Achin - Encyclopedia

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ACHIN (Dutch Atjeh;, a Dutch government forming the northern extremity of the island of Sumatra, having an estimated area of 20,544 sq. i m. The government is divided into three assistant-residencies - the east coast, the west coast and Great Achin. The physical geography (see Sumatra) is imperfectly understood. Ranges of mountains, roughly parallel to the long axis of the island, and characteristic of the whole of it, appear to occupy the interior, and reach an extreme height of about i 2,000 ft. in the south-west of the government. The coasts are low and the rivers insignificant, rising in the coast ranges and flowing through the coast states (the chief of which are Pedir, Gighen and Samalanga on the N.; Edi, Perlak and Langsar on the E.; Kluwah, Rigas and Melabuh on the W.). The chief ports are Olehleh, the port of Kotaraja or Achin (formerly Kraton, now the seat of the Dutch government), Segli on the N., Edi on the E., and Analabu or Melabuh on the W. Kotaraja lies near the northern extremity of the island, and consists of detached houses of timber and thatch, clustered in enclosed groups called kampongs, and buried in a forest of fruit-trees. It is situated nearly 3 m. from the sea, in the valley of the Achin river, which in its upper part, near Selimun, is 3 m. broad, the river having a breadth of 99 ft. and a depth of 12 ft.; but in its lower course, north of its junction with the Krung Daru, the valley broadens to 121 m. The marshy soil is covered by rice-fields, and on higher ground by kampongs full of trees. The river at its mouth is 327 ft. broad and 20-33 ft. deep, but before it lies a sandbank covered at low water by a depth of only 4 ft. The Dutch garrison in Kotaraja occupies the old Achinese citadel. The town is connected by rail with Olehleh, and the line also extends up the valley. The construction of another railway has been undertaken along the east coast. The following industries are of some importance - gold-working, weapon-making, silk-weaving, the making of pottery, fishing and coasting trade. The annual value of the exports (chiefly pepper) is about £58,000; of the imports, from 165,000 to X250,000. The population of Achin in 1898 was estimated at 535,432, of whom 328 were Europeans, 3933 Chinese, 30 Arabs, and 372 other foreign Asiatics.

The Achinese, a people of Malayan stock but darker, somewhat taller and not so pleasant-featured as the true Malays, regard themselves as distinct from the other Sumatrans. Their nobles claim Arab descent. They were at one time Hinduized, as is evident from their traditions, the many Sanskrit words in their language, and their general appearance, which suggests Hindu as well as Arab blood. They are Mahommedans, and although Arab influence has declined, their nobles still wear the Moslem flowing robe and turban (though the women go unveiled), and they use Arabic script. The chief characteristic is their love of fighting; every man is a soldier and every village has its army. They are industrious and skilful agriculturists, metal-workers and weavers. They build excellent ships. Their chief amusements are gambling and opium-smoking. Their social organization is communal. They live in kampongs, which combine to form mukims, districts or hundreds (to use the nearest English term), which again combine to form sagis, of which there are three. Achin literature, unlike the language, is entirely Malay; it includes poetry, a good deal of theology and several chronicles. Northern Sumatra was visited by several European travellers in the middle ages, such as Marco Polo, Friar Odorico and Nicolo Conti. Some of these as well as Asiatic writers mention Lambri, a state which must have nearly occupied the position of Achin. But the first voyager to visit Achin, by that name, was Alvaro Tellez, a captain of Tristan d'Acunha's fleet, in 1506. It was then a mere dependency of the adjoining state of Pedir; and the latter, with Pasei, formed the only states on the coast whose chiefs claimed the title of sultan. Yet before twenty years had passed Achin had not only gained independence, but had swallowed up all other states of northern Sumatra. It attained its climax of power in the time of Sultan Iskandar Muda (1607-1636), under whom the subject coast extended from Aru opposite Malacca round by the north to Benkulen on the west coast, a sea-board of not less than 110o miles; and besides this, the king's supremacy was owned by the large island of Nias, and by the continental Malay states of Johor, Pahang, Kedah and Perak.

