Transition from Trading to Mining: Representation of Borneo Environmental History in Conrad's Malay Archipelago

  • Awang Azman Awang Pawi Universiti Malaya
  • Nasrullah Mappatang Akademi Pengajian Melayu, Universiti Malaya
  • Ummi Hani Abu Hassan Hankuk University, South Korea


The Indonesian government’s development of Nusantara as the next national capital (IKN) has drawn significant attention to the extensive extractive activities along the East Coast of Kalimantan in East Kalimantan Province. There have been fourty-two fatalities in the past twelve years due to communities living in close proximity with numerous abandoned coal mining pits in the area. This study investigates the emergence of an economy focused on extracting natural resources on the East Coast of Kalimantan during the 19th century, as documented by Joseph Conrad, an English author from the Victorian era. Data analysis utilises an environmental history methodology. More precisely, researchers employ the New Historicist approach to juxtapose data extracted from literary texts with historical documents, thus yielding a thorough comprehension of the alterations in the environment during the latter part of the 19th century. The findings of this study indicate that the shifts in economic activity that occurred in the stipulated time period were primarily driven by the transition from trading forest products to mining for coal and gold. The shift in economic activity resulting from global market demand has had a significant impact on environmental changes in this region, especially along the East Coast of Kalimantan and this impact continues to the present day.


