The Dutch Empire: Slavery and The Indian Ocean Slave Trade – Come Away From Shadows

The Dutch East India Company (DEIC) shipped hundreds of thousands of African and Asian slaves within the Indian Ocean world throughout the 17th and 18th centuries (Allen, 2014). These slaves were purchased and transported to work at several DEIC settlements such as; the centre of operations at Batavia (Jakarta), the strategic commercial emporia like Malacca, the agricultural estates established in the Spice Islands of eastern Indonesia, the stations in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and the settlement at the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) (Allen, 2014). By setting up the settlement at the Cape, the DEIC had established a new node which previously had no connection to the Indian Ocean world (Mbeki, 2018). This new node, the Cape, became linked to the East African coast by way of trade, especially in people, South and Southeast Asia as a part of the Dutch trading empire. The Dutch Indian Ocean slave trading system drew slave labour from 3 sub-regions that is; the westernmost, African course of East Africa, Madagascar, and the Mascarene Islands (Mauritius and Reunion); the middle, South Asian course of the Indian subcontinent (Malabar, Coromandel, and the Bengal/Arakan coast); and the easternmost, Southeast Asian course of Malaysia, Indonesia, New Guinea (Irian Jaya), and the southern Philippines (Vink, 2003: 139; Allen, 2014).


Even so, there were numerous individual acts of defiance and during the early 19th century, there were 2 uprisings. Further, because male slaves outnumbered their owners, violence was the main tool used by slave owners to maintain order and control. The DEIC’s response to slave challenges to its authority often included impalements, branding, flogging, and disfiguration (McKenna, 2011). Dutch farmers also employed violence against their slaves and sometimes the punishment meted out would be so fierce that it would lead to death (Shell, 1992). While this section of the piece has only focused on the violence inflicted upon Cape slaves, it’s important to note that the Dutch were known for bringing about fierce violence in an attempt to maintain their rule wherever they settled.

Source: The Dutch Empire: Slavery and The Indian Ocean Slave Trade – Come Away From Shadows