“... the history of Tidore and the Papuan islands teems with hongi voyages, raids everywhere, revolts wherever possible,” contends Dr. F.C. Kamma. This tumultuous period that lasted for around four centuries typifies the relations between both regions. Gurabesi, the war hero who originally came from Biak, achieved fame and prominence during the earliest part of this historical relationship when the Papuans lost their independence and when their homeland was no longer wholly owned.
Prior to this decline of Papuan power and glory, Fakoki and Pasrefi, two heroes from Biak, and Papuan raiders appeared on the political stage. As fiercely independent people, they painted Papuan history with colors of victory, power, and glory in the region nowadays called eastern Indonesia.
The Period of Fakoki and Pasrefi
To better understand Gurabesi’s role during this historical relationship, we also need to understand the period before the Papuans lost their independence. This period came before the Tidore Sultanate existed and came to power. It was made popular by the saga and drama of two Biak heroes: Fakoki and Pasrefi.
The ancestors of the Biak people during their period of independence did not have chiefs, kings, nor great authorities. Instead, their leaders were older men who were in charge of their clans. In additon, they also had some celebrated figures: heroes, clever speakers, and wealthy men. Their heroes conducted raids and discovered far-away islands in the north-west of what is nowadays called West Papua. These celebrated figures sighted and visited the islands of Waigeo, Ayau, and the Sawai people of Patania, Halmahera.
Coastal Papuans and Papuan islanders in the old days not only made long voyages with their long, outrigger canoes to other places along the northern and north-western coasts of their homeland. They also rowed and sailed their canoes as far as various islands and places in what is nowadays called eastern Indonesia outside the Papuan Islands and were known here as notorious pirates.
The Biak-Numforese islanders, adventurous and daring seafarers, were among those Papuans who made their long and eventful voyages. They then settled on various islands of what is later known as the Raja Ampat Archipelago, west of the present-day Sorong.
As emigrants from Biak-Numfor, they came from seven groups. First, the Numforese from Efman and Arar who had lived in the Raja Ampat for centuries. Due to the influence of the Muslim Sultanate of Tidore, they became Muslims in 1912. Second, the Beser people who originally came from Sowek, Biak, settled on West Waigeo, Pam, and Kofiau; they experienced inter-marriages with the Tobelo people from East Halmahera. Third, the Biak people from Wardo, Usba, and Mamoribo who settled along the northern coast of the Bird’s Head and the east coast of Waigeo and Ayau islands. Fourth, the Omka or Kafdarun people from Sowek who later lived on North Batanta. They carried out raids to Ceram and Haruku, two islands in South Moluccas, captured slaves there, and adopted them. Their culture is typically Biak culture. Fifth, the Biak people who became members of the Moi, a non-Biak tribe, in the north-west Bird’s Head. These Biak people originally came from Sor in North Biak and adopted Malibela as their new clan name. Sixth, the Biakkers from Sowek; a part of them were adopted into the Madiek, another non-Biak tribe, and another part continued their voyage to Sorong. Those living in Sorong became the descendants of Sengaji Warfandu and Warwei. Seventh, members of the Rumbiak clan who originally came from Sowek. They drifted on their canoe to the inlet of Waigeo.
Fakoki and Pasrefi, the two heroes from Biak, were two of the most notorious pirates. They led their fellow-Biakkers in various rak or raids as far as Timor, Gorontalo, Ceram, Ablaw, Buru, and Saleier, all are located in the present-day eastern Indonesia. Their raids here included killing villagers, marauding, and robbing their belongings.
No wonder the word “Papua” in Timor meant “pirates”. As a traditional record of their raids as pirates outside their homeland, they sang songs that mentioned the places they had attacked. About the effects of their raids here, they said: “We killed the men and captured the women.” To commemorate their raids, they named their children after these places, such as Haruku, Amblaw, two islands in South Moluccas, and Ponyenamberi (“the first on the beach of the strangers”).
