The Malay Archipelago, by Alfred Russel Wallace

Chapter 21

The Moluccas — Ternate.

ON the morning of the 8th of January, 1858, I arrived at Ternate, the fourth of a row of fine conical volcanic islands which shirt the west coast of the large and almost unknown n island of Gilolo. The largest and most perfectly conical mountain is Tidore, which is over four thousand Feet high — Ternate being very nearly the same height, but with a more rounded and irregular summit. The town of Ternate is concealed from view till we enter between the two islands, when it is discovered stretching along the shore at the very base of the mountain. Its situation is fine, and there are grand views on every side. Close opposite is the rugged promontory and beautiful volcanic cone of Tidore; to the east is the long mountainous coast of Gilolo, terminated towards the north by a group of three lofty volcanic peaks, while immediately behind the town rises the huge mountain, sloping easily at first and covered with thick groves of fruit trees, but soon becoming steeper, and furrowed with deep gullies. Almost to the summit, whence issue perpetually faint wreaths of smoke, it is clothed with vegetation, and looks calm and beautiful, although beneath are hidden fires which occasionally burst forth in lava-streams, but more frequently make their existence known by the earthquakes which have many times devastated the town.

I brought letters of introduction to Mr. Duivenboden, a native of Ternate, of an ancient Dutch family, but who was educated in England, and speaks our language perfectly. He was a very rich man, owned half the town, possessed many ships, and above a hundred slaves. He was moreover, well educated, and fond of literature and science — a phenomenon in these regions. He was generally known as the king of Ternate, from his large property and great influence with the native Rajahs and their subjects. Through his assistance I obtained a house; rather ruinous, but well adapted to my purpose, being close to the town, yet with a free outlet to the country and the mountain. A few needful repairs were soon made, some bamboo furniture and other necessaries obtained, and after a visit to the Resident and Police Magistrate I found myself an inhabitant of the earthquake-tortured island of Ternate, and able to look about me and lay down the plan of my campaign for the ensuing year. I retained this house for three years, as I found it very convenient to have a place to return to after my voyages to the various islands of the Moluccas and New Guinea, where I could pack my collections, recruit my health, and make preparations for future journeys. To avoid repetitions, I will in this chapter combine what notes I have about Ternate.

A description of my house (the plan of which is here shown) will enable the reader to understand a very common mode of building in these islands. There is of course only one floor. The walls are of stone up to three feet high; on this are strong squared posts supporting the roof, everywhere except in the verandah filled in with the leaf-stems of the sago-palm, fitted neatly in wooden owing. The floor is of stucco, and the ceilings are like the walls. The house is forty feet square, consists of four rooms, a hall, and two verandahs, and is surrounded by a wilderness of fruit trees. A deep well supplied me with pure cold water, a great luxury in this climate. Five minutes’ walk down the road brought me to the market and the beach, while in the opposite direction there were no more European houses between me and the mountain. In this house I spent many happy days. Returning to it after a three or four months’ absence in some uncivilized region, I enjoyed the unwonted luxuries of milk and fresh bread, and regular supplies of fish and eggs, meat and vegetables, which were often sorely needed to restore my health and energy. I had ample space and convenience or unpacking, sorting, and arranging my treasures, and I had delightful walks in the suburbs of the town, or up the lower slopes of the mountain, when I desired a little exercise, or had time for collecting.

The lower part of the mountain, behind the town of Ternate, is almost entirely covered with a forest of fruit trees, and during the season hundreds of men and women, boys and girls, go up every day to bring down the ripe fruit. Durians and Mangoes, two of the very finest tropical fruits, are in greater abundance at Ternate than I have ever seen them, and some of the latter are of a quality not inferior to any in the world. Lansats and Mangustans are also abundant, but these do not ripen till a little later. Above the fruit trees there is a belt of clearings and cultivated grounds, which creep up the mountain to a height of between two and three thousand feet, above which is virgin forest, reaching nearly to the summit, which on the side next the town is covered with a high reedy grass. On the further side it is more elevated, of a bare and desolate aspect, with a slight depression marking the position of the crater. From this part descends a black scoriaceous tract; very rugged, and covered with a scanty vegetation of scattered bushes as far down as the sea. This is the lava of the great eruption near a century ago, and is called by the natives “batu-angas”(burnt rock).

