Guest blog by Dr. Feriyal Amal Aslam
I had an opportunity to join one of the field visits as part of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation training in North Maluku. I traveled with one of the teams to the historic island of Tidore, which is located just west of the larger, spiderlike island of Halmahera. We took a short speedboat ride from the main population center of the province in Ternate. It seemed as if we were traveling from one volcano to another. In Tidore we were greeted by two university leaders, of Khairun University and Nuku University of Tidore. We reached a village named Indonesiana, where Tidore teams started their field research. Interviews included ward leaders and other community members. Elders voiced their concerns over drainage issues, which they have seen change over time due to soil erosion and flooding in their vicinity.
After the initial interviews we were invited to meet with the Sultan of Tidore at his kedaton (palace). We were graciously invited to have lunch with the Sultan’s family member, the rector of University of Khairun first, which was followed by a special treat: a Durian party. This was some of the best durian I have ever tasted to date in Indonesia. After that we headed to the Sultan’s Kedaton.
The Sultan does not live at the kedaton, it is more akin to the court where he conducts official business. On the right and left side of the stage/throne reserved for the Sultan, there were seats provided for his religious and governmental representatives. They were all dressed in long black robes and some with Royal turbans on their heads. Participants and other people sat opposite the stage as audience members opposite the stage.
The Sultan offered us delicious spiced coffee and equally delicious local sweets made with rice flour and palm sugar called Palinta. The Sultan then suggested we walk to the nearby Spanish Fort (Fernando Tores). The Fort provided an even better view of the sprawling archipelago. This fort was built roughly between 1606-1663. The fort seems to have been built as part of a strategic negotiation to maintain Tidore independence from the Dutch. Digging a little deeper I find that the island of Tidore played a key role between the fight between the Dutch and the Spaniards at this moment of history (Tidore: The Spanish fort on the island of Tidore 1606-1663).
After the walk to the Spanish fort with the Sultan, he gave us a tour of his Kedaton. Here I found myself drawn to this picture of Sultan Nuku hanging near the Sultan’s work desk and his family tree.
I discovered that Sultan Nuku is an Indonesian national hero due to the 25 years of resistance that he put up against the Dutch. Returning from the palace we discussed the makam (grave) of the first Sultan of Tidore. Within walking distance from the Kedaton was the Royal graveyard with Nuku’s grave along with his family members. “Pahlawan” (national hero) was engraved upon the outer wall.
I noticed that he died in his early 60’s and most probably as part of the the resistance against the Dutch. Unlike the Sultanate of Maluku to the South, that sided with the Dutch and and gained prominence and wealth, the Tidore Sultanate continued to resist, and maintained their independence from the Dutch by seeking support from other allies, like the Spanish. In 1781 as the Sultanate weakened, Prince Nuku departed for Papua and where he acted as a Sultan for the Papuan islands and received widespread support from the people there.
Tidore has had complex past, with waves of greatness and decline. Today Sultan Nuku’s story holds importance locally and the story of resistance is part of building the unified story of Indonesia.
Intrigued, I tried to dig deeper into the history of Tidore to find the unique position that this particular island has had in the war between the Dutch and the Spaniards. For more details read Leonard Andaya’s The world of Maluku: eastern Indonesia in the early modern period from the University of Hawaii Press
Another important piece of history here is the relative peace that was maintained in Tidore when the greater Maluku region was embroiled in a bitter religio-ethnic civil war. Amidst the sectarian conflict of 1999, Tidore was spared and the Sultan of Tidore played an important role in negotiating peace for the neighboring regions. For a history of the conflict in North Maluku see Christopher R. Duncan’s book Violence and Vengeance.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to join the field trip to understand potential disasters for small island communities. I was also fortunate to learn about the important historical role that Tidore played across the region. These factors say a lot about the important cultural relationships that continue to endure, and also help us to learn about identity, and in turn the resilience of local people in the face of all odds and extreme conflict. In meeting Sultan Husain Syah, learning of his ancestors, I learned that these social ties and lessons of history i.e. the legacy of sustained bravery and community continue to play an important role in building resilience.