By Nia Deliana


The Dutch waged war against the Acehnese officially in 1873, which ended with the retreat of their troops due to the death of the captain Kohler by the Acehnese. Their second expedition in 1874, however, succeeded to occupy the main palace of the sultanate in Kutaradja. The Sultan fled from his palace days before the attack. This war continued for 40 years since then.


For decades, the Acehnese sacrificed their lives for generations to oppose colonialism and imperialism in their land. As a result, not only hundreds of thousands of lives were sacrificed including high number of ulama and umara, but also, intentionally or unintentionally, bargaining their values for the comfortable lives under the colonial power was the cost of this colonialism.


Increasing numbers of the Acehnese nobles and their loyal supporters decided to shake hands with the Dutch. In exchange, they were given positions, life expenses and lands to profit from. Some of them were also sent by the Dutch to perform pilgrimage and returned with honourable title of the ‘Haji’ which later labelled as Dutch-made Ulama. Indeed it was the strategy to kneel the stubborn Acehnese down, displaying that they still could live as a Muslim if they surrender. This development was made possible by the help of the genius liberalist orientalist, C. Snouck Hurgronje, who had propagated the importance of getting the ‘heart’ of the common Acehnese through non-violent efforts and, on the other hand, crushing with iron the Acehnese who joined the rebels.


The Acehnese ulama and the sultan who witnessed such conditions initiated the release of a fatwa calling that performing the hajj was not more obligatory than the jihad against the oppressing colonial regime. This fatwa was delivered during the mass jumah prayer in meunasah (village mosque) through hikayat teller such as Abdulkarim aka Dokarim. It was penned down under the name of Hikayat Prang Gompeuni on the order of C. Snouck Hurgronje.


One of the most significant efforts was the construction of the Baiturrahman mosque in 1888 in Kutaradja. Basically the Dutch demolished the old mosque that bore the symbol of the Sultanate as the ruler of the land and replaced it with the Middle Eastern or Indian type of mosque with distinguished domes and minaret. The message behind this replacement was emphasizing the changing regime from the old to the new: from the Sultanate government to the colonial one.


Automatically the mosque became a tool to attract the Acehnese to pray there and listen to the pro-Dutch preachers or the Dutch-made ulama who propagated the elements of support for the Dutch and rejection of the rebels.  It was perhaps too scanty to see for those who had been living under famine, poverty and illiteracy caused by the prolonged war. The Acehnese sympathy for the Dutch sharply increased after the construction of more public facilities such as bridges.


The construction of bridges has been recorded by numerous colonial photographers such as Justin van Nesssau, Niuewnhuis and so on. The bridges were constructed in few places in Kutaradja and Aceh Proper. They were built not only for transporting colonial needs but also for the comfort of the Acehnese public in accessing their related settlements.


Later on under the ethical policies for the colony in early 20th century, the Dutch built schools and railways, and also provided ‘door to door’ medical treatment for the Acehnese.  The open war was indirectly ended. The guerrilla fighters scattered mostly in the rural areas. Individual fighters appeared sometimes in cities and killed Europeans. As it had been documented by R. A Kern in his report, the Acehnese fighters that were arrested were mentally abnormal. Those fighters then were labelled as the ‘crazy Acehnese’.


Perhaps the reason for the survival of the anti-colonial struggle up to more than 40 years was the will of the representatives of the sultanates such as the ulama and Sultan Muhammad Daud Syah who continued to resist and participated in the open war against the Dutch until 1911, or before his wives and a son were taken hostage which followed by his surrender. Such spiritful group of rebels, although not necessarily won the field battle against the powerful Dutch, had championed themselves as the only core in the Acehnese society who refused the imperialistic and capitalistic comfort from the Dutch.


The death of the ulama and the surrender of the Sultan and other key persons smoothed the implementation of ethical policy. Certain groups such as those of noblemen (uleebalang) who was funded for education in Sumatra, Java, and Netherlands managed to gain more influence and attracted significant number of peasants. However, the followers of the ‘old school’ were hardly rebuked.


After the defeat of Japanese in 1945 the Dutch did not try to enter Aceh. Soon the Dutch gave up this territory to Batavia. All the buildings that were constructed during the Dutch period were destroyed either during the Japanese occupation or during the military counteractive against the DII/TII rebels in 1950s. The remnants of those buildings hardly can be witnessed today.



Alfian, Ibrahim. (1987). Perang di Jalan Allah: Perang Aceh 1873-1912, Jakarta: Pustaka Sinar Harapan.

Wieringa, Edwin. (1998). The Dream of the King and the Holy War against the Dutch: The Koteubah of the Acehnese Epic, Hikayat Prang Gompeuni, in Bulletin of the School of the Oriental and African Studies, (61), 2, 298-308.

Snouck Hurgronje. (1994).  Arab dan Hindia Belanda in Kumpulan Karangan Snouck Hurgronje IX, Sultan Maimun and Rahayu S Hidayat (trans), Jakarta: INIS.

Kern R.A. (16 December 1921). Onderzoek Atjeh Moorden: A Report for General Govenor, Kernpapieren H. 797/159 KITLV.