Saturday, August 20, 2016

Princely Profile: Sultan Hamid II of Pontianak

During the wave of anti-colonialism that swept the world in the wake of World War II, which had devastated the European colonial powers, native monarchs in these countries found themselves in an almost impossible position, trying to maintain traditional values and authorities against a population that was backed by ideological forces, usually Marxist, fundamentally opposed to all traditional institutions everywhere. Those pushing an anti-European racist narrative, because this was easier for people to understand than the nuances of socialist economic and political theories, had an easier time vilifying such monarchs who stood by the existing, pre-war power structure because they could play on the primitive drives of human nature such as envy, resentment and hatred of the alien, white-skinned Christian people while the monarchs who remained supportive of the colonial system had only reason to reply with, trying to make people understand that these white-skinned Christians had brought important positive advancements to their countries and could be worked with, in the new environment, to enact more beneficial changes than those advocating a total break. One of the monarchs faced with this unenviable situation was His Highness Sultan Hamid II of Pontianak in what is now Indonesia.

The future sultan was born Syarif Abdul Hamid Alkadrie on July 12, 1913 in Pontianak, an important trade port on the northwest coast of the island of Borneo. He had a very cosmopolitan upbringing, being raised until the age of 12 by two ladies of British nationality who taught him fluent English, his Scottish foster-mother Miss Salome Catherine Fox and Miss Edith Maud Curteis. His own ancestry was Malay-Arab and he attended Dutch colonial schools in what was then the Dutch East Indies (today Indonesia) before finishing his education at the Dutch military academy in Breda, The Netherlands. Upon graduating he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Royal Dutch East Indies Army, the primary colonial military force of The Netherlands. As the son of the Sultan Syarif Muhammad of Pontianak, of the Hang Dynasty Alkadrie, he was also given instruction by native teachers for the duties he would inherit and there was religious instruction in Sunni Islam, the faith of his family and which he was to adhere to for the entirety of his life.

Prince Hamid returned to the Dutch East Indies to take up his military duties during the reign of Sultan Syarif Thaha. He had good relations with the Dutch, with other Europeans, not surprising considering his upbringing, but also a very clear understanding of the often tumultuous world of East Indies dynastic politics. His foster-mother Miss Fox died in 1933 but he continued to keep in touch with Miss Curteis. The Royal Dutch East Indies Army was mostly concerned with internal security as The Netherlands had no foreign enemies to cause any fear of invasion and the local anti-Dutch independence movement had not been very serious and was relatively easily dealt with. Their most troublesome leader, Sukarno, was arrested and to most the Dutch East Indies seemed the ideal colony, peaceful, orderly and doing a booming business in trade and oil exports. The only trouble in Asia was far to the north in China and European affairs were considered far more serious. However, even after the outbreak of World War II and the German conquest and occupation of The Netherlands, life in the Dutch East Indies largely carried on as it had before, directed by the government-in-exile in England.

All of that changed on December 7, 1941 when the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by the Empire of Japan signaled the start of a huge, very intricate but very well planned Japanese offensive throughout Southeast Asia. The whole area was relatively swiftly conquered and the Dutch East Indies were the primary target due to the vast oil reserves and other natural resources which the archipelago had. The Dutch colonial forces offered heroic but futile resistance but in the early months of 1942 the whole area was seized and occupied by the Japanese. Sukarno was set at liberty along with any other anti-Dutch dissidents to aid in the Japanese occupation and war effort. Local princes who chose to cooperate could expect no harm but the entire white population was put in internment camps. Prince Hamid was also confined to an internment camp, in Java, by the Japanese as they had good reason to expect no cooperation from him. Early in the campaign about 28 relatives of the prince were killed by the Japanese along with his other maternal figure Miss Curteis. His father and two of his brothers were killed, along with other ethnic Malays in the “Pontianak incidents” and this, along with his close relationship with the Dutch and rank in the colonial army ensured that there would be no thought of any collaboration between Prince Hamid and the Japanese.

The Prince remained interned for three years until the Empire of Japan surrendered and Allied forces landed to liberate him and his fellow captives. The Dutch, conscious of what he had endured, partly due to his friendship with them, recognized him with a promotion to the rank of colonel. On October 29, 1945 he succeeded his father as Sultan of Pontianak, taking the name Hamid II. Of course, by this time, political events in the Dutch East Indies were changing rapidly. After maintaining military rule throughout the war, once their cause was lost, the Japanese, on their way out the door as it were, tapped Sukarno to declare Indonesian independence from the Dutch Crown. There was a great deal of chaos and confusion as Indonesian rebels made attacks while Allied forces were in place, the Dutch coming in and the Japanese were still in the process of moving out.

HM Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands, throughout World War II, had been adamant about restoring and maintaining the Dutch colonial empire and was not prepared to let the weakness of her country, after years of war, occupation and devastation, be taken advantage of. However, the Queen was also aware of the limitations on her long-suffering people and so was prepared to make compromises. Sultan Hamid II, being an important traditional authority figure and someone who the Dutch trusted, was right in the middle of these events as a delegate for the State of West Kalimantan in the Federal Consultative Assembly or BFO. The Dutch proposal was that the East Indies become a sort of federal republic of monarchies and states, the independent United States of Indonesia but still within the Dutch community and with the Queen of The Netherlands as sovereign. Sultan Hamid II supported this plan, preferring the federal system put forward by the Dutch and which had proven successful in Malaysia as a way to maintain traditional authorities without incessant in-fighting. Sukarno and his faction, a volatile combination of Marxists and Islamists as well as more mundane secular socialists, wanted a unitary state and a republic with no connection to The Netherlands at all and all traces of the Dutch population purged from the country.