Adipurwawidjana, Ari. (2020). Inventing narratives, inventorying matural resources:
Colonial economic exploitation in Conrad’s Malay fiction. Journal of Language and Literature. 20(1).
Alatas, Syed Hussain. (1977). The myth of lazy natives. Routledge.
Andaya, B. W. & Andaya, L. Y. (2001). A history of Malaysia (2nd Edition). Palgrave.
Andaya, L. Y. (2008). Leaves of the same tree: Trade and ethnicity in the Straits of Melaka. University of Hawaii Press.
Andaya, L. Y. (2019). Selat Malaka: Sejarah perdagangan dan etnisitas. Komunitas Bambu.
Awang Azman Awang Pawi & Nasrullah Mappatang. (2022). Re-thinking malaria and other infectious diseases in the Borneo Malay world: Texts and contexts. Malay Literature, 35(2), 265–282.
Baines, J. (1960). Critical biography of Joseph Conrad. Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Brannigan, J. (1998). New historicism and cultural materialism. St. Martin Press.
Bruyns, W. F. J. M. (2005). A Dutch Naval officer on the Berau River in the 1870s.
The Conradian, 30(1), 132–143.
Campo, JNFM. (2000). A profound debt to the Eastern Seas: Documentary history and literary representation of Berau’s maritime trade in Conrad’s Malay novels. International Journal of Maritime History, XII(2). 85–125.
Conrad, J. (1895). Almayer’s Folly, a Story of the Eastern River. T. Fisher Unwin Ltd.
Conrad, J. (1896). The Outcast of the Islands. Collins.
Conrad, J. (1900). Lord Jim. Doubleday.
Conrad, J. (1920). The Rescue. Doubleday.
Cronon, W. (1991). Nature’s metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. WW Norton & Company.
Cronon, W. (2003). Changes in the land: Indians, colonists, and the ecology of New England. Hill and Wang.
Dick, H, Houben, V. J.H., Lindblad, J. T., & Kian, Wee Tee. (2002). The emergence of a national economy: An economic history of Indonesia, 1800–2000. Allen & Unwin.
Francis, A. (2015). Culture and commerce in Conrad’s Asian fiction. Cambridge University Press.
Goh, Chun Sheng & Potter, L. (2023). Transforming Borneo: From land exploitation to sustainable development. ISEAS.
Greenblatt, S. (1989). Towards a poetic of culture. In H. Aram Veeser (Ed.). The New Historicism, (p. 1–14). Routledge.
Greenblatt, S. & Gallagher, C. (2000). Practicing new historicism. The University of Chicago Press.
Haris Retno Susmiyati, Wiwik Harjanti & Rahmawati Al Hidayah (2021). Development of the Nusantara Capital, Sustainable Extraction for East Kalimantan. In Henny Warsilah, Indrawan Prabaharyaka, Ivan Nasution, Lilis Mulyani (Eds.), Assembling Nusantara: Mimicry, friction, and resonance in the new capital development, 151–164. Springer.
Huggan, G. & Tiffin, H. (2015). Postcolonial ecocriticism: Literature, animals, environment. Routledge.
Ida Baizura Bahar (2010). The paradigm of Malayness in literature. (Publication No. 11010464) [Doctoral dissertation, University of London]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.
Ita Syamtasiyah Ahyat. (2013). Kesultanan Kutai 1825-1910 : Perubahan politik dan ekonomi akibat penetrasi kekuasaan Belanda. Serat Alam Media.
Irwin, G. (1955). Nineteenth-century Borneo; A study in diplomatic rivalry. M. Nijhoff.
Jatam. (2020). Bergerilya melawan mesin ekstraktivisme: Mutasi kejahatan negara-korporasi dan babak baru jerat Oligarki Tambang. Jatam Nasional.
Jatam Kaltim. (2023). Nyapu: Bagaimana Perempuan dan Masyarakat Adat Balik Mengalami Kehilangan, Derita dan Kerusakan Berlapis Akibat Megaproyek Ibukota Baru Indonesia. Koalisi Bersihkan Indonesia.
Kheng, Cheah Boon & Abu Talib Ahmad. (1990). Kolonialisme di Malaysia dan negara-negara lain. Fajar Bakti.
Koon, Wong Soak. (1990). Conrad dan retorika para Imperial British dalam buku kolonialisme di Malaysia dan negara-negara lain. In Cheah Boon Keng & Abu Talib Ahmad (Eds.). Kolonialisme di Malaysia dan negara-negara lain. (pp. 341–362). Fajar Bakti.
Koran Kaltim. (2022). 41 children have died in excavated mining holes, The
latest happening in Berau, Koran Kaltim.
Lapian, A. (2009). Orang Laut, Bajak Laut, Raja Laut: Sejarah kawasan laut Sulawesi abad XIX. Komunitas Bambu.
Lindblad, Thomas. (1988). Between Dayak and the Dutch: The economic history of Southeast Kalimantan. Foris Publications.
Lindblad, T. (2012). Between Dayak and Dutch: Economic history of East Kalimantan and South Kalimantan 1880-1942. Ika Diyah Candra (Translator). KITLV Jakarta- Lilin Publishers.
M. Purnomo Susanto. (2023). Ungkap 42 orang tewas di Lubang Tambang, Jatam Kaltim catat 4 nyawa melayang di konsesi PT BBE.
Magenda, Burhan Djabier. (1989). East Kalimantan: The decline of a commercial aristocracy. In The surviving aristocracy in Indonesia: Politics in three provinces of the outer islands. (Volumes I and II). [PhD Thesis, Cornell University].
Muhammad Haji Salleh. (1981). Imej orang Melayu dalam karya-karya Joseph Conrad. In Ayob Yamin & Hamzah Hamdani (Eds). Imej dan cita-cita: Kertas kerja Hari Sastera 1980 (pp. 318–338). Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.
Peluso, N. (1992). The political ecology of extraction and extractive reserves in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Development and Change, International Institute of Social Studies. 23(4), 49–74.
Resink, G. J. (1968). Indonesia’s history between the myths: Essay in legal history and historical theory. W. van Hoeve Publishers.
Salmons, K. & Zulli, T. (Eds.). (2021). Migration, modernity, and transnationalism in the work of Joseph Conrad. Bloomsbury Academic.
Sherry, N. (1966). Conrad’s eastern world. Cambridge University Press.
Sherry, N. (1972). Conrad and his world. Thames and Hudson.
Toumbourou, T., Muhamad Muhdar, Werner, T. & Bebbington, A. (2020). Political ecologies of the post-mining landscape: Activism, resistance, and legal struggles over Kalimantan’s coal mines. Energy Research & Social Science, 65, 1–14.
Toumbourou, T. D., Dressler, W.H. & Werner, T.T. (2022). Plantations enabling mines: Incremental industrial extraction, social differentiation and livelihood change in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Land Use Policy, 119, 1–14.
Veeser, H. A. (Ed.). (1989). The new historicism. Routledge.
Warren, J.F. (1977). Joseph Conrad’s fiction as Southeast Asian history: Trade and politics in East Borneo in the late 19th century. The Brunei Museum Journal, 4(1). 21–34.
Warren, J. F. (1981). The Sulu Zone 1768-1898: The dynamics of external trade, slavery, and ethnicity in the transformation of Southeast Asian maritime state. NUS Press.
Willow, A. J. (2019). Understanding extraACTIVISM: Culture and power in natural resources disputes. Routledge.
Yoo, Jin Hee. (2014). Joseph Conrad’s Malay World: Reading history, fiction, and experience. [Master Thesis, Cornell University].
Zawiah Yahya. (2003). Resisting colonial discourse. UKM Press.
How to Cite
AWANG PAWI, Awang Azman; MAPPATANG, Nasrullah; ABU HASSAN, Ummi Hani. Transition from Trading to Mining: Representation of Borneo Environmental History in Conrad's Malay Archipelago. Malay Literature, [S.l.], v. 37, n. 1, p. 113-132, june 2024. ISSN 2682-8030. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 24 july 2024. doi: