For many European inhabitants of the Dutch East Indies, a non- specific but inescapable sense of danger was imperceptibly but pervasively present.1 The threat of disease was often on their minds: before the turn of the twentieth century, afflictions unknown in Europe regularly caused chronic and debilitating disease and death; European settlements were intermittently decimated by epidemics. The indigenous inhabitants of the archipelago greatly outnumbered them, and even though the Javanese were known as the gentlest people on earth, the possibility that this enormous mass of people might turn against their colonisers crossed many a European’s mind at unguarded moments. The alien religious beliefs of the ‘natives’ were also a cause for concern. The Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, was disheartening, partly because it demonstrated and even strengthened the devotion of the indigenous population, and partly because cholera epidemics were not uncommon in the Hejaz (the area where Mecca and Medina are located). Epidemics there were often followed by cholera outbreaks elsewhere, and even though physicians disagreed about the way the disease was transmitted, Muslim pilgrims were implicated by many. Directors and administrators of the many plantations and mines in the Indies, in particular those outside Java, had their own concerns about contagious diseases. They relied almost exclusively on labour imported from regions in China where cholera and plague often wreaked havoc. Chinese ‘coolies’ were essential to the economic success of the Indies – yet their migration to the archipelago exposed it to frightening, and costly, diseases. After the general acceptance of the germ theory by the European population of the Dutch East Indies, fears and apprehension about cholera and plague came to focus almost exclusively on the management and control of three categories of migrants: Muslim pilgrims, indentured labourers recruited in China and natives migrating within the colonies. Special rules and regulations regarding their travel, transportation and quarantine were designed and implemented during the first decade of the twentieth century.
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