Mohammad Hatta 1902-1980
Mohammed Hatta was born in Bukitinggi, West Sumatra. He grew up in a traditionalist Muslim family. Both his grandfather and his father were conservative ulama (scholars of Islam). At secondary school Hatta came under the influence of modernist Muslim teachers who spread social and economic change in Indonesia. In his youth, he became a member of the nationalist Young Sumatrans Union. Hatta studied economy in Rotterdam from 1923 to 1932, and he became president of the Perhimpunan Indonesia (PI), the society of Indonesian students in the Netherlands. A true democrat in heart and soul, he emerged as a fighter for independence.
Because of an article about Dutch colonial administration in the journal of the PI, Indonesia Merdeka, Hatta was arrested in 1927. He was accused of high treason, but acquitted by a Dutch court of law. He was supported by the Dutch poet and socialist Henriette Roland Holst and remained her friend for the rest of his life. When his study at Rotterdam Academy was finished, Hatta returned to Indonesia. Full of anger about the repressive methods of the colonial government, Hatta became a leader of the so-called non-cooperative nationalists. They did not preach revolution but advocated alterations within the existing order. In 1934 he was arrested and banished to Upper-Digul (New-Guinea) and later to Bandaneira (the Moluccas).
Hatta was accused of high treason twice: in 1927 in Holland and in 1934 in the Dutch Indies. His comment was: 'the first time a Dutch court of law acquitted me, the second time world history did so.' Indeed, in 1942 Hatta was liberated by the Japanese military government in Indonesia. Hatta became an adviser to the Japanese military government and, like many Indonesian nationalists, cooperated in a quiet way with the Japanese occupational power. Together with Sukarno, Hatta became a prominent Indonesian nationalist leader. Pushed by Indonesian youth, they proclaimed Indonesian independence on August 17, 1945. Hatta became vice president of the new Republic. During the negotiations about the transfer of sovereignty, Mohammad Hatta headed the delegation of the Indonesian Republic. He was vice president from 1946 to 1956, and prime minister from 1948 to 1950. Hatta died in Jakarta in 1980.
Letters from captivity
The correspondence between Hatta and Johannes Post started soon after Hatta was transferred from imprisonment in Upper-Digul (New-Guinea) to the Banda islands (the Moluccas). In 1934 captivity began in Tanah Merah, a village in West New Guinea where Hatta was had been placed under permanent guard in a small dwelling. In Upper-Digul everybody suffered from malaria. Protest eventually led to the transfer of Hatta and his companion Sutan Shahrir to Banda Neira. They received a monthly allowance of 75 Dutch guilders, which enabled them to rent a house. Here, Hatta gave private lessons to the children of his fellows. Hatta assisted establishment of an agrarian cooperative. He tried to gather as many books as possible during captivity: 'My philosophy of life is this: struggle while one is free; if people have clipped one's wings, then devote oneself to the pursuit of knowledge.'
To enhance his knowledge, Hatta frequently appealed to his old Dutch friends Henriette Roland Holst [papers] and Johannes Post. Henriette Roland Holst, the Dutch poet and socialist, had sided with the Indian and Indonesian nationalists during the twenties and supported them in word and deed, and so did their mutual friend Johannes Post. Johannes Eduard Post (1880-1945) was an idealistic businessman in Amsterdam who granted loans and assistance to strikers and conscientious objectors. He was active in the anti-colonial movement, and this is where he befriended Hatta and other Indonesian students in Holland.
The letters from Hatta are included in the papers of Johannes Post at the IISH, the letters from Post to Hatta could not be retrieved.