Just below my house is the fort, built by the Portuguese, below which is an open space to the peach, and beyond this the native town extends for about a mile to the north-east. About the centre of it is the palace of the Sultan, now a large untidy, half-ruinous building of stone. This chief is pensioned by the Dutch Government, but retains the sovereignty over the native population of the island, and of the northern part of Gilolo. The sultans of Ternate and Tidore were once celebrated through the East for their power and regal magnificence. When Drake visited Ternate in 1579, the Portuguese had been driven out of the island, although they still had a settlement at Tidore. He gives a glowing account of the Sultan: “The King had a very rich canopy with embossings of gold borne over him, and was guarded with twelve lances. From the waist to the ground was all cloth of gold, and that very rich; in the attire of his head were finely wreathed in, diverse rings of plaited gold, of an inch or more in breadth, which made a fair and princely show, somewhat resembling a crown in form; about his neck he had a chain of perfect gold, the links very great and one fold double; on his left hand was a diamond, an emerald, a ruby, and a turky; on his right hand in one ring a big and perfect turky, and in another ring many diamonds of a smaller size.”

All this glitter of barbaric gold was the produce of the spice trade, of which the Sultans kept the monopoly, and by which they became wealthy. Ternate, with the small islands in a line south of it, as far as Batchian, constitute the ancient Moluccas, the native country of the clove, as well as the only part in which it was cultivated. Nutmegs and mace were procured from the natives of New Guinea and the adjacent islands, where they grew wild; and the profits on spice cargoes were so enormous, that the European traders were glad to give gold and jewels, and the finest manufactures of Europe or of India, in exchange. When the Dutch established their influence in these seas, and relieved the native princes from their Portuguese oppressors, they saw that the easiest way to repay themselves would be to get this spice trade into their own hands. For this purpose they adopted the wise principle of concentrating the culture of these valuable products in those spots only of which they could have complete control. To do this effectually it was necessary to abolish the culture and trade in all other places, which they succeeded in doing by treaty with the native rulers. These agreed to have all the spice trees in their possessions destroyed. They gave up large though fluctuating revenues, but they gained in return a fixed subsidy, freedom from the constant attacks and harsh oppressions of the Portuguese, and a continuance of their regal power and exclusive authority over their own subjects, which is maintained in all the islands except Ternate to this day.

It is no doubt supposed by most Englishmen, who have been accustomed to look upon this act of the Dutch with vague horror, as something utterly unprincipled and barbarous, that the native population suffered grievously by this destruction of such valuable property. But it is certain that this was not the case. The Sultans kept this lucrative trade entirely in their own hands as a rigid monopoly, and they would take care not to give, their subjects more than would amount to their usual wages, while: they would surely exact as large a quantity of spice as they could possibly obtain. Drake and other early voyagers always seem to have purchased their spice-cargoes from the Sultans and Rajahs, and not from the cultivators. Now the absorption of so much labour in the cultivation of this one product must necessarily have raised the price of food and other necessaries; and when it was abolished, more rice would be grown, more sago made, more fish caught, and more tortoise-shell, rattan, gum-dammer, and other valuable products of the seas and the forests would be obtained. I believe, therefore, that this abolition of the spice trade in the Moluccas was actually beneficial to the inhabitants, and that it was an act both wise in itself and morally and politically justifiable.

In the selection of the places in which to carry on the cultivation, the Dutch were not altogether fortunate or wise. Banda was chosen for nutmegs, and was eminently successful, since ü; continues to this day to produce a large supply of this spice, and to yield a considerable revenue. Amboyna was fixed upon for establishing the clove cultivation; but the soil and climate, although apparently very similar to that of its native islands, is not favourable, and for some years the Government have actually been paying to the cultivators a higher rate than they could purchase cloves elsewhere, owing to a great fall in the price since the rate of payment was fixed for a term of years by the Dutch Government, and which rate is still most honourably paid.

In walking about the suburbs of Ternate, we find everywhere the ruins of massive stone and brick buildings, gateways and arches, showing at once the superior wealth of the ancient town and the destructive effects of earthquakes. It was during my second stay in the town, after my return from New Guinea, that I first felt an earthquake. It was a very slight one, scarcely more than has been felt in this country, but occurring in a place that lad been many times destroyed by them it was rather more exciting. I had just awoke at gun-fire (5 A.M.), when suddenly the thatch began to rustle and shake as if an army of cats were galloping over it, and immediately afterwards my bed shook too, so that for an instant I imagined myself back in New Guinea, in my fragile house, which shook when an old cock went to roost on the ridge; but remembering that I was now on a solid earthen floor, I said to myself, “Why, it’s an earthquake,” and lay still in the pleasing expectation of another shock; but none came, and this was the only earthquake I ever felt in Ternate.

