Using the Film Max Havelaar to Teach about Dutch Colonialism in Indonesia

Module Summary

The film Max Havelaar, based on the 1860 novel Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company by Multatuli (the pen name of Eduard Douwes Dekker), tells the story of an idealistic Dutch colonial officer who is posted to Indonesia in the 19th century. Havelaar believes that he can make positive reforms that will improve the lives of local people, but he is misguided. In this semi-autobiographical story, entrenched political and cultural forces work counter to his plans and things progress from bad to worse. This module is designed to assist teachers in using the film to teach about colonialism and the history of Dutch rule in Indonesia in the period before the outbreak of WWII. The novel is considered a classic Dutch literature and the book’s bleak portrait of Indonesian colonialism effected change in Dutch colonial policy. Resources include historical and biographical information about Eduard Douwes Dekker and a brief outline of the Dutch administrative practices in Indonesia.

This module is based on the presentation by Barbara Andaya (Professor of Asian Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa) for the East-West Center’s National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute for Teachers titled “Southeast Asia: At the Crossroads of World War II.”

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this module do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the East-West Center.

Teaching Materials

Viewing guide about the book and film
Brief outline of the Dutch colonial administration

Key topics include: Batavia/Jakarta, capitalism, decolonization, democracy, development, Dutch East Indies/Netherlands Indies, European powers, imperialism/colonialism, independence movements, nationalism, trade and the economy.

We welcome comments from teachers on how you have integrated this material into your teaching, including what was useful and what wasn’t, and what additional resources you would like to see in or recommend for this module.