Encouraging Pride Among the West Papuans Through the History of Raja Ampat

West Papua

The islands of Raja Ampat brings so much pride, not only to the West Papuans but also to Indonesians in general. Almost 75% of the world’s hard coral species are found there. This accounts for Raja Ampat as number one underwater paradise in the world, having possibly the richest underwater biodiversity. You can find whales, sharks, manta rays, sea horses, jelly fish, sea turtles, and even dugongs here. In other parts of the world, dugongs are mostly found in aquariums and declared extinct elsewhere.

However, Raja Ampat’s land diversity is also unique. With various species of birds of paradise, or cendrawasih, only found around the region, non-diving tourists are captivated with Raja Ampat’s magnificent terrestrial flora and fauna. Gorgeous orchid species also grow here.

Despite Raja Ampat being a pride region for tourism, it is important that the West Papuan people aware of its shared history with its Indonesian neighboring island, Maluku, particularly with the Sultanate of Tidore.

But, first of all, let’s learn a bit about how the name Raja Ampat or the Four Kings came about.

The History of Raja Ampat

West Papua

The name Raja Ampat, or literally means the Four Kings, came after the names of the four kings that ruled in the four largest islands in the region. Named after the kings, these four islands—Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool—are surrounding by about 1,500 small islands.

Although first-claimed discovery was by the Portuguese in the 16th century, tens of thousands of years before that there were already human beings living or landing in the region. This is proven by palm prints that can be found in some of the rocks on the beaches of Raja Ampat.

So, where did these four kings come from?

According to the local mythology, seven eggs were said to have been found. Four of those eggs hatched into the four kings and the other three became a ghost, a woman and a stone. How odd isn’t it?!

Anyway, despite officially part of the West Papua today, the people of Raja Ampat do not look quite like the Papuans at large. In fact, they resemble more like Ambonese. How did the Ambonese get to Raja Ampat?

Raja Ampat Under the Ruling of the Sultanate

West Papua

A century after the discovery of Raja Ampat by the Portuguese, the island region was prosperous under the governance of the Sultanate of Tidore. Unfortunately, not long after, the Dutch colonial, through its quasi-state trading company the VOC, managed to penetrate and take control over the sultanate. Not only in spice trading monopoly, the Dutch even had a significant influence in politics, determining who promoted as sultan and who should be put away. In 1779, Prince Nuku’s father, Sultan Muhammad Mashud Jamaluddin, was ill-fatedly captured and sent off the island.

The VOC then appointed Nuku’s cousing, Patra Alam, as the new sultan, and this ignited Nuku’s anger even more.

Patra Alam and the VOC made attempts to apprehend and kill Nuku but he managed to escape. It was during this escapade that Prince Nuku built strong alliances with surrounding regions, including with the kings of the regions across the sea, Raja Ampat.

Role of the Pirates of Raja Ampat in the Fight Against the VOC

West Papua

The people of Raja Ampat were expert seamen then. They fished for livelihood, and the oceans and islands had been their playgrounds. They were famous to be vicious in their voyages and very skilled in traditional weaponries.

When Prince Nuku secured alliances with the kings of Raja Ampat to send the VOC away from their lands, the kings gave major support by providing up to 150 coracora and 7,500 troops and seamen. Together, they managed to take Tidore back in 1801, despite only using traditional weaponries in comparison to the Dutch’s altilleries.

During the ruling of Prince Nuku, Raja Ampat along with the Sultanate’s other territories prospered.

With traditional weaponries, they miraculously managed to win Tidore back to the hand of Prince Nuku. Imagine what kind of skill and spirit these pirates had to beat the VOC’s artilleries!

The Pirates of Raja Ampat: Who were They?

West Papua

It was related by one of the Dutch’s historians that the pirates of Raja Ampat were vicious seamen. They were not only greedy, but they also had never hesitated killing those on their ways.

The pirates of Raja Ampat were natives of the Biak islands and from the Omkai clan. Among one of their heroic figures was Sekfamneri who, along with his seamen, was not only skilled warriors of the seas, but they also had magical abilities. Impressed with his skill and his service winning battles for Prince Nuku, the latter married one of his daughters to the legendary warrior and made him king of Waigeo. With this move, Tidore and Raja Ampat strengthened their relationship.

Although after a few sultans after the Dutch retook power over the sultanate, but the intermingling between the Tidore and Raja Ampat natives since then has allowed both Islam and Christianity fluorish in the region.

At present, you can see many tribes of Raja Ampat comprised of both Muslim and Christian populations living together in harmony. This should only remind you of the story of courage and resilience shared between the Ambonese and those of Raja Ampat, part of West Papua today. Together with the Ambonese, the West Papuans can be confidently proud to be one Indonesia through this shared history.