Martha Christina Tiahahu, Indonesia’s Melanesian Heroine

Martha -
Martha -

Close your eyes for few seconds and imagine this scene: a 17-year-old girl joined her father and male troops in a guerilla war, she even threw rocks to enemy when their ammunition ran out. That fierce girl was Martha Christina Tiahahu. Born on 4 January 1800 in Nusalaut Island, near Maluku, Martha was raised by her father after her mother died while she was an infant. Her father was Captain Paulus Tiahahu; and little Martha followed her father everywhere, including to meetings for planning an attack.

Martha -
Martha –

Martha has been described as a stubborn girl, strong-willed, and very brave. While her physical appearance portrayed the characteristic of Melanesians: rather dark skin and wavy hair. Melanesian refers to the native inhabitants of Melanesia region. Indonesia has always been a large home for Melanesians; they live in Papua, West Papua, Maluku, South Maluku, East Nusa Tenggara, and other small islands nearby.

Following her father steps, Martha was active in military matters from a young age. In the midst of ferocious battles, Martha would scream to burn spirit of the troops. Her brave act inspired other women in the society to support men on the battlefield, and even participated in combats. For the first time in that battlefield, the Dutch must face women served in the military.

Beginning in 1817, Martha joined the war against Dutch colonial government led by Pattimura—another Melanesian in Indonesia with significant roles and contribution in the history of the colonial era. Together with Pattimura’s army, Martha fought in several battles. One of that battle is at Saparua Island, where the troops successfully killed Dutch Commander Richement. In another battle, Martha and her troops burned down Duurstede Fortress.

Unfortunately in the same year, 1817, Martha was arrested by the Dutch military; along with her father,  Pattimura and many of their comrades. That was after Vermeulen Kringer took over the Dutch military in Maluku. Late 1817, Pattimura was sentenced to death and hanged in Ambon. While Paulus Tiahahu, Martha’s father, was executed on Nusalaut. But because of her young age, Martha herself was released and sent home.

The experience of being arrested by the Dutch military didn’t stop Martha from fighting. She continued to fight, but got rearrested in short time. This time, she was condemned to slave labour on the coffee plantations of Java. Together with other arrested rebels, Martha was placed on the Evertsen ship to be transported to Java. On their way, Martha felt ill; but she refused any medication and food. Martha Christina Tiahahu then died on 2 January 1818 while the ship was crossing the Banda Sea. That same day, she was given a burial at sea.

After the Independence of Indonesia, Martha Christina Tiahahu was declared as a National Heroine. To honored her, people in Maluku spread flower petals over the Banda Sea in an official ceremony every year. Annually, the date 2 January was designated as Martha Christina Tiahahu Day.

An 8-meters tall statue of Martha Christina Tiahahu holding a spear is now standing in Ambon, the capital city of Maluku. It stands in Karangpanjang overlooking the Banda Sea, and was built in 1977. Another monument of Martha also stands in Abubu—with a spear on her hand while leading an army, this statue was dedicated on the 190th anniversary of her death.

The commemoration of Martha also implied in several items named after her. There is Martha Christina Tiahahu street in Karangpanjang, Ambon; and a warship called the KRI Martha Christina Tiahahu. A social organization for Mollucans in Jakarta have also taken Tiahahu’s name as a symbol of bravery and struggling spirit.

As well as Martha Christina Tiahahu and Pattimura, there were other Indonesia’s Melanesians that play an important role in this country. To mention few of them,

  • Johannes Latuharhary:
    Johannes Latuharhary -
    Johannes Latuharhary –

    Graduated in 1927 from Leiden University, the oldest university in the Netherlands; Returned to Indonesia, worked in the judiciary in East Java and Batavia; He was active in nationalist politics in Java, was a member of the Malang Municipal Council, Sarekat Ambon, PPPKI, and Parindra. He was appointed as Vice-Resident of Maluku during the Japanese colonial era, and went on to become governor of Maluku after independence.

  • Frans Seda:
    Frans Seda -
    Frans Seda –

    One of the most well-known figures from the eastern province of Nusa Tenggara Timur. He was a Plantation Minister from 1964 – 1966, Agriculture Minister in 1966, Finance Minister from 1966 -1968, and Transportation Minister from 1968 -1973. In 1999 he was appointed an Honorary Member of the Order of Australia, for service to the development of trade links between Australia and Indonesia.

  • Frans Kaisiepo:
    Frans Kaisiepo -
    Frans Kaisiepo –

    He was the historical figure chosen to be depicted in the latest-2016-edition of Rp10.000 banknote. Frans Kaisiepo involved in a rebellion that broke out in Biak protesting against the Dutch government in March 1948. In 1949, Frans rejected the appointment as the delegate leader of Netherlands New Guinea in the Dutch-Indonesian Round Table Conference—because he didn’t want to be dictated by the Dutch government. As a result, Frans was arrested from 1954 to 1961. In 1964, he served as the Governor of Irian and continuously promote Papua as a part of Indonesia.