Throughout the history of Indonesia’s battle for independence, West Papua was the area that required a long and hard struggle to accomplish. More than 15 years after the independence in 1945, Indonesia wasn’t able to gain the authority of West Papua. The Dutch used quasi-anthropological political reasoning and argued that the West Papua territory did not belong to Indonesia, because the people of West Papua is Melanesians—not Indonesians.
Well, the truth is Indonesia has always been a large home for Melanesians, even before the colonial era. Melanesians in Indonesia are located in Maluku Island, South Maluku, East Nusa Tenggara, West Papua, and several islands nearby. Melanesians in Indonesia shared a strong connection and supported each other. That’s why when the Dutch tried to take over West Papua, they received strong resistance from Tidore, especially in the reign of Sultan Nuku.
Sultan Nuku: The Lord of Fortune
Nuku Muhammad Amiruddin born in 1738 in Soasiu, Tidore. He is the son of Sultan Jamaluddin, the leader in the Sultanate of Tidore in 1757-1779. Unfortunately, Sultan Jamaluddin was arrested by the Dutch colonials and then exiled to Batavia. After that exile, the Dutch appointed Kaicil Gaizira as the ruler of Tidore, and then replaced by his son Patra Alam.
Nuku and his brother, Kamaluddin, disagreed to the reign appointed by the Dutch. They knew the Dutch intention was to control Maluku islands, especially for their natural wealth which is spices. Nuku then built kora-kora, a traditional canoe, as a war vessel; sailing through Seram island and Papua while forming an army. Considered as rebels, Nuku was attacked by Patra Alam and the Dutch troops, but Nuku got away safely.
With his strategic and diplomatic skills, Nuku approached various leaders, governors, and war commanders in many areas such as Halmahera, Raja Ampat, Gebe, and Papua. He convinced them to be his ally for fighting the Dutch. Papua and Raja Ampat are the first ones agreeing to be allied with Nuku.
When the Dutch troops attacked Nuku and his army again in 1783, the Dutch commander and most of his men were finally killed. Nuku and his troops gained another triumph when attacking the Dutch post on Tidore, causing the death of all the Europeans there. However, this victory heats up the rivalry between Tidore and Ternate kingdom.
In 1787, the Dutch attacked Nuku’s army base in Seram island. Nuku managed to escape, and then built a new base in Gorong island. At the same time, Nuku developed a friendly relationship with Britain. The wise Nuku understood that he was living in a changing world, so he reached out for international assistance to performed globally.
Nuku requested the British for the assistance in conquering Tidore and Ternate and to seek recognition as a Sultan. In return, he promised the unity of all islands in the Sultanate and secured the English in the best and safest manner. The Britains believed in Nuku. With the help of Britain, Nuku’s army attacked the Dutch and won again.
Sultan Nuku became a very well-known figure throughout the nation and even globally. He springs up in Southeast Asian history as a man with certain spirituality—an aura to persuade people. The Britains then gave him the title “Lord of Fortune” or in the local word, Jou Barakati. Along the time, Sultan Nuku gained more and more support; almost total support from every Maluku islands that previously tear apart, including from his brother, his father who had returned from exile in Batavia, and even from several leaders of Papua.
The Dutch called Nuku as “Prince Rebel” for his persistence and consistency. With the strong persona of Sultan Nuku, the Dutch tried to reach out. They offered Nuku a pleasing position. But Nuku’s loyalty cannot be bought. He refused the Dutch’s proposition. Instead, Nuku increased the frequency of attacks towards the Dutch. In 1801, Nuku freed Ternate from the Dutch.
The victory of Nuku leading the kora-kora army against the Dutch became a legend story told from generation to generation. He was also famous for making a cross-cultural alliance in Maluku. It’s been told that Sultan Nuku successfully controlled most of South Halmahera, Banda island, Buru island, and many islands nearby West Papua to South Pacific islands including Micronesia and Melanesia.
The areas within the Sultanate of Tidore ruled by Nuku are prosperous. Sultan Nuku always visited his areas twice a year, which is at Idul Fitri and Idul Adha. When Tidore led by Nuku, it became the expansion center of Islam religion in Eastern Indonesia. In daily life, they were ruled by Islamic law; and Muslim scholars (ulama, kyai, ustad) holds an important role in society.
On 14 November 1805, Sultan Nuku passed away. More than 1 decade afterward, in the year 1995, Nuku was awarded the title National Hero of Indonesia based on Presidential Decree number 071/TK/1995. The story of Sultan Nuku showed the close historical ties between Maluku and West Papua. For centuries, local ritual and economic ties bound Papua to Maluku; and together they were able to defeat the Dutch.