Trafficking, Slavery, Peonage: Dilemmas and Hesitations of Colonial Administrators in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia

  • Ulbe Bosma


This chapter explores and compares the dilemmas and hesitations colonial authorities in nineteenth-century island Southeast Asia (present-day Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia) faced while implementing abolitionist principles. For most of the nineteenth century, Spanish, Dutch, and British colonial authorities in Southeast Asia confined their abolitionist policies to outlawing human trafficking. They staged major maritime operations to suppress the widespread slave raiding by pirates. This struggle against human trafficking and kidnapping guided British and Dutch colonial authorities in their design of indentured migration contracts to ensure that migrant workers from China, India, and the region itself came to plantations and mines with their consent. That these contracts legitimized coerced labour relations was taken for granted. Regarding forms of slavery and bondage that were not the direct result of kidnapping, the colonial governments in island Southeast Asia were even more condoning. They were inclined to consider indigenous forms of slavery as mild, underrating its obvious economic importance and its role in state-building in the region. They were equally reluctant to outlaw systems of bondage that the emerging plantation conglomerates in island Southeast Asia relied on. This chapter submits that precisely because of the pivotal economic and political importance of human bondage in the region, the Dutch, Spanish, and British authorities did not address this issue with a straightforward agenda.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ulbe Bosma
    • 1
  1. 1.International Institute of Social History/Free University AmsterdamAmsterdamNetherlands

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