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The Rajas of Papua and East Seram during the Early Modern Period.

(17TH - 18TH Centuries)

A Bibliographic Essay

Tom Goodman
University of Hawaii at Manoa

Department of History

(Last modified August, 2002)


In Onin, Kowiai, and the Raja Ampat Islands , three districts in the extreme west and southwest of Papua , live a number of traditional Islamic local leaders (raja) with historical and kinship links to rajas in East Seram . These rajas are the last remnants of an old trade network at the crossroads of Southeast Asia and Melanesia . For over 500 years, Seramese sailors ranged over a wide area of Papua, from the westward principalities of the Raja Ampat islands and the southern coasts of the MacCluer Gulf, to the remote and hazardous eastern coves and islets of Kowiai. They brought imported cloth and other finished products from ports in western Indonesia and beyond and exchanged them for valuable Papuan forest products and slaves.

The Seramese traders came from a group of coral reef and volcanic islands off the easternmost tip of Seram Island. Travelling in annual flotillas of trade junks made in the Kei Islands, the Seramese established small fortified trade settlements, called sosolot, initially on small coastal islands and later in protected coves. From these tiny footholds, they intermarried with Papuan mainland groups and learned a special trade lingua franca called Bahasa Onin, a mixture of Malay and local languages spoken along the coasts of the Bomberai Peninsula. Family ties and linguistic expertise gave the Seramese sosolot communities a decisive advantage over European and indigenous competitors in the lucrative trade in West Papua.

The singular trade relationship between the archipelagoes of southeast Seram and the southwest coast of Papua was known throughout the Indonesian archipelago long before the coming of the Europeans . The fourteenth century Javanese poem, the Negarakertagama, made explicit mention of “Wwanin” and “Seran” as important lands under the control of the Majapahit empire (Rouffaer 1908:328). “Wwanin” or Onin was a gloss for the lands bordering the south western portion of the MacCluer Gulf, and “Seran” referred to the east coast of Seram, the southeastern archipelagos, and the southwestern Papuan coasts. Indigenous traders labelled the relationship sosolot, a term of an uncertain, possibly Malay, origin which the seventeenth century explorer Johannes Keyts defined as a marked jurisdiction of a “hill or harbour, where a flag was planted and where no other may trade on pain of death.” (van Hille 1905). Nineteenth-century Dutch travel accounts still made explicit mention of the sosolot monopolies held by villages or kin groups in archipelagic Southeast Seram (Kolff 1840, Riedel 1886, de Clerq 1891).

  • Who want to see the 'proof' that Moluccans are not only warriors have to see the 'models' of 'Moluccan trading ships' at museum Nusantara at the Dutch city of Delft.

  • One also got to bear in mind that Indonesias claims on the 'former Dutch colony' Nederlandsch/Dutch Nieuw/New - Guinea where based on these relations of North-Moluccans and the Raja Empat Islands.

  • 'Ahu kura ahia, mansia nia'

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