Agrarian Unrest and Millenarian Motions in Java


Joshua Ramon Enslin /


Short Definition

Religious belief in the end of the world (as people knew it)


  • Belief in the coming in an approaching apocalypse
  • Based on existing religious beliefs
  • Pre-existing millenarian motions become more pronounced with disasters, famines, etc.

Millenarian Motions

  • Colonial authorities strongly feared millenarianism
  • Uprisings were not necessarily millenarian, the chain of events is however not possible without millenarian undercurrents

Agrarian Unrest

What does it mean?

Counter-movements against the current powers-that-be in areas marked by an agrarian economy.

What is their Background?

  • Stark transformations of social configurations
  • Deterioration of status
  • Commercialization

Javanese Society in the 19th Century

A Rough Overview based on Carey 1986

For comparison: Philippine colonial society

General characteristics

  • Power shifts to Dutch colonial administration
  • Already high level of monetarization of economy
  • Peasants increasingly lose control of land
  • Power struggles between villagers and higher level officials / businesses

Broad timeline of Javanese history in the 19th century

Dutch East Indies Company shut down
British rule over the Dutch East Indies
Java War
Cultivation System
Ethical Policy


Summaries of single incidents

  • Central Java up to Java War
  • Late 19th century East Java

Regional differences

  • Stark differences between Central Java and East Java
    • Many parts of East Java were still frontier areas
  • Kraton as an intermediary between Dutch and village society in Central Java
  • Central Java marked by toll gates
  • Disasters and epidemic in 1820s central Java
  • Late 19th century East Java is marked by internal power struggles

Umar Mahdi Affair

Bagelen, 1817 (January)

  • Sambirata resident calls for meeting; 50 followers with turbans meet
  • Orders subordination of Chinese
  • Ratu Adil as Soldier of Sultan Rum (described as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire)
  • Hopes for help by Apostle Sultan Bonang
  • Umar Mahdi declares Rebellion in unfit year

Carey 2008: 480-484

Unnamed Gathering

Ketangga, 1817 (July)

  • 4000 people gather because of prophecy of Ratu Adil coming

Carey 2008: 484

Kyai Iman Sampurna Gathering

Sréngat, 1819 (February)

  • Links to pre-Islamic sights
  • Rumours of were-tigers surrounding him
  • Spreading of prophecy in text form
  • Sampurna describes Just King’s return as triggered by arrival of anti-secularist Mataram prince
  • Later movements refer to Kyai Iman Sampura's prophecies

Carey 2008: 485-487

Sunan Waliyullah Gathering Followers

Madiun, 1822

  • Sunan Waliyullah links self to Majapahit dynasty
  • Stays at same mosque as Iman Sampurna
  • Declares followers to be invincible

Carey 2008: 490f

Uprisings in South-Central Java

1822 (January-February)

  • Prince Dipasana (Yogyakarta court) calls for uprisings

Carey 2008: 495-496

Java War

Kasan Mukmin Uprising


  • Proclamation of the arrival of Ratu Adil
  • Rich, religious peasant calls for uprising
  • Little support from poor peasants
  • Movement is quickly defeated

Fernando 1995

Dermojoyo Affair


  • Essentially an intrigue between different factions within village
  • Office-holders report gathering as uprising, spread rumors of Dermojoyo claiming to be the Ratu Adil
  • Administration fears millenarian uprising, shoots down Dermojoyo and the group at his house

Fernando 1999

Things to note

  • The events are connected to each other
  • It would be interesting to discuss millenarian aspects in view of the Indonesian Revolution (compare Ileto 1979 for the Philippine case)

Thank You!


  • Carey, Peter. 2008. The Power Of Prophecy; Prince Dipanagara And The End Of An Old Order In Java, 1785-1855. Leiden: KITLV Press.
  • Lanternari, Vittorio. 1962. “Messianism: Its Historical Origin And Morphology”. History Of Religions 2 (1): 52-72.
  • Carey, Peter. 1986. “Waiting For The 'Just King': The Agrarian World Of South-Central Java From Giyanti (1755) To The Java War (1825-30)”. Modern Asian Studies 20 (1): 59-137.
  • Fernando, M. R. 1995. “The Trumpet Shall Sound For Rich Peasants: Kasan Mukmin's Uprising In Gedangan, East Java, 1904”. Journal Of Southeast Asian Studies 26 (2): 242-262.
  • Fernando, Radin. 1999. “In The Eyes Of The Beholder: Discourses Of A Peasant Riot In Java”. Journal Of Southeast Asian Studies 30 (2): 263-285.
  • Fernando, M.R. 2010. “Famine In A Land Of Plenty: Plight Of A Rice-Growing Community In Java, 1883—84”. Journal Of Southeast Asian Studies 41 (2): 291-320.
  • Fields, Karen E. 1982. “Charismatic Religion As Popular Protest: The Ordinary And The Extraordinary In Social Movements”. Theory And Society 11 (3): 321-361.
  • Ileto, Reynaldo Clemeña. 1979. Pasyon And Revolution: Popular Movements In The Philippines, 1840-1910. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.
  • Kerkvliet, Benedict J. 1977. The Huk Rebellion: A Study Of Peasant Revolt In The Philippines. Berkeley/Quezon City: University of California Press/New Day Press.
  • King, Victor T. 1973. “Some Observations On The Samin Movement Of North-Central Java. Suggestions For The Theoretical Analysis Of The Dynamics Of Rural Unrest.”. Bijdragen Tot De Taal-, Land- En Volkenkunde / Journal Of The Humanities And Social Sciences Of Southeast Asia 129 (4): 457-481. doi:
  • Larkin, John A. 1971. “The Causes Of An Involuted Society: A Theoretical Approach To Rural Southeast Asian History”. The Journal Of Asian Studies 30 (4): 783-795.