Dutch Borneo


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Dutch Borneo is Number 84 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The territory of Borneo, the third largest island in the world (after Greenland and New Guinea), is today shared by three states, Malaysia, Indonesia (which calls it Kalimantan), and the Sultanate of Brunei. Dutch Borneo is now the Indonesian part of the island, occupying nearly three-quarters of its territory. The book covers physical and political geography, political history, social and political conditions, and economic conditions. The section on political history traces the arrival of the first Europeans, beginning with the Portuguese in 1521 and the Dutch in 1600, the role of Chinese immigration and settlement, rivalry between the Dutch East India Company and the British East India Company for control of the island, and the establishment in 1888 of a British protectorate over its northern part and the conclusion of a boundary treaty between Britain and the Netherlands in 1891. The bulk of the population of Dutch Borneo was made up of the indigenous non-Muslim Dayak people, who were divided into distinct groups of tribes inhabiting different parts of the island. The economic section notes that the country was still to a large extent undeveloped, but possessing “great potential wealth,” including agriculture (rice, sugar, coffee, and other crops), lush tropical forests, and minerals (notably gold, diamonds, and petroleum). The production of petroleum was by 1913 the island’s main industry, largely controlled by one of the predecessor companies to the present-day Royal Dutch Shell Company.

Last updated: July 23, 2015