A tribute to Mads Lange – the peacemaker in Bali

A peacemaking 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. His name is Mads Johansen Lange, a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Dane, who is buried in Kuta in a small Chinese graveyard on a road named after him, Jalan Tuan Lange, in a forgotten tomb guarded by a fine Dalmatian statue.

To honor the legacy of Mads Lange on the occasion of his 200th anniversary on 18 September 2007, the dedicated Danish-born Dr. Peter Bloch (founder of Tanah Merah Art Resort) produced the comprehensive coffee-table book “Mads Lange – The Bali Trader and Peacemaker” (link to picture of book) with the help of Leonard Lueras and Gustaaf Schouten. Dr. Bloch, who has spent 50 years working and living in Indonesia and Bali while travelling extensively throughout the archipelago, recognized this as the perfect opportunity to write the first book in English on Mads Lange’s adventurous life.

Moreover, Dr. Bloch carried out a full renovation of Lange’s tomb in Kuta to make it stand out for the grand celebration of the anniversary, during which Lange’s many descendants from around the globe came to Bali to take part in the week-long, lavish festivities. The celebrations were arranged by Dr. Bloch and Jens Olesen, Danish-Norwegian Consulate General in Brazil, who is a distant relative of Lange. Today Dr. Bloch is continuously maintaining the extravagant Dalmatian-spotted tomb monument and memorial site in honor of this legendary and courageous tradesman.

Photo of the book

The 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.


The history of Mads Lange

At the age of 26, Mads Lange, his three younger brothers and his friend Captain John Burd set sails for Hong Kong in 1833 and never returned to Denmark. Soon after arrival Lange went to Bali and Lombok looking for opportunities. He chose Lombok as the base for his trading ventures, possibly because rice production was extremely high there and much greater than in Bali.

At Mads Lange’s time, there were two rival kingdoms: Mataram-Lombok to the north and the more powerful Karangasem-Lombok to the south. Karangasem-Lombok welcomed Lange and he became their trusted adviser and harbor chief and was granted a virtual monopoly of all trading in Lombok. He stayed there until 1839 so the subtitle of the book can equally well refer 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 with the raja of Mataram-Lombok in 1835. 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. Schouten, a talented painter, beautifully illustrated many of the dramatic episodes from Lange’s life. The book also has some wonderful old maps and many black and white photos of Lombok from Dutch archival sources.

In Bali the raja of Kesiman gave him a piece of 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 rajas personally, arriving on his horse which was twice the size of the local animals, and he impressed them with his respect for local customs.
Lange, the ultimate expat, lived in Bali style with a well-stocked wine cellar, billiard table, chamber orchestra, two wives, concubines, children, servants and slaves – not to mention his beloved Danish Dalmatian dogs. He performed a useful role mediating between the Dutch and the South Balinese rajas and was instrumental in getting two important – although fudged and misleading – treaties signed with the raja of Kesiman in 1841 and 1842, under which the raja 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. These activities are documented by 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 a 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 when the blockade badly hit Lange’s business. The rice harvest suffered from the wars – a situation worsened by rat plagues – 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 back to Denmark in 1856 when he was invited to a banquet at the Denpasar palace by the new raja. Upon returning home he became violently sick, coughed up blood and his lips turned blue. He had been poisoned and died at home two days later on 13 May at the age of 48. He had been in Bali for 18 years.
His nephew, Christian Peter Lange, 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.