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The Dutch Arakanese Relationships

The Dutch Arakanese Relationships

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Published by Khaing Khaing

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Published by: Khaing Khaing on Dec 16, 2008
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The Serpent and the King: The Dutch-Arakanese Relationshipby Stephan Van GalenD.G.E. Hall, the eminent historian of Southeast Asia, in his ‘’Studies in Dutch relations withArakan’’, was the first to point out the importance of the Dutch language sources for a studyon the history of Arakan. Hall pieced together a preliminary overview of the Dutch-Arakaneserelationship on the basis of the published Daghregisters or diaries of Batavia. In his history of Southeast Asia Hall even based his description of 17th century Arakan almost entirely on theDaghregister and further source publications: the Corpus Diplomaticum Neerlando-Indicumand De Jonge’’s Opkomst van het Nederlandsch gezag in Oost-Indie.The scope of Halls description of the Arakanese-Dutch relationship could however only belimited because of the nature of these source publications.A recent article by Prof. Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Slaves and tyrants: Dutch tribulations inseventeenth-century Mrauk-U further highlights the need for a structured overview of theArakanese-Dutch relationship. In this article Subrahmanyam has sketched the built-up of aproto-colonial discourse around the disastrous 1649 embassy of the Dutch ambassadorHensbroeck to the Arakanese court. The daghregister of this embassy, which ended inoutright-armed conflict, has been used by Subrahmanyam to characterize the relationshipbetween ‘’European’’ and ‘’Southeast Asian’’.In this paper I will describe Arakanese-Dutch relations from 1608, when the first contactswere established, until the end of the era of systematic contacts in 168 when the Dutch factoryin Arakan was closed. This description will not only be an attempt at providing a firststructured overview of the relationship, it will also aim to provide a basis for further research.I will begin with a short overview of the available sources for a study of the Arakanese-Dutchrelationship and continue with a tentative periodisation, which I will illustrate with someoccurrences from these periods that can be seen as characteristic for these phases in therelationship.This paper is based on a re-examination of the Source publications used by Hall and study of unpublished source materials from the VOC archives.The published sources can be divided in four groups, that is:First the Daghregister of Batavia, which covers in its published form the period from 1624 to1682.4Secondly the Corpus Diplomaticum Neerlando-Indicum which is a compilation of what mightbe called the treaties between the United East India Company and various Asian rulers, thispublication covers the period from 1596 to 1799.5Thirdly De Jonge’’s formidable Opkomst van het Nederlandsch gezag in Oost-Indie, being asomewhat haphazard but still useful compilation of primary documents from the VOC archivecovering the period 1595 to 1811.6And finally the Generale Missiven van Gouverneur-Generaal en Raden aan Heeren XVII derVerenidge Oost-Indische Compagnie being the letters sent by the Governor-General andCouncil from Batavia to the Board of the VOC in the Netherlands, this last publication coversthe period 1610 to 1750.7The archival material from the VOC archives at the Hague used for this paper can be roughlydivided into three categories.8 The missiven, or reports sent by the head of the Dutch factoryin Arakan to the Governor and Council in Batavia constitute the first category, Thedaghregistersinstructies to new factors the third. held by the factors of the Company thesecond, and TheAlthough we have access to only a few examples of the daghregisters they are of primaryimportance because they consist of day-to -day observations of VOC employees on trade and
politics. They provide verbatim reproductions of conversations between VOC employees andCourt officials and observations on Arakanese culture. Originally there must have been acontinuous collections of these daghregisters for Arakan and even for Chittagong, but themajority of the Arakan diaries and all the Chittagong diaries have supposedly been destroyedduring the early years of the nineteenth century on orders of the then Governor-GeneralHerman Daendels.9 The available daghregisters at the Algemeen Rijksarchief at the Haguehave survived because they were sent to the Heeren XVII in the Netherlands to serve asbackground information for the Generale Missiven or the copies of the missiven sent fromArakan to Batavia.This brings us to the bulk of the material, the missiven. As I just mentioned copies of themissiven sent from Arakan to Batavia were annually forwarded to the Netherlands to providethe Board of the VOC with the necessary information for their policy decisions. These lettersrefer in the first place to the commercial situation in Arakan and the results of VOC’’sinvestments in the Arakanese markets. They provide information on the market structure, giveanalyses of market forces and describe the other players on the market. But this is only part of the information contained in these letters. They also provide us with a synopsis of theinformation contained in the daghregister, they give an overview of the situation at theArakanese court and if necessary they sketch Arakans relations with its neighbours-especiallywhen these might impair the Companies trade in Arakan. The instructies lastly contain theinstructions sent fro Batavia or the early seventeenth century from the Choromandel coast tofactors going out to Arakan. As one might expect the first of these provide the bestinformation on the Arakanese situation while the latter say more about the objectives of theCompany itself.As a last remark on the sources, I want to add that in some respect the following discussionwill be limited because I have not been in the position yet to conduct a systematic research inthe original resolutions and the