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The Blood of the People

Revolution and the End of Traditional Rule in Northern Sumatra

Anthony Reid

Publication Year: 2014

In northern Sumatra, as in Malaya, colonial rule embraced an extravagant array of sultans, rajas, datuks and ulèëbalangs. In Malaya the traditional Malay elite served as a barrier to revolutionary change and survived the transition to independence, but in Sumatra a wave of violence and killing wiped out the traditional elite in 1945‒46. Anthony Reid’s The Blood of the People, now available in a new edition, explores the circumstances of Sumatra’s sharp break with the past during what has been labelled its “social revolution”. The events in northern Sumatra were among the most dramatic episodes of Indonesia’s national revolution, and brought about more profound changes even than in Java, from where the revolution is normally viewed. Some ethnic groups saw the revolution as a popular, peasant-supported movement that liberated them from foreign rule. Others, though, felt victimised by a radical, levelling agenda imposed by outsiders. Java, with a relatively homogeneous population, passed through the revolution without significant social change. The ethnic complexity of Sumatra, in contrast, meant that the revolution demanded an altogether new “Indonesian” identity to override the competing ethnic categories of the past.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication, Quote

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pp. ix-xi

List of Tables and Maps

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pp. xii

List of Plates

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pp. xiii

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pp. xiv-xvi

Throughout history the loyalty of the Malay to his ruler has been proverbial. In few countries of the modern world is monarchy still so honoured as in the Malay states of Malaysia. Yet the states of northern Sumatra which had appeared so similar in their experience before 1945, thereafter underwent...

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Preface to the Second Edition

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pp. xvii-xviii

This study was first published more than thirty years ago, and some of the interviews on which it was based took place forty years ago. I am delighted to find that these labours of my youth should still be thought of sufficient interest to reprint for a new generation today. Much has changed in the...

Glossary and Abbreviations

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pp. xix-xxvi

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Chapter I: Patterns of Kingship

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pp. 1-6

The modern history of northern Sumatra has been dominated by three cultures—Acehnese, Batak, and Malay. It would be misleading to say three peoples. Individuals moved frequently from one culture to the other, and there were common Indonesian elements in the way villagers related to...

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Chapter II: Dutch-Occupied Aceh

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pp. 7-39

By 1913, after forty years of war, the Dutch could at last be said to have conquered Aceh. A policy of ceaseless pursuit, control of arms and trade, and fines on hostile villages had brought the traditional ruling class (the royal family and the ulèëbalang) to its knees by 1903. The killing continued, but was now directed exclusively against guerrilla bands inspired and often...

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Chapter III: The Ethnic Web of East Sumatra

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pp. 40-88

In the eyes of Western capitalism at the end of the nineteenth century, the scattered Malay and Batak indigenous population of East Sumatra might not have existed. The area was a frontier, whose essential image was a European planter and a team of perspiring Chinese coolies clearing a patch...

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Chapter IV: 1942: The Hands Declared

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pp. 89-109

The growing defensiveness and isolation of the Sumatran rulers, described in the previous chapter, had developed against the backdrop of a régime calmly confident of ruling for many more peaceful decades. The dramatic events of 1942 not only demolished this complacent façade at a stroke...

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Chapter V: The Japanese Experience

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pp. 110-155

The fate of Sumatra at Japanese hands was determined by high-level policy for the “southern regions”, which went through three major phases. Until the middle of 1943 Sumatra and Malaya were together regarded as “the nuclear zone of the Empire’s plans for the Southern Area” because of their...

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Chapter VI: The Agents of Revolution in East Sumatra

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pp. 156-193

Dramatic decisions were taken in Jakarta in the week following the Japanese surrender. The independence of Indonesia was declared; Sukarno and Hatta were elected President and Vice-President of a new Republic; a constitution was accepted. Sumatra was declared to be a Province of the new Republic...

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Chapter VII: Eclipse of the Ulèëbalang

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pp. 194-227

If there was one part of Indonesia where outsiders expected special difficulties to follow the Japanese surrender, it was Aceh. The militant anti-Dutch tradition of the Acehnese and their successful 1942 uprising were guarantees that at least there the pre-war order could not readily be reimposed. A...

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Chapter VIII: “Social Revolution”

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pp. 228-263

The dichotomy between pemuda fighting bands and the conservative kerajaan of East Sumatra grew steadily more acute. The pemuda held physical power but were so disunited that any attempt to use it internally raised a spectre of anarchy. The kerajaan maintained the fiction of governing, but were...

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Chapter IX: Princes, Politicians, and Peasants

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pp. 264-277

The Sumatran revolution struck its participants as an autonomous force with its own life and will, “heedless of us who created it”.1 Once it was in full flight the individual had to ride it or be trampled under foot. Only when it paused, astonished at its own force, did it appear possible to direct it...


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pp. 278-280


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pp. 281-288


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pp. 289-301

E-ISBN-13: 9789971696580
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971696375

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 5 maps, 26 images
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: Second Edition