Mads Lange, the Bali Trader and Peacemaker

BOOK REVIEW: Mads Lange, the Bali Trader and Peacemaker

 


A Danish expat living in Lombok and Bali in the 19th century has been almost completely forgotten, yet he was one of the most influential people in Balinese history. He is Mads Johansen Lange, a blue-eyed, blond haired Dane, who is buried in Kuta in a small Chinese graveyard on a road named after him, Jalan Tuan Langa, in a forgotten tomb guarded by a fine Dalmatian statue.

Lange was born on 18 September 1807, which gave the impetus for this book to be published on the 200th anniversary of his birth. It is amazing that it is the first book in English on Mad Lange’s life. Peter Bloch, who is Danish and living in Bali, produced it with the help of veteran Leonard Luras and Gustaaf Scouten.

At the age of 26, Lange, his three younger brothers and Captain John Burd, a friend, sailed for Hong Kong in 1833 and never returned to Denmark. Lange soon went to Bali and Lombok looking for opportunities. He picked Lombok as the base for his trading ventures, possibly because rice production was extremely high there and much greater than in Bali. It was high because of fertility from ash deposits from the huge Tambora eruption in 1815. The book has some wonderful old maps and many black and white photos of Lombok from Dutch archival sources.

There were two rival kingdoms: Mataram-Lombok to the north and the more powerful Karangasem-Lombok to the south. Karangasem-Lombok welcomed him and Lange became their trusted adviser and harbor chief and was granted a virtual monopoly of all trading in Lombok. He was there until 1839, so the subtitle of the book could have equally well referred to Lombok.

It did not take long for competition to arrive — in the shape of George Peacock King, born of English parents living in Bengal, who allied himself in 1835 to the rajah of Mataram-Lombok. There was enough business for both of them, but a succession of land and sea fights between the two rajahs culminated in defeat for Karangasem-Lombok in 1839 and Lange escaped to Bali with nothing but his life, a few personal items, his horse and ship. Gustaaf Scoutten is a talented painter and beautifully illustrates many of the dramatic episodes from Lange’s life.

In Bali the Rajah Kesiman gave him land on the beach in Kuta to build a house, factory and warehouses, from which he traded on a large scale and did very well from the start. In his flamboyant style Lange visited all the rajahs personally, arriving on his horse, which was twice the size of the local animals. They were impressed by his respect for local customs.

Lange, the ultimate ex-pat, lived in Bali style, with a well-stocked wine cellar, billiard table, chamber orchestra, two wives, concubines, children, servants and slaves. There were also Danish Dalmations.

Lange performed a useful role mediating between the Dutch and the South Balinese rajahs and was instrumental in getting two important — although fudged and misleading — treaties signed with the Rajah Kesiman in 1841 and 1842, under which the Rajah appeared to recognize Dutch sovereignty and give up Balinese customary rights to take possession of shipwrecked cargo.

The Dutch found him so useful that they offered him citizenship of the Dutch East Indies in 1844, which he accepted. There were contemporary accounts by visiting Europeans, who knew Lange, and extracts of these are contained in the book.

He was a broker in the lucrative slave trade and imported Chinese kepeng coins. Lange’s business grew. He owned or hired (it is not clear which) between nine and twelve ships in the 1840s. His ships gathered rice, coconut oil, animals, cotton, tobacco, coffee and other goods from neighboring islands, which he sold to visiting traders from his warehouse. There are many fine old Balinese photographs in the book.

Lange played a pivotal role as a shuttle diplomat between the Dutch and the Balinese in the wars of Dutch invasion of 1846, 1848 and 1849. The book contains lengthy details of the invasions. The Dutch navy blockaded the island between 1848 and 1849. Lange worked hard and brokered an historic truce, a treaty which was signed by the two sides in his house on 15 July 1849, and gave the Balinese freedom for many years to come. The Dutch were pleased and made him a “Knight of the Dutch Lion” in December 1849.

The good times came to an end. Lange’s business was badly hit by the blockade. The rice harvest suffered from the wars — which a plague of rats made worse — and exports practically ceased. A smallpox epidemic in 1850 disrupted life and some of his employees died. Then there was a water shortage. Meanwhile the Dutch were building up Singaraja in the north as the main port.

Lange was planning to leave Bali for good and sail to Denmark in 1856 when he was invited to a banquet at Denpasar Palace by the new rajah. Upon returning home he was violently sick, coughed up blood and his lips turned blue. He had been poisoned and died two days later on 13 May at home at the age of 48. He had been in Bali 18 years.

Christian Peter Lange, his nephew, came to Bali in 1847 to help his uncle and inherited the business, but failed to make a profit, sold up and returned to Denmark in 1863. Kuta declined after Lange’s death and did not revive for many years.

This book has been beautifully produced and can be enjoyed as a coffee-table book, leafing through the wonderful photographs and illustrations, or as a more scholarly work, usefully filling a gap in our knowledge of a remarkable man.

Mads Lange
The Bali Trader and Peacemaker
Produced by Peter Bloch
Bali Purnati Center, 2007
Hardback, 176 pages

Murni
Ubud, Bali