List of Cacah-somah Priangan 1686

List of Cacah-somah (rural households) in Priangan, West-Java, 1686

A wedding procession in the valley of Mount Salak, A.Salm, ca. 1865-1867

Introduced M. Radin Fernando

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M. Radin Fernando, “An early list of villages, village heads, families, tributes and earnings in Priangan, West Java, 1686”. In: Harta  Karun. Hidden Treasures on Indonesian and Asian-European History from the VOC Archives in Jakarta, document 11. Jakarta: Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, 2013.

The document introduced here is an early list of people, land under cultivation and its agricultural production, and tax obligations of people in the Priangan region of West Java. It was compiled in 1686 by two VOC officials, Claes Hendriksz. and Jan Carstensz. The list was conducted with an eye to the acquisition of agricultural products and cash crops for the VOC through the mediation of the indigenous nobility, who controlled the local population. The list was also used for other purposes such as the settlement of disputes amongst this local nobility over the control of land and people. It was one such dispute in 1763, which led to the serendipitous preservation of this original document. It was partly published by Hoadley (1994:201-203) and its contents extensively discussed both by Hoadley (1994:32-65) and De Haan (1912:202-4, 316). Both writers attach great importance to the document for the study of the socio-economic and political history of the Priangan highlands before 1800.

      The list provides lists of population settlements, the names of the local chiefs, number of families, economic activities of the inhabitants and their monetary and labour service obligations to their chiefs in the seven principal divisions or districts of the Priangan highlands. These were roughly equivalent to what would become the nineteenth-century Priangan regencies or kabupaten. The conclusions we can draw from this body of information depends to a large extent on our interpretation of certain key terms, or concepts, which appear in the document. The significance of these terms must be assessed against the background of information available on local social and economic institutions in other contemporary sources.

      The basic local unit by which information is given is called the dorp. This simply means a village or hamlet in Dutch. But it is perhaps more accurate to describe them as population settlements. Their respective demographic strength is given in numbers of households or cacah. The name of each settlement head is given, together with the assessment of tax, which the tax-paying inhabitants owed their overlord. This was computed in either money – or more commonly in agricultural produce equivalent to a certain sum of money – and in labour services. The indigenous rulers of Java kept such records for tax purposes. This tax regime was an exercise in compromise between the local nobility on the one hand and the Javanese rulers on the other. The first were keen to protect their wealth and avoid popular discontent by the imposition of too onerous taxation. The second were bent on extracting as much wealth as possible from the people.

      The increasing VOC demands for agricultural produce and labour from the local nobility (or regents) and from the rulers (or sultans) further complicated the negotiation of fiscal obligations in the late seventeenth century. This is one reason for the meticulous VOC record keeping of population counts with information on their respective tax liabilities. The VOC’s growing control over the local administration, and its need to deal with land and population disputes amongst the local nobility was another reason for the presence of this kind of document in the VOC archive. The crux here was the value of such assets as sources of wealth. After 1680, the VOC made contracts with the Priangan regents for the purpose of extracting agricultural products like coffee that could be sold in the world market. This mode of operation would later become known as the “Priangan system” (Preangerstelsel).

      Extrapolating socio-economic conditions from the information given in this and similar documents is a complex process. In the first place, it requires an understanding of a number of underlying political relationships, such as that between the VOC and local power-holders. This in turn had an influence over the type of information gathered. It also requires an understanding of the various terms used by the census takers for the presentation of their data.

      For instance, the basic unit of administration was the village. But this was very different from what it would become in the late nineteenth century. In this earlier period, such units were fluid, both in terms of geographical area and population. Such communities could also quickly disappear due to heavy taxation or natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions and droughts. The second category by which information is presented – the household or cacah – presents even greater problems given the nature of indigenous taxation practices of and the different terms used.

      The number of households for taxation purposes was given in units called cacah. This term evolved as the taxation system itself underwent change over the course of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Originally denoting a plot of land, which could be cultivated by a single household, it developed over time into a term designating a household liable for taxation. The number of households was expressed in somah units. But sometimes VOC officials used the two terms interchangeably. The size of the household, whether designated as cacah or somah, is also a matter of debate. Indeed, both seem to have been larger than the nuclear family units we encounter in similar documents in the nineteenth century. Therefore any study of the pre-1800 historical demography and its economic underpinnings in the Priangan highlands requires great care. An understanding of how such key terms changed over time is essential for assessing the individual population counts at each date for which VOC statistics are available.