The notorious Papuan pirates were also described by other sources. “All these inhabitants of the Papuan areas are big and famous pirates, and the people of the Island of Ceram are extraordinarily afraid and scared of them,” reported Valentijn, a Dutch traveler, mid 17th century. The commercially profitable Island of Banda was also not free from the destructive effects of the Papuan raids. “Due to the increasing brutality of the Papuan pirates, the trade of the Bandanese was nearly crushed and became almost impossible,” wrote F.C. Kamma in 1948 about the raids that had taken place in Banda before the 20th century. In 1765, Papuan pirates destroyed Amblaw, an island near Ambon and Buru.
The most daring voyage ever made that involved Papuan crew occurred in 1824. Seventy pirate vessels were sighted near the coast of Banyuwangi, East Java. They appeared to be “pirates” from the Moluccas who also had Papuan slaves or paddlers as their crew. The Papuans mentioned here had clearly lost their independence.
These Papuans came from a rather limited area. As slaves and paddlers, they never returned home. Instead, they were used and sold as slaves. Playing their roles as such, the part they played in the conquest of Ternate, an island north of Tidore (which rivaled Tidore for political and economic dominance in the Moluccas and a part of Papua) on July 21, 1801 together with the Tidorese and Patanians was unknown among the Papuans in their homeland. “This past remained silent,” commented Kamma.
It did not remain silent, however, when it came to the saga and drama of Fakoki and Pasrefi in their battle against the Patanians. The Biak raiders led by their heroes and the Patanians encountered in a lot of battles. Their personal experiences that stretched for years and that were filled with exciting, tense, and gripping events and actions were proudly told and retold by their tribal members from one generation to another. Their saga and drama were tales of Papuan glory, of Papuan exaltation and achievement, of Papuan fame and power embodied by Fakoki and Pasrefi.
The two heroes were known as the first two Biak blacksmiths from Wardo, a village in Biak. As blacksmiths, they forged spears, arrow-heads, and other weapons and went raiding, pirating, marauding, and capturing inhabitants in Waigeo and in other islands, such as Ceram, Buru, Amblaw, Halmahera, and Ambon in the Moluccas, a group of islands in the present-day eastern Indonesia.
Both heroes had their own strongholds in Asokweri and Wauyai, two villages in Waigeo, also called Wardo. According to oral tradition, Wauyai was formerly the center of the Kawe tribe. The tribe claimed it had rajas or kings long before Tidore rose into a powerful sultanate.
The time Fakoki and Pasrefi settled in Waigeo, the Sawai people had lived in Patani, Halmahera, an island in Northern Moluccas. Because they lived in Patani, they were also called the Patanians. The Patanians or Sawai people were actually Biak emigrants or their descendants who had lived there before the two heroes emigrated to Waigeo.
Though the Patanians and Biak emigrants or their descendants in Waigeo were clearly brothers and sisters, they were also at war against one another. So, the two heroes from Wardo waged a war against the Sawai or Patanians and defeated them. The Sawai retaliated; they first pursued both to Asokweri but then withdrew their fleet. Both heroes later planned to attack Patani again.
Meanwhile, they built another territory on the Ayau Islands, north of Waigeo. Then, they were ready for another raid on Tiwyan, a great fortress in Patani. They besieged it, took it by surprise, and massacred the garrison.
The Sawai people, however, reorganized their forces and fleets. With the help of the people on Gebe, an island southeast of Patani, the Sawai people traveled in a huge fleet, pursued the Biak fleet, and besieged Kapakja, a Biak fortress near Asokweri. The Biak warriors led by Fakoki and Pasrefi attacked the Pataniers by surprise: they stood on platforms hidden behind shrubs and rolled heavy boulders that killed hundreds of Sawai fighters.
However, the Biak raiders who got the upper hand did not enjoy their victory for a long time. The use of nature around the fortress by the more tactical Sawai and Gebe soldiers finally turned the battle into their favor. The Kapakja that was located on a barren table-land could no longer supply the Biak raiders with food and water. Through treachery from within the Biak fighters, their supply-line was cut off by the Sawai and Gebe fighters who besieged the fortress with their fleet. Fakoki and Pasrefi and the raiders they led eventually ran out of food and water and were starving.
To save their lives, both heroes decided to propose a truce on certain conditions. Both offered to deliver tributes consisting of slaves, sago, turtle shells, and mats to the Sawai after three months.