The last great one was in February 1840, when almost every house in the place was destroyed. It began about midnight on the Chinese New Year’s festival, at which time every one stays up nearly all night feasting at the Chinamen’s houses and seeing the processions. This prevented any lives being lost, as every one ran out of doors at the first shock, which was not very severe. The second, a few minutes afterwards, threw down a great many houses, and others, which continued all night and part of the next day, completed the devastation. The line of disturbance was very narrow, so that the native town a mile to the east scarcely suffered at all. The wave passed from north to south, through the islands of Tidore and Makian, and terminated in Batchian, where it was not felt till four the following afternoon, thus taking no less than sixteen hours to travel a hundred miles, or about six miles an hour. It is singular that on this occasion there was no rushing up of the tide, or other commotion of the sea, as is usually the case during great earthquakes.

The people of Ternate are of three well-marked races the Ternate Malays, the Orang Sirani, and the Dutch. The first are an intrusive Malay race somewhat allied to the Macassar people, who settled in the country at a very early epoch, drove out the indigenes, who were no doubt the same as those of the adjacent mainland of Gilolo, and established a monarchy. They perhaps obtained many of their wives from the natives, which will account for the extraordinary language they speak — in some respects closely allied to that of the natives of Gilolo, while it contains much that points to a Malayan origin. To most of these people the Malay language is quite unintelligible, although such as are engaged in trade are obliged to acquire it. “Orang Sirani,” or Nazarenes, is the name given by the Malays to the Christian descendants of the Portuguese, who resemble those of Amboyna, and, like them, speak only Malay. There are also a number of Chinese merchants, many of them natives of the place, a few Arabs, and a number of half-breeds between all these races and native women. Besides these there are some Papuan slaves, and a few natives of other islands settled here, making up a motley and very puzzling population, till inquiry and observation have shown the distinct origin of its component parts.

Soon after my first arrival in Ternate I went to the island of Gilolo, accompanied by two sons of Mr. Duivenboden, and by a young Chinaman, a brother of my landlord, who lent us the boat and crew. These latter were all slaves, mostly Papuans, and at starting I saw something of the relation of master and slave in this part of the world. The crew had been ordered to be ready at three in the morning, instead of which none appeared till five, we having all been kept waiting in the dark and cold for two hours. When at length they came they were scolded by their master, but only in a bantering manner, and laughed and joked with him in reply. Then, just as we were starting, one of the strongest men refused to go at all, and his master had to beg and persuade him to go, and only succeeded by assuring him that I would give him something; so with this promise, and knowing that there would be plenty to eat and drink and little to do, the black gentleman was induced to favour us with his company and assistance. In three hours’ rowing and sailing we reached our destination, Sedingole, where there is a house belonging to the Sultan of Tidore, who sometimes goes there hunting. It was a dirty ruinous shed, with no furniture but a few bamboo bedsteads. On taking a walk into the country, I saw at once that it was no place for me. For many miles extends a plain covered with coarse high grass, thickly dotted here and there with trees, the forest country only commencing at the hills a good way in the interior. Such a place would produce few birds and no insects, and we therefore arranged to stay only two days, and then go on to Dodinga, at the narrow central isthmus of Gilolo, whence my friends would return to Ternate. We amused ourselves shooting parrots, lories, and pigeons, and trying to shoot deer, of which we saw plenty, but could not get one; and our crew went out fishing with a net, so we did not want for provisions. When the time came for us to continue our journey, a fresh difficulty presented itself, for our gentlemen slaves refused in a body to go with us; saying very determinedly that they would return to Ternate. So their masters were obliged to submit, and I was left behind to get to Dodinga as I could. Luckily I succeeded in hiring a small boat, which took me there the same night, with my two men and my baggage.

Two or three years after this, and about the same length of time before I left the East, the Dutch emancipated all their slaves, paying their owners a small compensation. No ill results followed. Owing to the amicable relations which had always existed between them and their masters, due no doubt in part to the Government having long accorded them legal rights and protection against cruelty and ill-usage, many continued in the same service, and after a little temporary difficulty in some cases, almost all returned to work either for their old or for new, masters. The Government took the very proper step of placing every emancipated slave under the surveillance of the police-magistrate. They were obliged to show that they were working for a living, and had some honestly-acquired means of existence. All who could not do so were placed upon public works at low wages, and thus were kept from the temptation to peculation or other crimes, which the excitement of newly-acquired freedom, and disinclination to labour, might have led them into.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wallace/alfred_russel/malay/chapter21.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30