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11.Ex-military settlements in Indonesia and the emergence of social differentiation in frontier areas

Initial efforts
Early settlement pattern
The Sapta Marga concept applied
Towards integration
Concluding remarks

Sediono M. P. Tjondronegoro

Forms of military settlement have not been widely described in Indonesia, but the phenomenon itself dates back from the early days of the Republic, shortly after the proclamation of its independence from the Dutch. A comprehensive account of transmigration in Indonesia such as that by Hardjono (1977) in a book published under the same title does not mention the existence of settlements inhabited by ax-military servicemen.

Its history, though shorter than that of general resettlement (more often referred to as transmigration), covers more than a quarter of a century. It does not comprise the placement of military units to establish a garrison, but, as we shall see later, the Sapta Marga village performs the function of both military control over an area and of economic development.

The integration of military units in rural villages had already begun in the days of guerilla warfare, when army personnel disguised as ordinary farmers lived among the rural population (Nasution 1974). After the period of "physical revolution" (1950), the return to normal civilian life brought about the first experiences in returning former fighting men to villages. The move was an effort to demobilize army contingents and return the men to their previous occupations, which, for most, was that of farmer.

In a later development, when dissident movements formed in opposition to the central and legal government (1950s-1960s), new forms of military settlements emerged and eventually, to re-establish control over regained territories, Sapta Marga villages were created; again, with the dual purpose of military supervision and farming.

Later, in the 1970s there was a return to more integrated settlements of military and civilian migrants in one village, although preference was shown for forming separate compounds within a settlement.

Initial efforts

Immediately after the proclamation of Indonesia's independence in 1945, the government of the young Republic was confronted with a warlike situation, since the Allied (American-British-Dutch) forces, including Dutch fighting units, did not recognize the Republic of Indonesia. Strong nationalist sentiments to defend the country against external threats of political and military intervention gave rise to the formation of a popular volunteer army. A small core of Japanese-trained Indonesian army units acted as instructors and soon a dozen divisions were formed. Many of the volunteers came from rural areas, and even those from urban centres often were of recent rural background.

Indonesia today has no professional army, navy, or air force in the formal sense, neither has it a conscription army. The armed forces consist of volunteers, although many have made a lifelong career out of their service period. Servicemen who have volunteered and built a military career are treated as government officers, who are on the government payroll, are obliged to retire at a certain age, and are eligible to receive a pension or old-age allowance thereafter. The Department of Defence and Security often helps by offering post-retirement jobs in public life, and one of these jobs is becoming a farmer through the transmigration programme. Very much like the migrants in a government subsidized transmigration programme, the exmilitary servicemen are allocated a piece of land and farm equipment. In addition, however, the ax-servicemen receive a pension in accordance with rank and length of military service. Obviously this enables them to enjoy a higher minimum standard of living.

The first ax-military settlers were sent to Lampung, the traditional transmigration settlement area since 1905, and special settlements were prepared to pave the way for easier adjustment of the settlers to a new natural and social environment (Kampto Utomo 1975). In the district of Central Lampung, the village of Sumberdjaja received the first demobilized servicemen in 1950.

The National Reserve Corps (Corps Tjadangan Nasional, CTN) sent two companies of ax-servicemen from East Java to Central Lampung in July 1950, and they were promised that they would receive "new weapons" to continue the national struggle in a different way. However, perhaps as former guerilla fighters they had little notion of what the "new weapons" in a different stage of the revolutionary struggle could be.

When it turned out at a ceremonial gathering that the "new weapons" were hoes to work the newly allotted land, the inevitable disappointment was demonstrated by throwing crates full of hoes into the Way Sekampung river.

Though no further studies have been conducted on the attitudes of postrevolutionary guerilla fighters, it appeared rather clearly that either their leaders had not given them adequate explanation as to their new assignment or the exservicemen themselves were no longer prepared to work in the agricultural sector and to accept becoming owner-cultivators on the newly allocated plots.

Even prior to the transfer of sovereignty (end of 1949), a Ministry for Community Development already existed, taking care of rechanneling ax-servicemen into society. As long as the army units were under active service they were taken care of by Staff A of the Defence Ministry, such that no bridge existed between the military and civilian administration. In order to solve this problem, a Bureau for National Reconstruction (Biro Rekonstruksi Nasional, BRN) was established under the Prime Minister's office. Within the Defence Ministry itself, as already referred to above, the CTN was formed and later renamed Agency for the Reception of Exservicemen (Badan Penampungan Bekas Anggauta Tentara).

