Aspects of irrigation development in the Netherlands East Indies

07 January 2011

The ‘Romijn’ discharge measurement structure was developed in the Netherlands East Indies. By the end of the colonial period in the 1930s, it had become the standard structure in irrigation. The Romijn design is not only still the main discharge measurement structure in Indonesia, it is also used in Dutch water management practice and education. The question of continuity is at the heart of concepts such as ‘technological tradition’ or ‘technological regime’, and this continuity links the information embodied in a community of practitioners with the hardware and software the members master. Such communities define accepted modes of technical operation. Engineering education is an important mechanism in preference-guided selection of design solutions, and obtaining an engineering degree is much like passing the preparatory requirements for community membership. When, in 1967, a civil engineering student from Delft Polytechnic presented his final paper for an irrigation design to his supervisors, the first question they asked was why he had not used a Romijn weir as an off-take structure. The Dutch irrigation regime, which consists of the explicit and implicit rules of Dutch irrigation design, is the central subject of this paper. In this paper I shall discuss two related issues: (1) how the Netherlands East Indies irrigation regime developed, and (2) how the (dis)continuities in irrigation education and practice following Indonesian independence can be understood. Naturally, while discussion of these issues, to a certain extent at least, depends on the data available, it also depends on the researcher’s perspective.