European colonizers should be viewed as malicious in the broad view provided by history, but it may be a case of a malicious system rather malicious individuals. Many Dutch workers who participated never saw the impacts of their business. The chiefs have some responsibility as well, as the people trusted in their leadership. There were also factors such as the charming custom, which created an imbalance of power for the Javanese people who practiced it. The overall unfair distribution of benefits from trade between Europe and Java was one of gross mismanagement, but the impact was suffering for the Javanese people.
Imperialism could work for the benefit of all involved if the stronger party is committed to an egalitarian relationship based on common interests. If all the parties who are stakeholders have equal power and equal concern, a number of things would have needed to be different from the trade in the Dutch Indies. The trade relationship was not equal, and while Europeans made great profits, “this profit can be made in no other way than by paying the Javanese just enough to keep him from starving, which would decrease the producing power of the nation” (Edwards, 73). An egalitarian relationship would have required sharing equally in the prosperity.
As the peoples’ representative, the chiefs would have to ensure the safety and prosperity of the people. There would need to be a dynamic and equal relationship between the Dutch traders and the chiefs. The agreements would need to be subject to revision from time to time or when it was no longer benefitting one party. Instead, the chiefs were treated as production managers, and the European felt that he, “as one of his most sacred duties, (was) to protect the population against their own docility and rapacity of their Chiefs” (Edwards, 74).
Through diplomacy based on an egalitarian relationship, the strength and power of European navigation and trade could have been a benefit, rather than harm, to Java. The problem with imperialism is that when stronger nations exert their interests on the basis of their own strength rather than the shared goals and an equal relationship, then the relationship is unlikely to last or to continue without problems. These can be due to dissatisfaction or due to the party with less power having to focus on survival or similar serious issues rather than the trade relationship. While all nations should have a right to exercise power in their own self-interest, that self-interest should not extend to harming another group or nation to achieve that self-interest.
Many Dutch profited without having any idea that their new business source came at the expense of a nation of people, and they did not necessarily understand the harm they were causing. This does not change that the overall system contributed to one where a few took advantage of the many and the result was a cruel oppression due to trade between Europe and the Dutch Indies.
Edwards, Roy. “Multatuli Corruption In The Dutch Colonies”. Max Havelaar, Or, The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company. Univ of Massachusetts Press, 1982.