Violence Begets Violence: Anticolonial Mobilisation of Ressentiment in 19th Century Borneo

Keywords: Banjarmasin War, Borneo, Rhenish Mission Society (RMS), Rheinische Missionsgesellschaft, Dayaks, Sultanate of Banjarmasin


The sudden and violent uprising marking the start of the “Banjarmasin War†in south-central Borneo in 1859 caught the German Rhenish Mission Society (RMS) by surprise. A well-coordinated attack by indigenous Dayaks and prominent Muslim figures led to the brutal massacre of nine people associated with the RMS. In a matter of days, the mission work of 23 years was destroyed. In all, violence was directed at Dutch colonial forces, German missionaries, and Christian Dayaks alike. The coastal city of Banjarmasin, seat of Dutch imperialism, became the last refuge for survivors. Some blamed the RMS for the uprising, arguing that the conversion zeal of the missionaries had provoked an anti-Christian jihad. The RMS retorted that Muslims, conspiring to overthrow the Dutch, had incited indigenous Dayaks to what amounted to an anti-imperialist uprising. Recently, scholars have argued that the interference of Dutch imperialism in local politics was to blame for the uprising, and that the Dayaks were unable to distinguish between Dutch and German foreigners. This paper examines the contribution of Dutch colonial policy to the uprising, particularly its restriction of Islamic religious practices, as well as forms of cooperation between the Dutch and the RMS. Primary sources provide evidence of prolonged and severe RMS brutality against Dayaks in the decade before the war. This leads to the conclusion that the initial violence of the Banjarmasin War directed at RMS persons was no coincidence. Sufficient warrant exists to argue that this was not a matter of mistaken identity, but of reasoned calculation.

Author Biography

Karl E Boehmer, Lutheran Theological Seminary in Tshwane

Department of Church History

Lutheran Theological Seminary in Tshwane