Raja Ampat is one of the most popular names associated with West Papua Province in Indonesia. Most people know it as a great diving spot with a beautiful view and rich biodiversity, but Raja Ampat also has historical significance in Indonesia, especially related to its name. “Raja Ampat” basically means “Four Kings”, and the name is related to one of the most important kingdoms in Eastern Indonesia, the Tidore.
The history of Raja Ampat and the Tidore Kingdom is a proof of the long relation between Indonesia and West Papua, even before the era of independence.
The Tidore Kingdom and West Papua Connection
Tidore is the name of an Islamic kingdom (sultanate) that ruled Eastern Indonesia between the 16th and 18th century. The kingdom centered in Tidory City, North Maluku, and its region extended to various smaller islands around Maluku, including Seram and Buru. While there were other kingdoms in Eastern Indonesia such as Ternate, Jailolo, and Bacan, Tidore was the most influential in many aspects.
The historic relation between the Tidore Kingdom and West Papua started in the ruling period of Ibn Mansyur (1512-1526). This sultan was the first led a marine expedition to the furthest part of eastern Indonesia. Using a fleet of kora-kora (Maluku traditional ships) to reach Papua, accompanied by Captain Gurabesi, Sultan Ibn Mansyur managed to gain several areas and islands in West Papua, making them parts of Tidore Kingdom.
All the newly occupied areas were divided into three major lands: the Mafor Soa Raha, Korano Ngaruha, and Papo Ua Gamsio. Ibn Mansyur divided the Papua area into three because the occupied land was deemed too small. Each of these major occupied lands was later divided into smaller administrative areas, and each of them was led by a sangaji (local king).
Raja Ampat and the Four Kings
Raja Ampat was not originally known as such when the Tidore fleet came to West Papua. The small archipelago was originally called Korano Ngaruha, and it was divided into four administrative areas: Waigeo, Salawati, Lilinta, and Waigama. These areas were spread in Raja Ampat’s biggest islands: Waigeo, Salawati, Misool, and Batanta.
To lead each of the administrative areas, Tidore Kingdom appointed four local kings, which would rule the areas and reported back to the sultan. This appointment became the origin of the name “Raja Ampat”, which means “Four Kings”. Even after the downfall of Tidore Kingdom, Europe colonialism, and various historical events, the name Raja Ampat sticks to this small archipelago.
Historical Significance of Raja Ampat in Papua and Indonesia
Raja Ampat held important roles during the era of Tidore Kingdom, since it was one of the main extensions of Tidore’s rule in Papua. It had important trading relations with Tidore and other Eastern Indonesia kingdoms, especially Ternate. The four islands also served as major activity centers in Raja Ampat area, including in economy, farming, and other important aspects. Even now, the four islands are still the most active locations in Raja Ampat.
Even after the coming of Europeans, Raja Ampat still held important meaning for Tidore Kingdom in Indonesian history. The British acknowledged Raja Ampat as a part of Tidore Kingdom. The Dutch further stamped the acknowledgment by signing an agreement. On March 28, 1667, Admiral Speleman and Sultan Syaifuddin signed an agreement that stated Tidore’s ownership over its lands in Papua. On June 24, 1824, another similar agreement was signed between the Dutch and Tidore Kingdom.
This strong relation between Tidore and Raja Ampat created a historical significance that would influence Indonesian modern history. Soekarno, the first president of Indonesia, regularly communicated with the Sultans of Tidore and Ternate, before and after the 1945 Independence Declaration, recognizing the importance of Papua’s importance in Indonesia’s continuous struggles to regain full independence and run as a newly established country.
Raja Ampat Now
Currently, Raja Ampat’s small archipelago is known as the part of Raja Ampat Regency, which is one of the twelve regencies in West Papua Province. Raja Ampat was officially recognized as a regency by Indonesian government on April 12, 2003. The four islands are still among the most prominent among all the 610 islands in Raja Ampat Regency. Beside them, there are only about 31 islands that are inhabited. The capital of Raja Ampat Regency is Waisai, located in Waigeo Island.
The people who live in Raja Ampat archipelago are Biak, Maya, and Ondoloren tribes. They live from farming, catching fish, and catering to tourists who visit the island. Raja Ampat is known for its underwater paradise, natural beauty, and rich biodiversity, which have repeatedly been promoted by Indonesian tourism board. However, its historical significance regarding of Indonesia’s relation with Papua should not be ignored.
The history of Tidore Kingdom and Raja Ampat further cemented Indonesia’s lifelong relation with Papua, even before the country declared its independence. While Raja Ampat may be mostly known as an exotic destination, it will always be known as one of the historical ties that connect the past of Indonesia and West Papua.