The Sawai and Gebe raiders accepted the conditions and withdrew their fleet. The battle that had been fiercely fought and continued with starvation ended after five weeks. For the first time in their history, Fakoki and Pasrefi and the Biak people they led lost their independence and became subjected to Tidore.
After waiting for three months, the Sawai an Gebe people got the tributes promised to them. To carry out their duties, the chiefs of Patani and Gebe escorted Fakoki and Pasrefi and their tributes to Tidore.
Under the Rule of Tidore Sultanate
They arrived at the court of the sultan and presented their samson, their tributes to him. The slaves and products they had to offer that necessitated a long voyage to Tidore were new cultural elements for them. The word samson has the word som also spelled as syom, a word in the Biak language. Som or syom means bowing down, prostrating oneself; hanging, pendent, like legs of hair.
When Fakoki and Pasrefi and their Biak followers arrived at the palace of the Sultan of Tidore, both heroes, for the first time, had to prostate before him. They had to approach his majesty they called Mansren (Lord) who ruled over Sup Mansren, Land of the Lord, the Tidore Sultanate, by “crawling” on all fours.
This precept that they had to keep and control strictly actually did not flow in their free-roaming and adventure-searching pirate blood. Such crawling was in fact a humiliating posture. The free-loving, individualistic, and adventurous heroes had to admit for the first time that they were no longer lords of themselves and of their tribal members. This time, they had to subject themselves to their new mansren: the Sultan of Tidore.
Why did they contradict their sense of independence with their subordination by humiliating themselves in front of the sultan? In their world-view, the samson ritual would endow them with mana or magic power and with barakas or blessings. They noticed that the magic power and blessings radiated from the solid, shining building and floor of the palace. To profit fully from these new, magic elements, they took care not to touch them with their feet but to nearly embrace them by prostrating and crawling on hands and knees. By offering the tributes in such a fashion, Fakoki and Pasrefi became givers who were superior to the sultan as the receiver of their slaves, products, and other valuables. Demonstrating such a symbolic action and its significance to the sultan meant Fakoki and Pasrefi still kept their dignity. The sultan, in turn, conferred each of the heroes a functional title. Fakoki was given the title of Dimara and Pasrefi the title of Sangaji Wardo. The heroes, sultan, and other people present at the court understood the meaning of such a reciprocal relation.
After they returned home, their spirit of independence took over. They realized that they had become “representatives of the Sultan of Tidore”. To be submissive to the sultan, however, was more than their flesh and blood could stand. As fiercely independent people, Fakoki and Pasrefi and their tribal members did not want to succumb easily to the sultan.
They, therefore, made another attempt to break free from the sultan’s grip. They demonstrated their defiance of authority by establishing a new stronghold on Abidon, an atoll island of the Ayau group, north of Waigeo.
It was a strategic choice. This island was protected by an extensive barrier-reef. It was nearly inaccessible, especially, for an enemy attacking it from the sea because its entrance was small. An enemy and its fleet that ventured on passing the entrance would expose themselves to easy attacks by the Biak raiders from both sides of the entrance. In addition, the island had very fertile soil and was remotely located.
Fakoki and Pasrefi who lived on Abidon thought about their past and future. The allures of victory and fame in the past as pirates were not over and done with yet.
How could they revive this glory of the past? Through planning and reorganization of their fighting forces, they hoped they would restore their former glory.
To try to regain their past glory, Fakoki and Pasrefi needed supernatural favor. They had to make sure Manseren Nanggi, Lord of the Sky, favored their plan.
So, they erected a ten-meter tall, three-story scaffold to carry out the rituals of fan Nanggi, the feedings of heavens. They offered the Lord plenty of food, utensils, and other offerings as near to the sky as possible. Acting as a shaman and a priest, Fakoki stood with outstretched arms on the highest platform. To appeal to the favor of the Lord, both heroes sang a hymn: “Oh Sky, look down upon us.” No favorable signs from Lord of the Sky were noticed even after they added more offerings. Fakoki then turned his attention to his arms to see whether they were shaking, a sign that his earnest prayer for help was heard and answered. They were not. The Lord still kept silent, a sign that He did not grant their request.
