Welcome to Madripoor
First colonized by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Madripoor was initially spared the hardcore trading tactics used elsewhere in the Indonesian islands. The Portuguese traders were more interested in setting up posts elsewhere. Instead, the Portuguese used the island merely as a way station for their trading fleets. Since so many ships were coming to the Indonesian islands in a quest for trade, they seldom stayed long at the island. Those that did, though, found a lush, green haven filled with spectacular beauty and plentiful resources.
Since it was largely ignored in these early years, pirates came to use the south coast of the island as a refuge between plundering voyages. Soon, though, both the English and the Dutch would start work to oust the Portuguese as the premier Indonesian traders. Trading posts would be taken from one group and then retaken back. The Dutch trading company, Vereenidge Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), would eventually gain the advantage.
Even then, the island was spared the cruelty Europeans offered others. The VOC was granted sovereign powers due to the slow communication between them and the Netherlands and used them to consolidate their holdings. During this, Madripoor was becoming the playground of the wealthy. After all, they couldn’t be expected to live on an island where actual work was going on.
The port was still busy as a major stop on the trade route in the 18th century, although the British would supplant the VOC as the major power in the region. Many former pirates and slaves found that they could make a life in the jungles either farming for sustenance or raising highly profitable cash crops such as coffee and tobacco. The authorities usually left them alone.
During the 19th century and into the early 20th century, the Dutch and English would continue to fight over trade in the region. Both, though, were also waging small wars with other countries, like Germany and Italy, in other parts of the world during this period. Small wars were being fought all over Indonesia, but rarely did they affect Madripoor. The island prospered both agriculturally and as a resort from the wars.
In the early 20th century, Indonesia would be affected by both the wars in Europe and, later, in the Pacific. During WWI, trade was almost completely stopped between Indonesia and Europe due to blockades. Trade did pick up with Japan and the United States, but not enough to fully compensate. After the war, trade started back up, but was again shut down as WWII began. This time, though, with Japan in the war also, all trade was practically shut down. In fact, Japan took control of all the resources it could during this period, expelling or sending into hiding, any other governments.
Madripoor has little, in comparison to the rest of Indonesia, in the way of resources, and so was determined to be of little value to the Japanese. Many Europeans escaped and went into hiding on the island. Only a small contingent of Japanese soldiers was left there to guard against trouble. So, Madripoor was able to escape the worst of the war.
After the war, Madripoor announced its plans to join the Republic of Indonesia, but there was strong opposition that split the government. Madripoor never joined the Republic. Instead it was thrown into five years of revolution. Still, the revolution wasn’t devastating. There were few riots in the streets. Instead the revolution took the form of jungle fighting and a number of coups. Finally it ended when a force of islanders, led by a young man named Baran, took over the government and ruled with an iron fist in a velvet glove for more than four decades. The young man, Baran, said he was descended from royalty and declared himself Prince. It was also said, in some quarters, that he was descended from pirates.
Prince Baran’s Government was careful to shield tourists from the “more unsightly” aspects of the island. A major part of the country’s economy was based on tourism and the resorts. The dissatisfied and impoverished were carefully kept out of sight, often by force. A negative image might have damaged the tourist trade, the very life-blood of Madripoor.
A symbiotic arrangement grew out of this. The resort owners would make sure the Prince’s government was well-paid and the government would make sure the owners were safe… especially from the government itself. Its capricious nature might inspire some official to launch a surprise inspection or a search for “subversives” which would hurt business.
By design of both the resort owners and the Prince’s government, the natives worked like animals and lived only slightly better. Shantytowns sprung up on the outskirts of the cities, far away from the view of tourists. Many worked the large remaining plantations for less than adequate wages for the owners who were, not surprisingly, good friends and backers of the government.
But it is a matter of historical record that no matter how much you beat a man down, he will maintain some spark of dignity that needs only some tinder to blaze forth. In the case of the impoverished natives of Madripoor, that tinder was Benny Dharmawijaya.
Dharmawijaya, a man descended from escaped slaves, was never one to just accept his lot in life. While he toiled in the fields gathering tobacco and coffee beans, he was always considering how to change the way things were and what could be done to turn Madripoor into the island paradise the posters and television commercials claimed it was. At night, by the fire in his shack, Dharmawijaya would read the books he ” borrowed” from the mansion house whenever he got a chance to do domestic chores or deliver supplies. He would devour the books from cover to cover, return them, and then “borrow” more. Some of the books on politics and philosophy were a little difficult for him to understand in the beginning, but his meager reading skills improved rapidly.
He began holding meetings with his fellow workers about how they were being oppressed by the regime and how they must do something about it. His co-workers wanted to stage an armed revolution and burn the rich people’s houses, but Dharmawijaya knew better. He had come to understand the teachings of Gandhi and Madison Avenue and he began making plans.
With an army of workers, Dharmawijaya engineered a series of work slowdowns. Days would go by where production was practically nil. And on every occasion when the military would try to intervene with clubs and force, Dharmawijaya was ready. He would arrange for the government to embarrass itself and back down. For instance, a foreign dignitary or a celebrity, whose driver took a wrong turn, would see what was going on. Or a tour bus, running a little behind schedule and trying to make up for lost time would come across the scene by chance.
Dharmawijaya also started a print campaign. At first, the local newspaper would not print his letters so photostatted copies began mysteriously appearing in hotel rooms and getting into foreign newspapers.
Dharmawijaya was an excellent persuader and his war of words soon gained worldwide fame. Pressure was brought to bear on Madripoor to hold free elections. After a few years, the government finally relented and allowed them, figuring they could control and fix the results.
But Dharmawijaya was not easily taken in by the government’s generosity. His next step, shortly before election day, was to invite the world media to watch the “new democracy in action.” So much attention was paid to the elections in the world press that there was no way for the government to rig them quickly enough.
Dharmawijaya was voted into office. Prince Baran discreetly left the island for sanctuary in a sympathetic Southeast Asian country.
The politically cynical predicted that within six months, Dharmawijaya would become as corrupt as his predecessors and as tyrannical. Dharmawijaya has been very careful, though. His decisions have always been for the betterment of the island and his people.
When the huge resort companies wanted to build hotels and casinos, Dharmawijaya agreed to let them build provided at least 60% of the employees were island natives and that within four years the owners would train islanders to assume at least 75% of the managerial positions. He did not let them build casinos, though. That he reserved as the province of the government.
Dharmawijaya set a strip of prime beach property along the island’s north shoreline aside and developers were allowed to bid for rights to lease the land for their hotels. Much of the island’s working capital is derived from these rent payments. He also expanded the commercial seaport to accommodate large tankers and freighters, turning Madripoor into one of the leading ports in Indonesia.
After four years of progress such as this, Dharmawijaya was re-elected by a landslide. He has served two terms and is now going into his third with no sign of loss of popularity among the citizens.
There are those, however, who would rather see a different form of government on Madripoor, even a return of Prince Baran. Dharmawijaya is aware of these factions, but like any legitimate head-of-state, he cannot legally do anything about them until they break the law.