My study deals with the Dutch colonial interaction with Javanese society with a focus on the land rent tax. Land rent was a tax on indigenous agriculture and land holdings. It was introduced in Java by the Englishman Thomas Stamford Raffles during the brief British interregnum (1811-1816) as a replacement for the much detested system of forced deliveries, practiced by the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC). Following the restoration of their power in 1816, the Dutch decided to continue and to expand the tax, be it in a slightly revised form.

Land rent was first levied in Java in the Residencies of Banten and Kedu in 1812. In a complicated process it was then gradually extended throughout Java, until by 1873 it encompassed the entire island, with the exception of the Vorstenlanden (Princely States of Central Java) and the Particuliere Landen (Private Estates). However, the nature of the tax levied under the name of land rent varied considerably from region to region. Restraining these regional variations was a constant preoccupation of the relevant branches of colonial government from the time the tax was first introduced, but in particular in the second half of the nineteenth century. However, it would take until 1907 before an ordinance was drafted which, the colonial authorities believed, finally got it right, and even then it took another thirteen years, until 1920, before the new regulations were fully operative throughout Java.

I will study in detail both the implementation of land rent in the various regions of Java and the local deviations that occurred at the time, and the long and painful process of creating functional land rent regulations. In doing this I will describe the fundamental transformation of the Dutch colonial state in Java that occurred during the ominous decades of modern imperialism. From being reluctant rulers, the Dutch colonial authorities moved steadily into the role of administrators, retaining a vast army of officials and employees and deliberately intervening to an unprecedented degree in the social and economic structure of the indigenous society. As regards the land rent, haphazard levies were transformed into carefully defined taxes.