The heroes, however, did not give up easily. This time, they challenged Lord of the Sky himself who did not allow them to start another battle with their enemies. They shot their sharpened arrow-heads, and even used a small bronze cannon to fire cannonballs, over and over into the sky. At the same time, the gun and lightning from the sky boomed and flashed. The two heroes were struck dead on the spot. Their death ended a heroic history of the Biak Papuans.
The Sawai probably lived on Abidon for a long period of time. Nowadays, some villages and sites bear witnesses to their presence on this island: Yensawai, Nyandisawai, and Bukor-Sawai (“Sawai skulls”).
Other Biak leaders or dignitaries after Fakoki and Pasrefi who entered the court of the Tidore Sultan also crawled on their fours when they approached the place where the sultan sat enthroned. This time, the som ritual they performed introduced a new cultural element. When they arrived at the feet of the ruler, they did the som, that is, they bowed their heads and seized for a moment the big toe of his right foot. Then, they greeted the sultan: “Jow Mansren (Be greeted, o Lord)!” Catching hold of the big toe in those days is the same as shaking hands with someone nowadays. After touching the big toe of the sultan, they offered him their tributes.
The Period of Gurabesi
The legend of Gurabesi appeared during the time the Tidore Sultanate in the North Moluccan Archipelago claimed to have certain rights on the Raja Ampat Archipelago and even to the fringe of the Geelvink Bay area. The influence of this sultanate on the north-western and northern parts of the current West Papua and a small part of Papua was recorded to have lasted from the fifteenth to late nineneenth century. It was also reported that Gurabesi came into contact with this sultanate in the fifteenth century when he helped the Sultan of Tidore defeat his enemies, married his daughter, and was appointed a vassal (bearing the title of Kolano or Raja) of the sultan. He and his wife lived in their “palace” in Waigeo, a large island of the Raja Ampat Archipelago.
The earliest years of Gurabesi’s relations with Tidore, however, was part myth part history. Gurabesi was a descendant of the Biak tribe in the Geelvink Bay. Either he or his parents then emigrated to Waigeo and lived there. As a war hero from the Papuan Islands, those west of the present-day Sorong, he and his fellow-Biakkers (all were men) helped Ciliaci, the first Sultan of Tidore, in the war between Tidore and Gailolo, the present-day Jailolo on the island of Halmahera, North Moluccas. With using only one magic arrow, Gurabesi was able to kill all the enemy soldiers and made Tidore the winner of the war. As a reward for his assistance, he succeeded in marrying Boki Taibah, a daughter of the Sultan and a princess of the sultanate. Both returned to Waigeo where Gurabesi served as a representative of Tidore. (The Biak immigrants who lived on the island during those days also called the island as Wardjo, their place of origin in Biak.) The couple got for sons born from four eggs. They became the four kings who then rules the Papuan Islands later known as the Raja Ampat Archipelago, the Four-King Islands.
While living on Waigeo, Gurabesi and his wife became very influential and popular. They lived during the time Ciliciati became the first Muslim sultan in Tidore for seventeen years: from 1495 to 1512.
Treaty of cooperation
To strengthen the relations between the kings in North Moluccas and Papua, the Moluccan kings (raja) made a treaty of cooperation with Papuan kings in the Raja Ampat Archipelago in 1535. According to a report, they included the kings of Vaigama, Vaigue, Quibibi, and Mincinbo. The first two names were later identified as Waigama on the island of Missol and Waigeo; Quibibi is probably the present-day Gebe, a large island west of Waigeo, but the present-day name for Mincinbo has not been identified yet. The same names of the four islands were mentioned again in 1569. Possibly for the first time, a report in 1643 mentioned “Raja Salwatti”, nowadays known as Salawati, another island of the Raja Ampat Archipelago. It is possible that the four sons of Gurabesi and his wife were the Papuan kings who made a treaty with North Moluccas in the early sixteenth century.