The chief attraction of Achin to traders in the 17th century must have been gold. No place in the East, unless Japan, was so abundantly supplied with gold. The great repute of Achin as a place of trade is shown by the fact that to this port the first Dutch (1599) and first English (1602) commercial ventures to the Indies were directed. Sir James Lancaster, the English commodore, carried letters from Queen Elizabeth to the king of Achin, and was well received by the prince then reigning, Alauddin Shah. Another exchange of letters took place between King James I. and Iskandar Muda in 1613. But native caprice and jealousy of the growing force of the European nations in these seas, and the rivalries between those nations themselves, were destructive of sound trade; and the English factory, though several times set up, was never long maintained. The French made one great effort (1621) to establish relations with Achin, but nothing came of it. Still the foreign trade of Achin, though subject to interruptions, was important. William Dampier (c. 1688) and others speak of the number of foreign merchants settled there - English, Dutch, Danes, Portuguese, Chinese, &c. Dampier says the anchorage was rarely without ten or fifteen sail of different nations, bringing vast quantities of rice, as well as silks, chintzes, muslins and opium. Besides the Chinese merchants settled at Achin, others used to come annually with the junks, ten or twelve in number, which arrived in June. A regular fair was then established, which lasted two months, and was known as the China camp, a great resort of foreigners.

Hostilities with the Portuguese began from the time of the first independent king of Achin; and they had little remission till the power of Portugal fell with the loss of Malacca (1641). Not less than ten times before that event were armaments despatched from Achin to reduce Malacca, and more than once its garrison was hard pressed. One of these armadas, equipped by Iskandar Muda in 1615, gives an idea of the king's resources. It consisted of 50o sail, of which 250 were galleys, and among these a hundred were greater than any then used in Europe. Sixty thousand men were embarked.

On the death of Iskandar's successor in 1641, the Widow was placed on the throne; and as a female reign favoured the oligarchical tendencies of the Malay chiefs, three more queens were allowed to reign successively. In 1699 the Arab or fanatical party suppressed female government, and put a chief of Arab blood on the throne. The remaining history of Achin was one of rapid decay.

After the restoration of Java to the Netherlands in 1816, a good deal of weight was attached by the neighbouring British colonies to the maintenance of influence in Achin; and in 1819 a treaty of friendship was concluded with the Calcutta government which excluded other European nationalities from fixed residence in Achin. When the British government, in 1824, made a treaty with the Netherlands, surrendering the remaining British settlements in Sumatra in exchange for certain posses sions on the continent of Asia, no reference was made in the articles to the Indian treaty of 1819; but an understanding was exchanged that it should be modified, while no proceedings hostile to Achin should be attempted by the Dutch.

This reservation was formally abandoned by the British government in a convention signed at the Hague on the 2nd of November 1871; and in March 1873 the government of Batavia declared war upon Achin. Doubtless there was provocation, for the sultan of Achin had not kept to the understanding. that he was to guarantee immunity from piracy to foreign traders; but the necessity for war was greatly doubted, even in Holland. A Dutch force landed at Achin in April 1873, and attacked the palace. It was defeated with considerable loss, including that of the general (Kohler). The approach of the south-west monsoon precluded the immediate renewal of the attempt; but hostilities were resumed, and Achin fell in January 1874. The natives, however, maintained themselves in the interior, inaccessible to the Dutch troops, and carried on a guerilla warfare. General van der Heyden appeared to have subdued them in 1878-81, but they broke out again in 1896 under the traitor Taku Umar, who had been in alliance with the Dutch. He died shortly afterwards, but the trouble was not ended. General van Hentsz carried on a successful campaign in 1898 seq., but in 1901, the principal Achinese chiefs on the north coast having surrendered, the pretender-sultan fled to the Gajoes, a neighbouring inland people. Several expeditions involving heavy fighting were necessary against these in 1901-4, and a certain amount of success was achieved, but the pretender escaped, revolt still smouldered and hostilities were continued.

See P. J. Veth, Atchin en zijne betrekkingen tot Nederland (Leyden, 1873); J. A. Kruijt, Atjeh en de Atjehers (Leyden, 1877) Kielstra, Beschrijving van den Atjeh-oorlog (The Hague, 1885); Van Langen, Atjeh's Wesskust, Tijdschrift Aardrijko, Genotktsch. (Amsterdam, 1888), p. 226; Renaud, Jaarboek van het Mynwezen (1882); J. Jacobs, Het famille-en Kampongleven op Groot Atjeh (Leyden, 1894); C. Snouck Hurgronje, De Atjehers (Batavia, 1894).

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