Ambonese - History and Cultural Relations



The region is both culturally and racially located "on the crossroads" between Indonesia and Melanesia. The most outstanding culture trait adopted from Melanesia is the kakehan, a secret men's society on Ceram, the only such society in the entire Indonesian archipelago. The Moluccas or "Spice Islands" were originally the only place where nutmeg and cloves were found. Already known in ancient Rome and probably much earlier in China, these coveted spices attracted traders and immigrants from Java and other Indonesian islands, as well as Indians, Arabs, and Europeans. Through intermarriage, a wide spectrum of physical types emerged, often varying widely from village to village, and Ambonese culture became a mind-dazzling amalgam of earlier, indigenous cultural traits with concepts and beliefs of Hindu-Javanese, Arab, Portuguese, and Dutch origin. The Ambonese culture area can be divided into two subcultures, namely the Alifuru culture of the interior tribes of Ceram, and the Pasisir culture of Ambon-Lease and coastal stretches of western Ceram. The Alifuru are horticulturalists who practiced headhunting until pacification by the Dutch shortly before World War I. Most Ambonese clans in the Pasisir region trace their ancestry to the mountain regions of Ceram, and Alifuru culture forms the basis of Ambonese culture. Much of Alifuru culture has been destroyed by zealous Christian missionaries from the Pasisir region who could not perceive that much of what they attacked as "pagan" in Ceram was sacred to themselves in Ambon-Lease. This resulted in the paradox that the Christian villages on Ambon-Lease, converted some 400 years earlier, have conserved their cultural heritage better than the recently converted mountain villages on Ceram, which nowadays find themselves in a cultural limbo and in a state of economic depression. While in the Pasisir region Protestant Christianity and Islam dominate the worldview of their respective followers, traditional beliefs and practices ( adat ) continue to govern social relationships in both religious communities. The rapid expansion of Islam in this region during the fifteenth century was contained with the arrival of the Portuguese (in 1511), who converted most of the "pagan" population to Roman Catholicism during their century of colonial rule. In 1605 the Dutch replaced them, and remained there until 1950. They turned the Christian population into Calvinist Protestants and instituted a spice monopoly despite the fierce resistance of both Muslims and Christians. In the nineteenth century, after the decline of the spice trade, Ambonese Muslims faded into the background while the fortunes of the Christians became ever more closely tied to the Dutch. As trusted and loyal soldiers, they became the mainstay of the Dutch colonial army (KNIL). Belonging to the best-educated groups in the Netherlands Indies, many were employed in the colonial administration and private enterprises outside their homeland. This pattern of emigration has continued in the postindependence period. Muslims, formerly excluded for the most part from education, are now fast catching up with the Christians and competing with them for jobs. After World War II, most Ambonese soldiers remained loyal to the Dutch and fought with them against the Indonesian nationalists. The Dutch transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia led in 1950 to the declaration of an independent Republic of the South Moluccas (RMS), but this failed. Fearing reprisals from the nationalists, some 4,000 Ambonese soldiers and their families were "temporarily" transferred to the Netherlands in 1951. Because of their steadfast attachment to the RMS ideal, their return became impossible. The resulting frustrations led to a series of terrorist actions, including spectacular train hijackings, in the 1970s. During the entire period of exile, the group has displayed strong separatist tendencies, foiling all attempts of the Dutch to assimilate them. Only recently has there been some willingness toward functional integration.

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