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  • Nurturing Indonesia: Medicine and Decolonisation in the Dutch East Indies by Hans Pols
  • Atsuko Naono
Hans Pols. Nurturing Indonesia: Medicine and Decolonisation in the Dutch East Indies. Global Health Histories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. xx + 302 pp. Ill. $99.99 (978-1-108-42457-8).

This book illuminates the ambiguously positioned, yet very significant roles played by indigenous physicians and medical students in the making of modern Indonesia. Hans Pols explores the waxing and waning of their involvement in Indonesian politics during the Dutch East Indies, Japanese occupation, and independence periods. It has been pointed out that, as in other parts of the world, there were prominent indigenous physicians and scientists in Southeast Asia such as Jose Rizal in the Philippines who played a significant role in the nationalist movement, and there has been earlier literature on this relationship. Pols's study greatly adds to our understanding of this relationship, especially its complexity, fragility, and changeability, by examining considerable numbers of medical physicians' and students' accounts and documents in multiple languages.

In the first section, Pols explores the absurd nature of colonial society in which "individuals with the highest educational accomplishments were forced to occupy the fringes of both European and indigenous social circles" (p. 93). Pols's examination begins with Dr. Abdul Rivai, a member of the first generation of medical elites, who believed in "the transformative power of science and medicine" (p. 27) and colonial education as a means of achieving the indigenous populations' own progress and modernization. Pols skillfully demonstrates the indigenous physicians' ambivalent inner struggle to make sense of their idealistic view and appreciation of Dutch culture and modern medical science on the one hand, and the exploitive and discriminatory minded Europeans and their behavior in the colony that indigenous doctors dealt with every day on the other. Pols also examines the similar inner struggle of the indigenous medical students through the establishment of medical colleges in the colony such as STOVIA and NIAS. These medical students cultivated a strong bond among themselves in such schools and played central roles in the Indies students movement in the establishment of the Boedi Oetomo in 1908. Pols makes an interesting analysis of this new development in which indigenous medical students began their quests to revitalize their own culture, history, and arts instead of simply mimicking European ways in order to improve their society. [End Page 618]

Pols then explores various campaigns by the Indies physicians to ameliorate their professional status, which served as the litmus paper for the Ethical Policy, an equivalent of "white man's burden." Pols reveals the continuing struggle of indigenous physicians and students who were treated as nuisances by the colonial administration that viewed them as merely copying Europeans or transforming themselves so dangerously close to Europeans. This led to what Pols calls "a psychological colonial policy" (p. 94) in which some of the Dutch colonial men and scientists tried to utilize psychiatry to prove the primitive nature of Javanese people, culture, and religion. More importantly, Pols suggests that this motivated the indigenous physicians to sharpen their political views regarding their colonized situation. Also, the modern medical and scientific knowledge that indigenous physicians and students acquired clarified the visibility of the lack of colonial health structure and health care.

In the 1920s, these indigenous medical elites looked to the global health movement for solutions. The Rockefeller Foundation's global health operations to improve rural health by means of health education and better hygiene inspired indigenous doctors such as Abdul Rasjid to develop "medical nationalism" (p. 156). Rasjid envisioned the physician's role as the agent to improve the health of the majority of the Indonesian people and to make medicine "a vital means of nation-building" (p. 159).

One of the most important contributions here is Pols's examination of the collaboration of Indonesia's elite physicians in the Jakarta Ika Daigaku and the Java Medical Service Association with the occupation in contrast to the anti-Japanese politicization of the medical students in the dormitories during World War II. Pols uses a great many Dutch and Indonesian language primary sources to tell these interesting stories, nicely filling a gap in the...


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pp. 618-619
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