Urban canals in colonial Batavia: Rethinking 'clean and dirt' space

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study aims to explore how the discourse of clean and dirt was articulated in everyday life of inhabitants in Batavia (now known as Jakarta) through the use of Molenvliet canal. This study reveals how power, domination and inequality were practised, reproduced, or confronted. This was seen in the written texts and visual graphs representing the social and political context in Batavia. The findings show the Molenvliet canal plays a marker role suggesting the division of two contrasting phenomena between “clean” and “dirty” to signify the dichotomy of “European” vs “Native”. Europeans used their private wells as clean water resources for daily activities, while the “Natives” used the public canals for their daily usage. The usage of the canal by the native population have reinforced various myths of superiority. It produced a discourse of undeveloped native bodies associated with the canal, diseases, and contamination. This study also exposes the failure of the Europeans to create the boundary between clean and dirty space. The Europeans judged cleanliness and relied on laundry services provided by the Natives who used the canal to wash their clothes. These canals revealed how the concept of dirt and cleanliness were used as a form of European domination. The canal become an evidence of powerlessness of European society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-52
Number of pages12
JournalPertanika Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities
Issue numberAugust
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • Batavia
  • Canal
  • Clean
  • Colonial
  • Dirty


Dive into the research topics of 'Urban canals in colonial Batavia: Rethinking 'clean and dirt' space'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this