One characteristic of military settlements is that they tend to be rather separated from other villages, forming individual settlements of their own, and in most cases the former military organizational units are retained. To their names on the door plates settlers often add their ranks and even their identification numbers. Yet, despite the discernible ties of unity of the early 1950s, the dissolution of larger units into smaller ones became a matter of fact. Many military settlers were not quite prepared mentally to return to agriculture and, whenever there was an opportunity, emigrated to nearby cities to find jobs there. Most likely, after the years of military service the risky, low-status agricultural life was no longer attractive to them.

Therefore, land clearing by the ax-servicemen in the new areas began slowly in the early 1950s, and understandably the initial goal was to open the 0.25 ha of allocated land, the yard, or pekarangan, immediately surrounding the house (fig. 1). Many have not come much further than that, and obviously a quarter of a hectare to cultivate rice on rain-fed plots simply cannot meet the food needs of a small settler's family for the whole year.

Clearing the forest to expand the home yard and develop more rain-fed sawah is often handicapped by a shortage of available manpower. Forest clearing is also a more or less specialized activity for which not all military servicemen are capable. Not infrequently, therefore, this is offered to civilian migrants interested in doing the job for pay.

Early settlement pattern

The early military settlements had the same pattern as the regular civilian ones (fig. 1). The post-war transmigration distinguishes itself from the pre-war colonization in terms of land allocation; from about 0.7 ha it was expanded to 2.0 ha based on the consideration that a farmer would need a larger plot in an upland area than a farmer on irrigated rice-field, which was the basic pattern before the Second World War under Dutch colonial administration. In cases in which all allocated land could not be cultivated, part would be reserved for the next generation of descendants who would remain in farming.

In the case of Sukohardjo, Central Lampung, in the early 1950s perennial cash crops such as coffee, rubber, and pepper were cultivated as well-practically all of which are also cultivated, or rather grown, partly in the wild by the indigenous shifting cultivators. This was done largely on the pieces of land which had been cleared but which the settlers were not able to cultivate properly with food crops. Among the crops mentioned, probably coffee was relatively most successful, perhaps because Javanese settlers were familiar with the crop. Rubber and pepper, however, were much less successful and the idea of increasing the cash income from these crops in fact largely failed.

The settlers were more interested in tapping rubber on nearby estates, where they could earn cash without having to cultivate the trees. The local people tap rubber trees growing on former shifting or swidden plots overgrown by brush; at the time the rubber trees were planted the plots were still being used for rice cultivation (Pelzer 1945).

FIG. 1. Basic and most widespread pattern of transmigration settlement

Planting various crops simultaneously, with quite different maturing periods, enables the shifting cultivator to have continuous benefits from all the crops, though in stages.

The original settlement pattern is characteristically dispersed and rectangular. The road network is composed of parallel main roads connected by similarly straight roads.

The houses of settlers are built along the main roads and along the connecting roads; the distances between houses vary from one settlement to another. Often an effort is made to prepare at least the first food crop lot as close to the house as possible, even adjacent to the yard. The second lot, however, is not, as a rule, close to the house, often causing serious problems in terms of protecting the crops from pests, weeding, etc., not to mention the time required for going to and from. During harvest, transportation from the field to the house may be a problem.

Another public facility usually provided by the project is the market square; though planned, its location is not always the most appropriate one. Apparently it is not easy to predict the development of commercial life in a new settlement area. Also of importance is how the surrounding area develops, what projects are implemented to accelerate development, etc.

In the CTN settlements, the settlers were not always concentrated in one settlement but were dispersed among civilian settlers. Yet, despite this effort of communal integration, many CTN settlers were not registered as inhabitants of their villages due to the differential treatment by the Defence Ministry. A proper transfer of all villages-irrespective of settlers' background-to the local administration after some time would solve such problems.

Thus, integration rather than exclusive treatment from the beginning is the lesson to be learnt from past experiences in the BRN and CTN projects.

The Sapta Marga concept applied

In the preceding, illustrations have been given of a settlement programme in which the military function of ax-servicemen was declining and the overall intention was to develop a farming population in a newly cleared area.

The idea behind Sapta Marga settlements is quite different, since they involve servicemen on active duty in a situation of warfare against dissident elements in rebellious areas remote from the central government. Such a situation existed during a rebellious period in the 1950s through to the early 1960s; probably most widespread were the Sapta Marga settlements in South Sulawesi.

In the early 1950s an Islamic dissident movement gained influence in the strongly Islam area of South Sulawesi. As the dissident groups were not as well equipped as the regular army, they preferred to harass government forces by hit and run tactics, in other words a form of guerilla warfare, and this is usually only possible if large sections of the local population are in sympathy with, or at least have no resentment against, the movement.