Then, the influence of Tidore on the Papuan Islands emerged. A report in 1660 stated: “The Papuans of all the islands are subjected to Tidore.” Eleven years later, another report mentioned “Waigama, Salawati, Batantam Mesowal or Misool, Waigeoe or Pulau Wardjo”. Batantam is Batanta and Waigeoe is Waigeo nowadays; Pulau Wardjo means Wardjo Island. In 1678, a report stated: “Nothing is known about the supremacy of Tidore on the coast of New Guinea.” The coast meant was probably the north-western and northern coasts of the present-day Indonesian province of West Papua and a small part of Papua, another Indonesian province. Both provinces were called Netherlands New Guinea or Dutch New Guinea during the Dutch colonization of the western half of New Guinea. In 1700, another report mentioned the influence of the Tidore Sultanate in Papua: “Tidorese influence has increased on the Papuan islands.”
The ways Tidore exercised its power on the Papuans
How did Tidore exercise its power on the Papuans? It effectuated obligatory tributes, slavery, and destructions of Papuan properties and life. Depending on their need, the self-servicing Tidorese occasionally took advantage of the Papuans. Sometimes, rebellious Papuans fought against Tidore which retaliated.
The obligatory tributes were reinforced by rewards and brutal punishments. Each year, the Tidorese Sultanate sent its notorious hongi fleets to take tributes from the Papuans. Papuans who paid their tributes, including those who came to Tidore, were given various awards, including various titles such as Kolano, Raja, Vassal or King; Sangaji or Sengaji, District Chief; Mayor (Major, an army rank); Kapitaraw, Kapisai, Admiral; Utusan, Representative, Ambassador; Gimalaha, Gimara, Dimara, Village Chief; Sawo, Sawor, Overseer of the Sultan’s Estate; Marinyo, Marino, Mirino?, Overseer; Jurbasa, Interpreter; and Suruhan, Suruan, Ambassador, Village Chief. Some of those titles such as Mayor, Kapitarau, Kapisa, Dimara, Sawor, Mirino, and Suruan have been retained as family names of Biak-Numfor Papuans. Those who did not pay their tributes, however, were brutally punished. They were captured as slaves, their villages were marauded, their garden plots were pillaged and destroyed. Those who refused to obey Tidore’s order or neglect it were killed. A Numforese informant said: “The Sultan of Tidore once gave the message: ‘Everyone who does not pay the obligatory tribute will be killed, together with all the members of his clan or village.’ ”
Some relevant facts from what one of the notorious hongi fleets from Tidore did for five months in 1790 confirms what the informant just said. Those who suffered from their neglect of the obligatory tributes were Papuans from Kumamba islands, north of Sarmi, now a coastal town some hundred miles west of the present-day Jayapura. It was reported that “178 people were captured as slaves, 53 killed, 3 villages destroyed.”
Not all hongi crew members were safe and sound. Two men were killed, two others were missing, and many were injured.
A hongi fleet used a very large vessel resembling a sea-turtle and was therefore called cora-cora. It had two or three decks or rowing platforms that looked like the Mediterranean galleys or triremes. Fifty to sixty men carefully selected rowed or sailed the vessel; they were armed with spears, rifles, and sometimes bronze cannons. From eighteen two twenty cora-coras went raiding along the north-western and the northern coasts of the Dutch controlled New Guinea.
Killing and destroying were not always carried out by the hongi fleets. When their food rations diminished, they made villages they visited feed their crew. When they entered uncharted waters or territories, they sometimes made villagers join them as pilots and show the crew the way.
There were times, however, when the Papuan kings or vassals on the islands near the Moluccas revolted against the Tidore Sultanate. To assert their defiance, they traveled with their hongi fleet to Salawati and proclaimed themselves independent rulers. They captured 150 people, including 104 family members of the Raja of Salawati, but the king was able to redeem them.
Tidore responded to their revolt strongly. The sultanate brought 254 Papuans to slavery.
Another uprising was instigated by the Sawai people in Patani of Southeast Halmahera through an alliance with the Salawati people in the early eighteenth century. Long before the emergence of the Tidore Sultanate, the Sawai people emigrated from Biak and settled in Patani and, as a result, were also called the Patanians. These Biak emigrants later settled in Maba and Weda in Tidore and also in north-eastern Ceram; here they were named Tidorese Papuans. The Patanians in Halmahera compelled the Salawati people, immigrants from Biak or their descendants, to help them as crew members on their fleet in an uprising against Tidore in 1725. For around three years, the allied Patanians and Salawati people were able to blockade Tidore.