uitgaande brieven van Gouverneur-Generaal en Raden. Thispaper thus leaves aside the directions send from Batavia to the factors in Arakan. This shouldhowever not present a substantial hindrance as a thorough reading of the missiven fromArakan and the published sources gives us a good impression of the content of the instructionssent to Arakan by the Dutch directors at Batavia.After this lengthy digression to the source materials I will now come to a provisionalperiodisation of the Dutch-Arakanese relationship. A first analysis of the materials collectedfrom the VOC archives at the Hague suggests that we may divide the period underconsideration into three phases.The first phase in the Dutch-Arakanese relationship can probably be best described as oneduring which both parties shared a common enemy and as a result there was room for militarycooperation. I suggest that this was the case from 1608 to 1620.The second phase can be best described as being dominated by a growing economicinterdependence of the Arakanese court of Batavia. This was the period from 1625 to 1647.The last phase of systematic contact runs from 165 to 1682 when it might be argued theinterests of both parties slowly diverged.I. 1608-1620The first contacts between the Dutch and the Arakanese took place in 1608 when the Dutcharrived in Arakan to investigate trading possibilities in the bay of Bengal.10 They arrived inArakan just after Mong Razagri had returned from an abortive expedition to lower Burmaagainst Philip de Brito. The Arakanese king seemed determined to find new allies in his battlewith the Portuguese. The king was faced not only with a hostile Portuguese community on hisEastern, but also on his Western flank. Here Sebastiao Gopcalves Tibau was well under wayin becoming a potentially bigger embarrassment of the Arakanese king then de Brito alreadywas.11 Mong Razagri was well aware of Dutch successes in their battles with the
Portuguese.12 After the Arakanese king had sent an embassy to the Dutch in Masulipatnam in1610 to enquire whether any support was still forthcoming, it was decided by the DutchCompany to send Jacob Dirksz. Kortenhoef to Arakan, not with any definite promises onmilitary cooperation but to inform the Arakanese of the possibilities and limitations of anycooperation.1 As you can see on the sheet Kortenhoef was followed by several otheremployees, not because the trade with Arakan was extremely profitable, but mainly to keepthe Company informed about events in the area and to provide a base for VOC ships cruisingfor Portuguese prizes.14 To understand this situation we have to take into consideration that atthis movement trade meant also war for the VOC, moreover, it was reckoned that with a fewgood prizes the Company could more than defray its operating costs in the Bay of Bengalarea.15 It is in this light that we have to look at the events of 1615 which I have selected asexemplary for this phase.In 1615 a large fleet from Goa to assist Tibau in his conflict with Mong Khamoung, thesuccessor to Mong Razagri. The importance of the ensuing naval battles between thePortuguese on the one hand and the Arakanese and the Dutch on the other having hithertobeen misinterpreted or not well understand.16Arthur Phayre in his history of Burma comments on this event as ‘’There happened to belying there some Dutch vessels, and they joined the Arakanese flotilla to resist the[Portuguese] attack.17 Also in G.E. Harvey’’s history of Burma and in Hall’’s history of Southeast Asia it has remained an open question just why the Dutch ships had arrived inArakan at such a critical juncture.18Reading the accounts as presented by these authors one might be lead to believe that thesudden arrival of the Dutch on the scene came as much as a surprise to the Arakanese as to thePortuguese. There are however three important considerations that contradict this view.Firstly it has to be remembered that the main objective of the Portuguese expedition was toassert control over the Arakanese country trade and to keep the Dutch Company out of thecoast waters of lower Burma. The Portuguese were well aware of the presence of two Dutchships in Arakan and were actively seeking a naval engagement.19Secondly, as we have seen, the Dutch presence in Arakan was not only aimed at commercebut also centred around military objectives, namely to secure access to the trade of the Bay of Bengal. The Dutch ships in Arakan had permission to assist the Arakanese in their conflictwith Portuguese.20And thirdly, the Arakanese not only counted on an attack from Tibau, no they had evenrequested and obtained Dutch support for an offensive action against Tibau.21The arrival of the Portuguese fleet at the mouth of the Kaladan River on the rd of October1615 could therefore not have been a total surprise to the Arakanese-Dutch alliance.22A full scale attack finally came on the 15th of October1, leaving the allies more than a week to prepare for battle, the Portuguese commander had lost the element of surprise and wasdriven of the river by the combined Arakanese-Dutch forces.24 The Portuguese armada underDom Francisco de Menezes consequently set sail to unite with Tibau’’s forces and theyplanned a second attack at Mrauk-U.25 This attack came on the 18th of November when thecombined Portuguese forces appeared in the Kaladan river once again. This time the Allieswere even more prepared. They had constructed six batteries on the Eastern bank of the riverand arranged their ships in a line, surrounded with a stockade in the shallow part of the river.After a heavy cannonade from both sides the Allies broke their line and chased the Portuguesewith the tide from the river.26Directly following this victory Mong Khamoung forces wereattacked on the island of Cheduba by a Burmese force, a conflict that ended in a stand-off after which the Burmese were forced to retreat.27 Having thus secured his position in ArakanMong Khamoung invited the Dutch to join him in an attack on what was left of Tibau’’sforces on Sundiva, this attack took place in January 1616. The Allies were again successful

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