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THE WHITE RAJA OF BALI: MADS LANGE

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Date: 14-03-00
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THE WHITE RAJA OF BALI: MADS LANGE

The year was 1839. The Dutch had not yet suc-ceeded in penetrating the fertile rice-growing districts of southern Bali, where a glorious and carefully guarded Hindu theater state had flour-ished undisturbed for a thousand years. In that year, after he had been run oft the neighboring is-land of Lombok by an English rival, the flamboyant Danish merchant-adventurer Mads Johansen Lange (1806-56) set up a fortified 'factory' (trading post) on Bali's southern peninsula near the fishing village of Kuta. The Balinese were eager for trade contacts, but at the time foreigners were strictly confined to the edge of the island in places like Kuta, a political freeport and no man's land where outcasts and opponents could find refuge. Lange's busy emporium became a vital link between inter-Asian trade and the inland Balinese economy. Al-though his sojourn on Bali lasted only 10 years, it was to change Balinese history. Although a few Chinese and Buginese monsoon traders had settled near the main harbors of the island in the 19th century, mostly serving as inter-mediaries in the slave trade, Mads Lange estab-lished the first large trading post. Surrounded by an imposing wall with an elaborate gateway, the huge complex contained warehouses, a pasat; comfortable residences, and an open dining pavil-ion with a billiard table where foreign guests-mer-chants, ship captains, early tourists, Indologists, botanists, linguists-were sumptuously entertained. Lange lived there with his Chinese and Balinese concubines, his Dalmation dogs, and his retinue of servants. In the evenings cosmopolitan parties were held there, from where the Kuta villagers could hear Danish folk music and bawdy songs sung and played by Lange and his friends on flutes, violins, and a piano. Half the races of Europe were repre-sented at the trader's hospitable table. The Bali-nese gentry, sarunged and parasoled, were also often invited to the gay parties and treated with the utmost care and deference. Relations with the dirt-poor Kuta villagers, however, were not as cordial. Once, when one of Lange's servants struck a Bali-nese, his factory was surrounded by a howling mob who wanted to burn it to the ground. Deftly, the trader bought the peace with 200 guilders and two balls of opium. Lange himself came to play a crucial role in early colonial expansion. He fell under the protection of the highest-ranking raja of south Bali, Gusti Ngurah Gde Kesiman of Badung, who made Lange a per-bekel (district official). Not only was he a powerful commercial broker who gained great profit from trade, but Lange also served as an indispensable link between the Dutch and southern Balinese rulers. In 1844, the Dane was appointed Dutch agent and official middleman, maintaining many personal relationships with the quarrelsome Bali-nese princes. He served as a channel of information between the vastly different worlds of East and West, able to solve most problems by simply buying protection and goodwill. Lange was also an adept mediator between conflicting parties, acting as a human buffer and diplomat between Dutch colo-nial interests and internal Balinese court politics. To avoid conflicts between oafish Europeans and the Balinese natives, no one but Lange and his brother Hans were allowed into the island's interior. Although Kuta at the time was the gateway to the island's rich inland economy of coffee, tobacco, and other cash crops which Lange brokered, his major business derived from a monopoly on the sale of Chinese kepeng, which became the island's dominant monetary unit. Lange would buy the round coins cheap and Sell them on Bali at 100% profit or else trade them for rice. Large quantities of these coins were sent from China to Singapore, from where Lange would import them to Bali along with opium, iron, arms, and textiles. Working through Chinese agents, Lange maintained a system of storehouses on neighboring islands where his fleet of 12 ships would gather raw produce to resupply stocks on Bali. Numerous European ships called at Kuta to buy rice, coconut oil, animals, hides, cotton, tobacco, coffee, and other goods. He maintained two slaughterhouses, killing oxen to supply dried beef for the Dutch garrisons on Java. His close re-lationship with the local ruling elite allowed him to expand his trade and commercial contacts without competition or political risks. Lange became an im-mensely rich and powerful man. But with the launch-ing of several large-scale military expeditions by the Dutch against Bali in 1846,1848, and 1849, Lange's world was about to come tumbling down, leaving him brokenhearted. At one point during a Dutch attack on Klungkung in 1849, Lange's trading station at Kuta was threat-ened. Filled with plunder, it was much coveted by the rajas of Mengwi and Gianyar. With opposing armies poised to attack near Klungkung, Lange averted a bloody disaster by dramatically riding out to meet the Dutch troops marching inland from Padangbai. He mediated a temporary peace by arranging an extravagant ceremonial meeting at his factory between the Dutch commander and the southern rajas, attended by 30,000 followers of the rajas in case something went wrong. For his re-ward, Lange received from the old raja one of Bal-i's highest titles, punggawa besar. Through this meeting, Lange's local patron and descendants were able to dominate southern Balinese politics until the final puputan of 1906-08, by which time nearly the whole of the Indonesian archipelago had come under Dutch colonial rule. Because of new technology and commercial pressure the fortunes of Lange's factory soon began to decline. The Dutch naval blockade of Bali (1848-49) and the continual warfare of the 1840s had seriously disrupted trade. The rice-growing hinterlands had suffered the ravages of war and a plague of rats, while accompanying smallpox epidemics and water shortages con-tributed to the chaos. In addition, Kuta harbor was inadequate for the steamships which were used increasingly after 1850 in the inter-Asiatic trade. Finally, new commercial rivals entered the picture when the northern harbor of Buleleng and Amp-enan on Lombok began to attract the bulk of Bali-nese exports. All these factors conspired to cause Lange losses from which he never recovered. It was said of him that there was more of the bold Viking than the prudent trader in his nature. He was soon put out of business. Bankrupt and dispirited, Lange died mysteriously in 1856 just before he was to return to Denmark. Historians believe he may have been poisoned by a member of a competing dynastic group seeking revenge. His brother and nephew tried in vain to continue the factory, but Raja Kesiman's death in 1863 left the establishment completely vulnerable. After several years nothing remained of the once-prosperous compound except for high stone walls. Remnants of the compound survived into the 1950s but today all has vanished. Descendants of his Chinese and Balinese wives went on to make names for themselves in Singapore, Malaysia, and Sarawak. Today, Lange's grave behind Kuta's pasar malam, a nearby alleyway named Gang Tuan Langa, and descendants of his Dalmation dogs are the only physical traces left of this remarkable Dane's mercantile adventure on Bali.

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