Pringo Atmodjo, a Javanese botanist at the ‘s Lands Plantentuin te Buitenzorg (Buitenzorg Botanic Gardens in present-day Bogor), collected this species of St. John’s wort (Hypericum japonicum) on 11 June 1904 in the Alaslands in northern Sumatra. He was surveying for plants as part of a Dutch military expedition through the Gajo, Alas, and Batak lands in Aceh. The brigades traveled across the highlands, from Lhokseumawe on the coast to the Batak lands south of Danau Toba, on a mission to pacify the interior of Aceh. The Hypericum above was collected just 3 days before Luitenant-kolonel van Daalen’s violent raid on the village of Koeto Reh. The colonial military massacred 313 men, 189 women, and 59 children defending their homes in Koeto Reh. It was one of the biggest massacres of Indigenous people in colonial Indonesia. The Dutch lost two men.
Atmodjo compiled an extensive herbarium collection on the expedition, gathering 544 species in total. Porters on the expedition, mostly Javanese and Ambonese, carried and maintained his traveling herbarium. Each month, coolies transported his specimens back to Koeta Radja (Banda Aceh) for storage. The plants were studied and catalogued in Buitenzorg (Bogor) at the botanic gardens and research station.
This was the first colonial botanical exploration of the Leuser region. Atmodjo’s accompaniment on such an important mission for the Dutch offers insight into the place of bioprospecting in the imperial project.