover, rather than building an economy based upon
racial-ethnic division (as the Dutch had done), Japanese economic advisors
tried to establish a controlled economy which integrated, rather than
32 Just prior to the Japanese surrender, Dasaad and the Gunseikan came to an
agreement regarding the total assets of the Kantor Tjitak Damai. He thereupon
became the owner of several printing presses and a considerable quantity of printing
paper from the Japanese Navy.
630 Peter Post
divided, the different ethnic business groups. Try as they might, the
Japanese economic planners were unable to overcome the existing antagonism
towards Chinese dominance of most of the economic sectors. This
inherent ‘dynamic’ in Indonesian society proved resistant to the attempts
to streamline the economy, despite the fact that in several cases an ‘Ali
Baba’ type of business cooperation, which was to continue in the next
decades, took shape between Chinese businessmen and indigenous
political (and military) leaders during the revolutionary period.
This essay raises more questions than it answers. Specific examples
which spring to mind are the nature of the terms upon which credit was
granted by the Japanese to indigenous business. The failure of indigenous
merchants to obtain terms of trade that were customary among Europeans
or between Europeans and Chinese prevented them from taking part in the
wider colonial economy (Alexander and Alexander 1991a:388-9). It seems
that in the pre-war period Japanese business houses offered more
favourable credit terms to Sumatran merchant families than to either
European or Chinese businesses. This may be connected with the fact that
dealing in Japanese goods required less trading capital than dealing in
European goods. Both factors facilitated their active participation in the
pre-war intra-Asian economy.
If we take a long-term view of the formation of pribumi business elites
and the ‘rise of capital’ in Indonesia, therefore, it will be clear that, despite
the political, military, and economic upheavals, Japan played a significant
role in this process from the late twenties onward.
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