Government forces thus found themselves placed in a difficult position, since there was no clearly discernible enemy nor a buffer area between fronts. During the day life went on normally and very little reflected the warlike situation, except in remote rural areas where guerilla groups had almost absolute control. During the night they harassed regular army units in areas distant from their base camps.

After almost a decade of guerilla warfare government troops introduced a different tactic and gradually put the area under control. The troops were dispersed and ordered to settle in the form of small strongholds all over the rebellious area, particularly where the population was relatively dense, around smaller towns for example.

Such military settlements in the Sapta Marga vein must be viable units, capable of sustaining themselves, fighting and controling the surrounding areas. The military settlers could live with their families and farm in order to sustain their families. Land for the cultivation of food crops and also perennial crops was allocated. Thus Sapta Marga settlements became military strongholds and advanced settlement areas amidst a not entirely friendly community.

It can be said that the concept aimed at the pacification of the area through frequent contact with the local population. In the beginning, the military assignments were high on the priority list; however, gradually, when the political stability and military situation improved, the settlement aspects became more important.

The Sapta Marga settlers who were still on active service often had insufficient time to work in their fields and this gave rise to a patron-client relationship between them and the civilian migrants living nearby (often of Javanese origin). The relationship developed gradually, and the clients, perhaps having more farming experience, were the actual cultivators of the patrons' plots. For the civilian migrant this arrangement offered work and also more land to farm, and thus a guarantee by the Sapta Marga settlers of a livelihood. Consequently, the migrants from outside the region tended to side with the government troops.

But in periods of political instability, when military protection was not effective everywhere, remote (civilian) settlements were easy targets of attacks by dissident guerilla troops. Massacres occurred, but, at the same time, they served to strengthen the conviction of the central government to continue the Sapta Marga programme.

The approach was by military means but simultaneously by means of the demonstration of the benefits of living together to meet common needs.

Military settlements, by and large, are believed to possess great potential because their settlers are carefully selected. They are, in the first place, better educated, better trained to co-operate among themselves, and better organized under army discipline, qualities often needed to overcome difficult situations in the new settlement areas.

Also they may be more open and receptive to new technologies, performing as demonstration units for the introduction of new technologies and helping their wider spread among the other farmers and villagers. Having, on average, greater capital to bear risks, the experimental element in farming is enlarged.

Military settlers, as long as they are in active service, are given regular allowances in addition to their facilities (usually in kind) as settlers; that is, a piece of land, housing, a year's ration of basic life necessities, a modest infrastructure around the settlement, and farm equipment as well as seeds.

Years after the settlement is transferred to the local administration, ax-military settlers may still be receiving aid and gifts from their former army units or the Legion of Veterans.

Towards integration

In the period following 1966, the integration of the various transmigration programmes of the 1960s (sponsored by departments such as Social Affairs, Transmigration, and Area Development and Manpower, Transmigration and Cooperatives) became a goal in itself for several reasons.

First, there was of course the simple reason of wanting to simplify the approach by having a single co-ordinator for the programme such that scarce resources and funds could be more effectively utilized. Second, the Basic Law on Transmigration of 1972, known as Law no. III/1972, constituted a basis upon which to develop more effective ways of interdepartmental co-ordination.

It became clear that transmigration was meant not only to resettle people from densely populated areas to scarcely populated islands outside Java and Bali but also to increase the migrants' prosperity in general by providing them with better assets in rural areas. Even though the law provides opportunities for making labour or manpower available, the fundamental idea has been to improve the small farmer's conditions of life such that he could become self-sustaining.

Third, the awareness in government circles that acquisition of land and development in the so-called outer islands, as well as the formation of new societies, required better coordination between several departments, of which the most important are Forestry, (still a directorate general within the Ministry of Agriculture), the Interior, Public Works, and Communication. At a later stage, of course, the Economic, Co-operatives, Education, and Defence departments were also increasingly involved, namely, after the operations of actual settlements.

Plans to undertake transmigration in the context of area development emphasized the need for co-ordination and integration even more. Transmigration can only be executed through concerted action, as a collective effort by a great number of government agencies.

Steps to co-ordinate agencies in the field followed accordingly. Gradually it became possible to provide the governors of provinces receiving transmigrants with a major coordinating function. Presidential Decree no. 26/1978 provided the authority needed.

In many respects the transmigration programme remained a project of the central government. However, at the provincial level, the governor acted as the local administrator on behalf of the central government and as such became the counterpart of the minister in charge of transmigration. It is the governor at the provincial level who, together with his planning board, decides where transmigration settlements will be established, how many migrants will be received, how land is to be acquired from the local people, and when migrants can come and settle in the area reserved and cleared for them. In other words, a joint committee comprising a great variety of government agencies involved in the total operation is created to assist the governor in the exacting task of developing settlement areas in accordance with provincial needs and goals.