Another treaty and the end of slavery
A treaty, however, ended their blockade in 1728. The treaty lasted for over forty years.
In 1771, Tidore which was still thirsty for dominance sent a retaliatory expedition consisting of 30 c0ra-coras and 1.500 men as crew to Salawati. They punished the Sawai of Patani and executed six of them by hanging.
This incident was brought to the attention of the Dutch Government, but the information it provided was scanty. The government, therefore, had to collect more information it could rely on to decide on a policy concerning that incident and others related to the future status of Tidore Sultanate in the Dutch governance.
Definite steps concerning hongi raids and slavery were taken by the colonial rulers in 1859. The raids were brought to a stop in that year and slavery was ended in 1879. As a result of these decisions, 3.078 “slaves” in Tidore and 1.371 others in Ternate were emancipated. The Dutch Government redeemed those in Tidore by paying the sultanate 50 thousand guilders, the former currency unit of the Netherlands, and those in Ternate by paying 51 thousand guilders. It was estimated that there were more than those slaves redeemed by the government. How many were still held in captivity in the Moluccas, however, were not known. It took around 60 years since 1859 before the last “slaves” in Salawati were emancipated in 1918.
The waning days of Papuan glory
Long before the emancipation policy was carried out and the Tidore Sultanate still exercised it power on the Papuans, the sultanate appointed Papuan kings or vassals as its representatives in the Raja Ampat Archipelago. Though serving as such, the phrase “Papuan kings” does not always refer to Papuan dignitaries in that area. A report in 1521 mentioned “a Raja Papua in Gilolo”, the present-day Jailolo in East Halmahera. Papuan kings in the sixteenth century could also come from Ceram, South Moluccas.
How come? At that time, a lot of people, Papuans and non-Papuans, did not know who the Papuan kings were and where the Papuan Islands were located. The locations could refer to East Halmahera and Ceram and the Papuan kings could come from these areas.
Gurabesi is a different case. This Biak war hero and Tidore dignitary appeared during the time the glory of the Papuans outside their homeland began to wane. This decline was caused by the dramatic defeat of Fakoki and Pasrefi after their battle with the Sawai people. Slowly but surely the Sawai people also caused the loss of independence of the Biak people in the Raja Ampat Archipelago, along the northern coast of the main island inhabited by the Papuans, and around the Geelvink Bay. They would be subjected to the ruling power of Tidore.
The following story about Gurabesi and his Biak raiders, though adventurous and renowned, took place during the waning glory of the once proud and fiercely independent Biak people. Their belief in their Lord is noticeable from the prayers of the Biak crew to Sekfamneri, the Appointed Person, another name for Lord of the Utopia.
Some Effects on the Relations between Eastern Indonesia and Papua
“Who were the ancestors of the present-day Moluccans?” I once asked an Ambonese friend of mine.
“They are a mixed stock of Polynesians, Malayans, and Melanesians,” he answered.
The relations between the coastal Papuans and Moluccas, including Tidore, and Timor in the past seem to have also resulted in the inter-marriages between the coastal Papuans, the Melanesians, and the people living in the Moluccas and Timor. Nowadays, one can recognize the Melanesian physical features among various men and women from the Moluccas and Timor.
The long relationships between the people living on the Papuan Islands, the Moluccas, and Timor have also left cultural similarities. Similar folktales, folklores, and language elements have been discovered among the people living in these regions.
Genetic research on the DNA makeup of these people will likely confirm the idea that the people with Melanesian features in the Moluccas and Timor are also genetically related. If this research proves to be true, it will have some implications on nationality and nationalism as understood by both Indonesia and Papuan separatists.
For Indonesian politicians and military figures defending Indonesian unity, the discoveries of biological, cultural, and genetic affinities among the people living in eastern Indonesia, including Papua and West Papua, would of course strengthen their fight against Papuan separatists who want to establish their independent state and nation. The Papuan separatists would probably reject this idea as contradictory to historical facts. They would point to the fact that historical affinities did not prevent, for example, descendants of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain to establish other independent states and nations, such as the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The problem of overcoming Papuan separatists seems to be more complex than just affinities among various ethnic groups in eastern Indonesia.
Copyright © 2oo8. All rights reserved. Published with permission from the author.