      The document in question gives a picture of a widely scattered population living in settlements spread over an extensive and difficult terrain. Such physical challenges made it difficult for local chiefs to ascertain the true size of population under their respective jurisdictions. It was also a highly mobile population given prevailing farming practices – namely swidden (slash-and-burn) cultivation. Tax evasion stratagems also encouraged mobility. These included the flight of whole villages to escape onerous fiscal impositions. At the same time, the wholesale abduction of village populations by rival local chiefs with an eye to increasing their personal wealth and power further complicated the picture. This was a time when labour was far more valuable than land and the size of population settlements varied. Demography, politics and ecology all played a part here. Careful analysis of data on the size of settlements based on local ecological conditions provides a fascinating picture of population dispersion in the late seventeenth-century Priangan region. The information contained in the document relating to taxes in kind and money depicts an economically diverse society. This was certainly not a simple subsistence peasant economy one might have expected in such a remote region. The local population not only produced commercial crops, but also a number of manufactured goods. The former included sugar, pepper, cotton, casumba (a type of dye), indigo dye, and cardamom. Locally woven ratan mats, metal tools and pots were the most important manufactured products. Both cash crops and manufactures were sent to Cirebon, which at the time was the main trading port in West Java for exports to other parts of the archipelago. How this economy developed in subsequent decades has yet to be explored.

     The document also poses an interesting historical question: namely, whether the population of the Priangan highlands could have developed an even more diverse economy, and enjoyed higher levels of prosperity had they not been forced into an impoverished subsistence economy following the post-1830 introduction of large-scale coffee production.

      While one might conclude on the basis of this documentary glimpse of the Priangan region in the late seventeenth century that demographic and economic conditions in the highlands of West Java remained largely unchanged over time, this is not correct. Instead, it is more helpful to study this document in conjunction with similar documents, if such exist, and come to a more detailed picture. In this way the cause of scholarship will be better served and a stronger foundation laid for future generations of researchers.


Bibliographic note

The best current study of this and similar documents relating to the Priangan lands is C. M. Hoadley, Towards a Feudal Model of Production. West Java, 1680-1800 (Singapore: ISEAS, 1994). Hoadley’s main concern is elucidating what he calls the “feudal” economic and political system of West Java. This opens the possibility of a study focussing specifically on the local economy. For a brief account of the history of the Priangan highlands, see D. G. Stibbe, ed., Encyclopædie van Nederlandsch-Indië, vol. 3 (’s Gravenhage: Nijhoff, 1919), pp. 503-510. F. de Haan’s Priangan. De Preanger-Regentschappen onder het Nederlandsch Bestuur tot 1811, 4 vols. (Batavia: G. Kolff, 1910-12) is an impressive source of information derived from the VOC archives, in particular the Daghregisters van Batavia. His detailed commentaries are particularly useful for historians. Information on this particular document can also be found in Priangan, vol. 3, pp. 202-4 and 316. The key terms and institutions pertaining to the determination of tax levels by the local rulers are discussed in Soemarsaid Moertono, State and Statecraft in Old Java. A Study of Later Mataram Period, 16th to 19th Century (Ithaca; New York, 1974). The socio-economic conditions of the Priangan, and other parts of Java in the pre-1800 period are briefly discussed in D. H. Burger, De Ontsluiting van Java’s Binnenland voor het Wereldverkeer (Wageningen: Veenman, 1939), pp. 3-54. Meanwhile, J. W. de Klein, Het Preanger stelsel (1677-1871) en zijn nawerking (Delft: Technische Boekhandel, 1931), examines the conditions in Priangan region up to the early 1870s on the basis of secondary materials. A recent study of the same subject by Jan Breman, Koloniaal Profijt van Onvrije Arbeid. Het Preanger stelsel van gedwongen koffieteelt op Java, 1720-1870 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010), is vitiated by an overly ideological approach to the issue of economic backwardness in the Priangan region, and lacks an impartial and scrupulous examination of the available evidence. A thorough study of socio-economic conditions in the in the nineteenth and early twentieth century Priangan region still awaits its historian. The existence of an enormous amount of primary source material and useful discussions of the subject can be found in a number of modern studies such as R. E. Elson, Village Java under the Cultivation System, 1830-1870 (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1994).

M. Radin Fernando, “An early list of villages, village heads, families, tributes and earnings in Priangan, West Java, 1686”. In: Harta Karun. Hidden Treasures on Indonesian and Asian-European History from the VOC Archives in Jakarta, document 11. Jakarta: Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, 2013.