Queen Wilhelmina with Sultan Hamid II
Sultan Hamid II, and others like him though he was probably the most prominent, knew enough about local, native, politics to see what was behind the unitary state idea of Sukarno. Rather than a federal state of power-sharing such as is still the case in the Kingdom of Malaysia, Sukarno’s unitary state would mean the domination of all by the Javanese. Sultan Hamid II, therefore, led the locals opposed to Sukarno and his republicans and as well as being the highest ranking native in the colonial army, he was also given the position of “Adjutant in the Extraordinary Service of Her Majesty the Queen of The Netherlands”, effectively the highest level of advisor to the Dutch monarch. When any agreement with Sukarno, and those more radical than him, proved hopeless, the Dutch responded with a number of military operations or “police actions” some of which, in his military capacity, Sultan Hamid II participated in.

The first such operation saw the Dutch royal forces take control of most key areas of the country, the urban centers and major ports. The second of the two largest, Operation Kraai or “Crow” saw a greater further victory with the capture of Sukarno, his deputy Mohammed Hatta and the Indonesian Republican leadership at Yogyakarta where the local Sultan, a sympathizer, had been sheltering them, at the end of 1948. Unlike the republican rebel leadership, who surrendered to the Dutch, their host, Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, remained in his palace throughout the battle and refused all efforts at reconciliation by the Dutch. Sultan Hamid II was brought in to try to mediate with his fellow prince, to win him over, but all such efforts were rebuffed. Unfortunately, for the Dutch and the counter-revolutionary locals, the very success of this operation worked against them as The Netherlands came under pressure from the United Nations to give in to the revolutionaries they had just defeated. Fearing that the Marxists in Sukarno’s coalition would make the country a Soviet satellite, United States President Harry S. Truman (Democrat, Missouri) decided to sell-out a war time ally and threatened to cut off Marshall Aid to The Netherlands if Queen Wilhelmina did not give in to the rebels and accept Indonesian independence.

There was no realistic option other than to comply though Queen Wilhelmina could not stomach such a thing, abdicating in favor of her daughter, Queen Juliana, who was left to preside over the separation of Indonesia from The Netherlands. The independence of Indonesia was de facto recognized on December 27, 1949 in Java and Sumatra and Sultan Hamid II suddenly found himself having to answer to President Sukarno, recently released from captivity yet again. The Sultan was appointed to the cabinet of the new United States of Indonesia though he was given no portfolio, it being a rather symbolic gesture as a token to the native traditional rulers. In any event, the feigned pretense of this federal system would not last long in any event as Sukarno remained committed to his unitary republic.

Capt. Ray Westerling
Sultan Hamid II could see this as well as anyone, perhaps better than most, and understood the local politics behind it. As such, he began to organize with his former fellow comrades of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army, particularly Captain Raymond Westerling, to launch an anti-Republican coup against Sukarno in Bandung and Jakarta. With elements of the old colonial forces, the Royal Netherlands Army, including the Special Forces, Dutch nationals and local counter-revolutionaries, the coup attempt was made in January of 1950 but proved to be a fiasco and fell apart by the following month. In April, Sultan Hamid II was implicated in the plot and soon enough the pretense of federalism was given up as his own state of West Kalimantan was brought under the central control of the increasingly unitary Republic of Indonesia. Sultan Hamid II endured two periods of incarceration for (false) charges of “treason” and had to endure in isolation as, when the trouble began, he had sent his wife, a prominent local lady of mostly Dutch blood but some lofty native ancestry as well, Didie van Delden, given the name and title of Sultana Maharatu Mas Makhota and their two children, a son and daughter to live in The Netherlands, where they remained.

His reign ending in 1950, Hamid II was succeeded by Syarif Abubakar as Sultan of Pontianak, though it meant little in the new regime. Former Sultan Hamid II, when not being hounded by the authorities, lived a quiet life of service and died on March 30, 1978 in Jakarta. His wife died not long ago in 2010 and his son, Pangeran (Prince) Syarif Max Yusuf Alkadrie lives in The Netherlands. The legacy of Sultan Hamid II in Indonesia has been controversial, first being portrayed as a villain and a traitor as is always the case with the opponents of successful revolutions. Benedict Arnold would be an American hero if the British had won the war, as I often point out. However, he does have one lasting legacy even if few people in modern Indonesia know about it which is that it was Sultan Hamid II who designed the “Garuda Pancasila”, the national emblem of Indonesia, based on the early Hindu legends of the islands, which was adopted in 1950.

So, every time a modern Indonesian sees that insignia, they are seeing something designed by a man, no less patriotic than others, but a prince who had a very different view on how the country should have been organized. Today the legacy of the sultan is somewhat more moderate and less unfavorable as the family has worked to get alongside the powers-that-be and historians have come forward with an alternate view of the man as someone who was not opposed to the Revolution really but simply had a different vision for how the independent Indonesia should be organized, federal rather than unitary, friendly with the Dutch rather than hostile and so on. From what I have been able to gather, it seems his reputation is these days improving.

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