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The abundance of natural resources in Minahasa made Manado a strategic port for European traders sailing to and from the spice island of Maluku. At the time of the first contact with Europeans the sultanate of Ternate held some sway over North Sulawesi, and the area was often visited by seafaring Bugis traders from South Sulawesi. The Spanish and the Portuguese, the first Europeans to arrive, came to North Sulawesi via the port of Makassar, but also landed at Sulu island (off the north coast of Borneo) and at the port of Manado. Spain established a fort at Manado. However, the Spanish and Portuguese influence was limited by the power of Ternate.

The Portuguese left reminders of their presence in the north in subtle ways. Portuguese surnames and various Portuguese words not found elsewhere in Indonesia, like garrida for an enticing woman and buraco for a bad man, can still be found in Minahasa. In the 1560's the Portuguese Franciscan missionaries made some converts in Minahasa.

By the early 17th century the Dutch had toppled the Ternate sultanate, and then set about eclipsing the Spanish and Portuguese. They colluded with Minahasan rulers to throw out their European competitors. In 1677 the Dutch occupied Pulau Sangir and, two years later, the Dutch governor of Maluku, Robert Padtbrugge, visited Manado. Out of this visit came a treaty with the local Minahasan chiefs, which led to domination by the Dutch for the next 300 years.

Baie de Manado
J.S.C. Dumont D'Urville: "Baie de Manado"

The Dutch helped unite the linguistically diverse Minahasa confederacy, and in 1693 the Minahasa scored a decisive military victory against the Bolaang to the south, which by that time, like its neighbour Gorontalo, was a Moslem principality. The Dutch influence flourished as the Minahasans embraced the European goods and Christian religion. Portuguese activity apart, Christianity became a force in the early 1820s when a Calvinist group, the Netherlands Missionary Society, turned from an almost exclusive interest in Maluku to the Minahasa area. The wholesale conversion of the Minahasans was almost complete by 1860. With the missionaries came mission schools, which meant that, as in Ambon and Roti, Western education in Minahasa started much earlier than in other parts of Indonesia. The Dutch government eventually took over some of these schools and also set up others. Because the schools taught in Dutch, the Minahasans had an early advantage in the competition for government jobs and places in the colonial army.

The Minahasans fought alongside the Dutch to subdue rebellions in other parts of the archipelago, notably in the Java War of 1825-30. They seemed to gain a special role in the Dutch scheme of things and their loyalty to the Dutch as soldiers, their Christian religion and their geographic isolation from the rest of Indonesia all led to a sense of being 'different' from the other ethnic groups of the archipelago. Well-educated in mission and government schools, Minahasans were among the first colonists to seek employment and prestige abroad.

By the mid 1800s compulsory cultivation schemes were producing huge crops of cheap coffee for a Dutch-run monopoly. Minahasans suffered from this 'progress', yet economic, religious and social ties with the colonists continued to intensify.

The Japanese occupation of 1942-45 was a period of deprivation. It shattered the myth of Dutch superiority, as Batavia gave up its empire without a fight. Though initially welcomed as liberators in most parts of the archipelago, the Japanese gradually established themselves as harsh overlords.

In 1945 the allies bombed Manado heavily. During the war of independence against the returning Dutch that followed, there was bitter division between pro-Indonesian Unitarians and those favoring Dutch-sponsored federalism. The appointment of a Manadonese Christian, Sam Ratulangi, as the first republican governor of eastern Indonesia was decisive in winning Minahasan support for the republic.


Yayasan Orphans International Indonesia - The Celebes Island
Images of Indonesia - Sulawesi

Minahasans as Elite

Because Minahasans were enthusiastically Christian and well educated, they formed a minority in the wider Dutch Indies colony. This led to fewer racial boundaries than elsewhere. Minahasans were said to look, eat, and talk like Dutchmen. By the 1930s, however, other ethnic groups began to catch up and supplant Minahasans. Also, laws were passed which prevented colonial subjects, no matter how well educated, from gaining European status. These changes frustrated Minahasan aspirations to be treated like Dutchmen. Minahasan ambivalence was especially marked with reference to the Indonesian independence movement. On one hand, Minahasans feared independence was inevitable and thus it would be political suicide to "remain isolated". On the other hand, Minahasans feared "our tiny minority" would be "swallowed up" by the giant Indonesian nation. To allay their fears, most Minahasans rejected the more popular unitarian nationalism promoted by Sukarno - the nationalism of one nation - and embraced federalism, specifically the autonomy of each ethnic group or region. By 1942, educated Minahasans accepted that whatever their political future, it would be part of the future of Indonesia as a whole, though regional patriotism persists today.

A similar theme has been pursued in the Journal of Asian Studies, in an article entitled "Leadership and Social Mobility in Southeast Asian Society: Minahasa."

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