Unfree Labour and Coffee in Colonial Indonesia

In a new review at JCA, long-time Editorial Board member Alec Gordon  reviews Jan Breman’s Mobilizing Labour for the Global Coffee Market: Profits from an Unfree Work Regime in Colonial Java, published by the Amsterdam University Press in 2015.

The book deals largely with the “mysterious” time of a century and a half of the highly profitable colonial forced coffee cultivation in the Priangan mountains of West Java from the early 18th century.

Gordon compliments Amsterdam University Press, say it has “has done a superb job in having translated from Dutch and published this big hard-backed book, wonderfully illustrated from contemporary paintings and drawings. The book is an excellent account and analysis.” He adds that the book is encyclopedic: “Practically everything about the almost unknown Dutch colonial coffee exploitation in West Java is in this book.”

Breman gives not just a chronology of this production system, “together with some data but these are placed within a coherent set of investigations that analyse this ‘system that is arbitrary, vicious and secretive’ (256) in the words of an unusual official report of 1870.”

Gordon’s only “complaint is that the book ends too soon.”

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