VOC in Papua Part 2: The Pirates of Papua and Their Role in The Fight Against the Dutch Colonials

VOC in Papua
VOC in Papua

Ever heard the story about fearless pirates of Papua who were unlike any other typical pirates? Well, now you are about to hear a tale of very unconventional pirates from the island far east. Weaponry was not their only skill, and their leader was told to have used magic in their voyage across the oceans. Curious?

To know more about how these pirates played a part in the fight against VOC in Papua, let’s first learn about the VOC’s hegemony in the Sultanate of Tidore. At that time, mid 17th century, some of Papua regions were parts of the Sultanate.


VOC in Tidore

VOCin Papua
Voc in Tidore

In the 16th century, the Sultanate of Tidore was in rivalry with its northern neighbor, the Sultanate of Ternate. It sought to ally with Spain, as Ternate with Portugal. However, a century or so later, in 1663, Ternate became a free kingdom after the Portuguese managed to demand the Spanish to back down from the region. For a breach of territory, the Spanish were deemed incompliant with the Tordesillas Agreement the two countries signed in two centuries earlier.

Unfortunately, this freedom did not last long. Three years after, the VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie) ‘bought’ this freedom. They forced the Sultan then to sign a contract allowing the VOC’s monopoly on Tidore’s harvest of cloves. Subsequently, the VOC’s position in Tidore was strengthened by the establishment of a few VOC’s strongholds in the region. This gave the VOC more opportunities to easily penetrate into other neighbouring kingdoms too.

The Uprising of the Prince

Not only monopolizing the spice trades in the region, but the VOC also meddled in the matters of government. Until one day in 1779, this intervention got way out of hand with the capture of the then Sultan, Sultan Muhammad Mashud Jamaluddin.

By right, the next in line for the throne was Prince Nuku, one of Sultan Jamaluddin’s son. However, out of dislike for the prince, the VOC appointed Patra Alam—Nuku’s cousin—as the Sultan instead.

In the year after, Patra Alam conspired with the governor of Ternate, who then pro VOC, to capture Nuku. Fortunately, the prince escaped to Patani at the southern part of Halmahera, an island in North Maluku.

From this base area, Prince Nuku established alliances with the chiefs of Halmahera villages and kings of the islands of Raja Ampat. Raja Ampat was a region of Papua comprising of four kingdoms. Their kings were willing to help Prince Nuku, especially considering Raja Ampat was part of the Sultanate of Tidore then.

The Pirate Confederate

Under the banner of Prince Nuku, the alliances built a navy confederate launching its first attack to the VOC’s occupied areas in 1780. With a total of 65 coracora, each of 150 pirate troops and two canons, they attacked the southern Sulawesi and northern part of Talaud. It was said that Raja Salawati, one of the kings of Raja Ampat, contributed significantly, up to 45 coracora. Another account stated that the total pirate troops involved were 7,500, distributed on 150 ships.

The fights against the VOC occupation continued in Maluku and its surrounding areas even years after Patra Alam stepped down and replaced by Prince Nuku’s brother, Kamaluddin. Despite a few losses and betrayals, Prince Nuku and his pirate confederate managed to take Tidore back in 1801.

Under the ruling of Sultan Nuku, the Sultanate of Tidore reached its glorious era. Among his better achievements was uniting both Tidore and Ternate in fights against the Dutch colonials. Since then, both Ternate and Tidore—along with the regions under their rulings, including parts of Papua—prospered.


The Pirates of Papua

VOC in Papua

How did the skillful pirates of Papua help Prince Nuku’s pirate confederate win or survive each battle?

Well, as related by the Dutch then, the pirates of Papua were vicious, greedy and very much willing to kill anyone on their ways. This was despite their nakedness, naivety, and idiocy.

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!

So, who are these people?

Descendents of the natives of Biak islands, these pirate clan of Omkai operated on the seas of Papua and its surrounding regions, usually taking women as hostages.

A heroic figure named Sekfamneri of the Waigeo island and his armies were told not only skilled sea warriors. They also possessed magic with the ability to bring rain and invite fish on board.

Sekfamneri was married to the Sultan’s daughter and made king of Waigeo as the trophy for his triumph in one of the battles. Thus was a tale of how the ties between Tidore and Raja Ampat of Papua was strengthened.


VOC in Papua

VOC in Papua
VOC in Papua

Although there was not a significant account on the VOC in Papua, the mass slaughtering of a VOC’s general, Coenraad van Dijk and his armies, in 1783 proved the VOC was in Papua then. It happened at Batanta, Raja Ampat, when the Papuans tricked the Dutch by pretending to surrender.

Nevertheless, through the story of Prince Nuku’s rebellion and the bravery of his Papuan pirate armies, it can certainly be concluded that the people of Papua played a significant role in the triumph of the Sultanate of Tidore against the VOC.