The minister for transmigration at the national level has been entrusted with the highest authority to implement transmigration programmes in the country, and thus military resettlements become his responsibility. Although there is a bureau within the Department of Defence and Security to take care of military (often retired personnel) resettlement, the implementation in the field becomes the concern of the Transmigration Department.

Thus what we see in the field is a change from exclusively military settlements, as in Central Lampung, Sumatra, to integrated settlements (civilians and military). Examples in North Lampung and South Sumatra provinces are Way Abung and Baturaja-Martapura. The villages are inhabited by retired military personnel and civilians, mostly farmers. True, within the boundaries of one settlement one could still find whole hamlets or neighbourhood localities of such ax-servicemen, but at least this is a more realistic mix between the two large categories of migrants, and, taking projects as a whole, there is usually a distinct majority of civilians.

Occasionally, there was circulated the idea that military personnel could form the leading contingents in the process of technology transfer and therefore needed to be spread among civilian migrants in smaller numbers. The military settlers were believed to be better organized and on average, better educated (minimally in possession of an elementary school education plus additional training while in the service). Especially among the officers the chances are good that their education is superior to that of the average transmigrant.

This has given rise to a form of intellectual migration, like that of the prewar days, the magersari colonization, which resulted in a patron-client relationship between the betterand lesser-educated categories of migrants (Kampto Utomo 1975).

It was also noticed in military settlements that, due to the retention of military distinctions relevant to previous military units, the superior-inferior relationship was very much kept alive. Officers though retired, were still treated as superiors by those lower in rank. Also, the difference in pension and other allowances influences behavioural patterns. In the farming business, risk taking, for instance, is more feasible among high ranking ax-servicemen than among lower ranking ones.

The patron-client relationships which thus emerge often create a dependency not conducive to modernization and preserve traditional attitudes.

Moreover, the purchase of fertilizers, better varieties of seeds, as well as the cultivating of food and perennial crops, are less within the possibilities of the lowranking military migrants (MET-IPB 1980a).

What is true among military settlers is even truer among military with civilian migrants. Not infrequently, new spontaneous (civilian) migrants who come to an area as settlers can find initial employment with the better-off military migrants. They are provided with some housing on the home plot or close to the sometimes distant cultivated plot and become farmer-labourers before working themselves up to ownercultivators of smaller plots. In this sense, the richer military migrant is helpful in providing the first employment opportunity, but there is undoubtedly in this an element of elitism as in the magersari colonization.

Concluding remarks

Settlements of ax-servicemen are not necessarily self-sustaining in themselves, since the aptitude towards farming has clearly weakened.

The frontier area, often rather distant from the towns, has not generated adequate employment opportunities for settlers, such that the pull factor of urban centres is still significant.

Ex-military settlers, enjoying greater government subsidies, tend to possess a broader margin in which to apply more advanced technologies in farming and to bear greater risks in comparison to other, civilian settlers.

Such differences have given rise to the emergence of social differentiation and, in several areas, of social stratification with distinct strata among the totality of settlers, both military and civilian. Consequently, the intention to create greater equity through, for example, allocating equal land lots of 2 ha has not been realized. Land selling by the poorer and buying by the more well-to-do settlers persist very much like in the areas of origin.

In contrast to the BRN and CTN settlements of the 1950s, however, the more integrated forms of military and civilian settlements of the 1970s proved to be more democratic and viable.

The presence of better educated ax-military settlers, however, has not resulted in elevating larger settlement units to an agriculturally based stage of industrialization.


Hardjono, J. M. 1977. Transmigration in Indonesia. Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur.

Kampto Utomo. 1975. Masyarakat Transmigran Spontan di daerah Wai Sekampung, Lampung (Society of Spontaneous Transmigrants in the Way Sekampung area, Lampung).Gadjah Mada University Press, Jogjakarta.

MET-IPB. 1980a. Monograph of Baturaja-Martapura Transmigration Project, South Sumatra. MET-IPB, Bogor.

-------. 1980b. Monograph of Way Abung Transmigration Project, Lampung. MET-IPB, Bogor.

Nasution, A. H. 1974. Fundamentals of guerilla warfare. Praeger, New York.

Pelzer, K. J. 1945. Pioneer settlement in the Asiatic tropics: Studies in land utilization and agricultural colonization in southeastern Asia. American Geographical Society, New York.

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