Muridan Widjojo's Adventure to Salawati Island

A report of a TANAP researcher in the footsteps of the Moluccan Prince Nuku

Last October, seemingly in the right season, Muridan Widjojo decided to leave his huge VOC-bundles and go on a real recognition tour in his study area: the region around the Moluccan island of Ceram. He wished to have some sort of a sea and piracy experience, and when he left Leiden he was very eager to find the sea prints of the 18th-century Moluccan revolt leader Prince Nuku. Unfortunately, Muridan did not bother to take off his woollen cap. It had always protected his brains from the Dutch cold, as well as the archival dust. But would this cap also protect him in the territory of Nuku? Muridan would without doubt reply that his cap is made in Britain, and that the English were Nuku's anti-Dutch allies. But as always: 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating'. Muridan's story reveals what really happened...

Muridan on the roadstead to Salawati

"Early in the morning, 3 September 2004, I arrived at Halte Doom, one small harbour in Sorong, the Bird's Head of New Guinea, for inter-island transport. After having a cup of coffee, one tribal leader of Waigeo, Yohanes Goram, provided me with a long boat with a 40-HP machine. I had to pay about Rp 500,000 (around 50 euro) for a trip from Sorong to Salawati vice versa, but he told me that the family of the Raja of Salawati had given me permission to visit Salawati. He could not accompany me at that time but he had asked a young man, Nikson Goram, to assist me. We left for Salawati at 7.20. A Papuan driver and a Butonese assistant took care of the long boat. I tried to imagine the 18th century, and how the Papuans took such a long trip from Sorong to Salawati, and then to Misool, to finally raid the people of Ceram."

"The wind was nice and calm. The sun was bright and warm. We were cruising to the District of Samate, the western part of Salawati Island. It only took two and a half hours to reach Samate. We arrived there without any difficulty. The majority of the population is Moslem. It is a small and quiet district. We met the old Kampung Head, Hoed Arfan. He was considered knowledgeable on the culture and history of the Raja Ampat islands. He used to work for a renowned Dutch linguist, A.C. van der Leeden. I also met Udin Mayalibit, an important leader of Salawati, a lecturer of Universitas Cenderawasih of Jayapura, and candidate for the regency of Raja Ampat. We had a lively discussion on Prince Nuku and the role of the Raja Ampat-islands in the 18th century. Afterwards he introduced me to the people and took me around the district."

"We left Samate about 13.00. The sea was friendly. The sky was bright blue. The machine seemed to work well but all of a sudden, after 30 minutes leaving Samate, the machine went off. At the beginning I was not worried because the driver always assured me that he had spent his life on these islands. But after half an hour he told me that the machine was broken. We were floating in the middle of the sea, between Salawati and Jeffman Island. One small boat approached us and it took our driver to Jeffman Island to get secours. After two hours of waiting, I started swimming around the boat and enjoying the beauty of seascape, the huge rocks in the middle of the sea, the clarity of the water, and the reefs. My assistant Nikson, the Butonese guy, and I tried to hold our hunger by eating biscuits and smoking cigarettes."

left: Raja Ampat Archipelago; right Samate on Salawati Island

"But after three hours of waiting, we got more and more worried. The sky was getting dark and the the rain was about to come. Suddenly, the wind hit us severely, and the tide turned higher. The rain then poured on us very heavily. Our Butonese fellow expressed his worry by saying that the rope was too short and our small anchor would not reach the ground anymore. Worsen condition was that he did not have any battery or lamp with him. We could do nothing but wait and wait for our 'damn' driver. We started to float around. The night was about to come. I could only feel the cool of the water from the sky and in the dark I knew that Nikson and the Butonese fellow were working very hard to remove the water from our boat. At least I would miss my flight to Kaimana - called Kowiai in the XVII century - the next day. Getting more and more hungry, and my clothes, biscuits and cigarettes being completely soaked, I imagined of having a big fried fish at Sorong Market. I then felt the real fear of being lost in the middle of the sea."

"Around 19.00, in the middle of the darkness, we heard the sound of a machine. It was really a sound of hope. Thank God! Our 'dear' driver appeared on a small boat. I felt relieved. The driver of the boat was a Buginese, assisted by an albino Papuan. They tied our boat with a rope to theirs. They took us slowly to the nearest island, Jeffman. However I got a severe headache and all of a sudden vomited. Nikson asked me to lie down and to take a rest amidst my hunger. My body was a bit trembling. After several hours we reached Sorong safely. I talked nothing afterwards but gave the wet rupiahs for the payment to the driver. He apologized and in return I only nodded. We left the harbour and precipitated to the Sorong night market to get a big baked fish, sambal Manado, and local salads. Suddenly I thought if this had happened in the 18th century, we might have become the vulnerable prey of the Papuan raiders or joined their dangerous trip to Ceram and raid the center of clove production around Amboina. Or I might have been redeemed for 100 Rijksdaalders..."

View on Sorong



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