Bridewealth and Birth Control: Low Fertility in the Indonesian Archipelago, 1500–1900


  • Peter Boomgaard

    1. Peter Boomgaard is Senior Researcher, Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Cartibean Studies, Leiden, and Professor of Economic and Environmental History of Southeast Asia, University of Amsterdam.
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Before the onset of the present demographic transition, population growth in Indonesia had reached unprecedentedly high levels. This article demonstrates that such high levels were a recent phenomenon. Prior to 1900 rates of natural population increase were low to very low in most areas in Indonesia. This runs counter to expectations based on Hajnal's “Eastern marriage pattern,” which could imply high growth levels in extended family areas, such as most Indonesian regions outside Java in the past. Usually, the low population growth rates in Southeast Asia are attributed to high mortality owing to high levels of violent conflict. It is argued that other factors contributing to such high levels of mortality should receive more attention. In this article it is also argued that low fertility rates, too, played a role in generating low rates of natural increase. The article discusses the influence of marriage patterns, household structure, methods of birth control, adoption, and slavery on fertility.