The Portuguese in Indonesia (1512 – 1850)

The Portuguese in Indonesia (1512–1850)

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the islands of Indonesia. Their quest to dominate the source of the lucrative spice trade in the early 16th century, and their simultaneous Roman Catholic missionary efforts, saw the establishment of trading posts and forts, and a strong Portuguese cultural element that remains substantial in Indonesia.


The nutmeg plant is native to Indonesia’s Banda Islands. Once one of the world’s most valuable commodities, it drew the first European colonial powers to Indonesia.

Europeans were making technological advances in the early sixteenth century; new found Portuguese expertise in navigation, ship building and weaponry allowed them to make daring expeditions of exploration and expansion. Starting with the first exploratory expeditions sent from newly-conquered Malacca in 1512, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Indonesia, and sought to dominate the sources of valuable spices[1] and to extend their Roman Catholic missionary efforts. Initial Portuguese attempts to establish a coalition and peace treaty in 1512 with the West Javan Sunda Kingdom,[2] failed due hostilities amongst indigenous kingdoms on Java. The Portuguese turned east to Maluku, which comprised a varied collection of principalities and kingdoms that were occasionally at war with each other but maintained significant inter-island and international trade. Through both military conquest and alliance with local rulers, they established trading posts, forts, and missions in eastern Indonesia including the islands of Ternate, Ambon, and Solor. The height of Portuguese missionary activities, however, came at the latter half of the sixteenth century, after the pace of their military conquest in the archipelago had stopped and their east Asian interest was shifting to Japan, Macau and China; and sugar in Brazil and the Atlantic slave trade in turn further distracted their Indonesian efforts. In addition, the first European people that arrived in Northern Sulawesi was the Portuguese.

Francis Xavier supported and visited the Portuguese mission at Tolo on Halmahera. This was the first Catholic mission in the Moluccas. The mission began in 1534 when some chiefs from Morotia came to Ternate asking to be baptised. Simao Vaz the vicar of ternate went to Tolo to found the mission. The mission was the source of conflict between the Spanish, the Portuguese and Ternate. Simao Vaz was later murdered at Sao.[3][4]

Decline and legacy

The Portuguese presence in Indonesia was reduced to Solor, Flores and Timor (see Portuguese Timor) in modern day Nusa Tenggara, following defeat in 1575 at Ternate at the hands of indigenous Ternateans, Dutch conquests in Ambon, north Maluku and Banda, and a general failure for sustained control of trade in the region.[5] In comparison with the original Portuguese ambition to dominate Asian trade, their influences on Indonesian culture are small: the romantic keroncong guitar ballads; a large number of Indonesian words which reflect Portuguese’s role as the ‘lingua franca’ of the archipelago alongside Malay; and many family names in eastern Indonesia such as da Costa, Dias, de Fretes, Gonsalves, etc. The most significant impacts of the Portuguese arrival were the disruption and disorganisation of the trade network mostly as a result of their conquest of Malacca, and the first significant plantings of Christianity in Indonesia. There have continued to be Christian communities in eastern Indonesia through to contemporary times, which has contributed to a sense of shared interest with Europeans, particularly among the Ambonese.[

The Portuguese settlements in the Lesser Sunda islands and in the Moluccas (1500-1600).

The Portuguese settlements in the Lesser Sunda islands and in the Moluccas (1500-1600).  
The first Portuguese expedition to the Moluccas, under the command of Antonio de Abreu, arrived in Amboina and in the Banda islands in 1512. After an adventurous voyage he went back at Malacca. Francisco Serrao and other members of this expedition wrecked on a reef off Lucopino island (Nusa Penju) not far from Ambon island, but somehow managed to reach first Ambon and then Ternate. There the Sultan of Ternate adopted Serrao as his personal councilor and made him and his companions prominent figures of his royal court.
From 1513, the Portuguese sent an annual trading fleet to the Spice islands. The first, under Captain Antonio de Miranda de Azevedo, opened two small “feitorias” one in Ternate and one in Batjan.


The Moluccas, from the “Livro das Plantas das Fortalezas, Cidades e Povoaçoes do Estado da India Oriental 1600s.


On Febraury 1522, the Portuguese captain Antonio de Brito came to the Banda islands and strengthened the friendship with the King of these islands. To mark this event, they erected a stone “padrao”  with the arms of the King of Portugal. Antonio de Brito arrived in Ternate in May of 1522, where he built the fortress of Sao Joao Baptista de Ternate. The first stone of the fortress was laid on June 1522.
The Jesuits started a school in Ternate in its earlier days.
The Portuguese rule in these islands was always weak. This was due to the remoteness of the islands and to the small number of the Portuguese that arrived there; the Europeans were never more than a few thousand.
Several Spanish expeditions arrived at Tidore, the first was that of Magalhaes. The Spaniards settled in Tidore and annoyed the Portuguese for many years.
On 25 October 1536, the Portuguese governor, Antonio Galvao arrived at Ternate. He was a good governor, reconciling, organizing and evangelizing the Moluccas. He was also the builder of the Portuguese town of Ternate, he built a school and an hospital and had a stone wall built all around the town.
Antonio Galvao is worshiped as the apostle of the Moluccas.
On 15 July 1575, the Portuguese surrendered the fort. 


The old city of Ternate in the XVII century.


Ambon is an island located in the center of the Spice Islands in what is today the Indonesian archipelago.
In the year 1569, Gonçalo Pereira Marramaque erected a wooden fort on the northern coast of the Ambon island.
In 1572, it was moved to the southern side of the bay. Subsequently, Sancho de Vasconcelos built a temporary fort at Gelala and another at Batumarah, both of wood; and finally built a stone fortress where  the town of Ambon is situated today.
The first stone was laid on 25 March 1576 and the fortress was named “Nossa Senhora da Anunciada”. In July 1576, the new fortress was inaugurated. Inside the square construction crowned with four towers, one at each corner, there were the captain residence, a meeting room, some storehouses and dwellings for the military officials.
The town was built around the fortress and was divided in several quarters, all inhabited by Christians.
The Portuguese town was not walled, only the Jesuits (in Ambon since 1578) had a stone wall around their garden to protect themselves against attacks of enemy villages. Near their residence was the church of “Sant’ Iago” (1581) covered by a thatched roof.
The Jesuits also served in the church of São Tomé (1581). They used their residence in Ambon like a pastoral center for Ambon and the three Lease Islands: Haruku, Saparua, Nusalaut. The Ambon residence was for some years (1575-1578) the center of the Moluccas Jesuit mission.
Along the shore was situated the oldest church of Ambon called “Sao Paulo” a fortress church.
Near the southeastern side of the fort were the hospital and the church of “Misericordia”. This brotherhood -confraria da Misericordia- was founded in 1579.
The town of Ambon was besieged many times. Its history is a history of war. In 1591 and in 1593 it was besieged by the Ternatans; in 1598 by the Javanese; in 1600 by the Dutch; finally on 23 February 1605 the fortress surrendered to the Dutch.
The early Portuguese contact with these islands was in the years about 1520s. They frequented these islands mainly to purchase sandalwood. The early traders established only temporary warehouses. They did not built permanent trading posts, farms or fortresses, as this task was left to the Dominican missionaries.
In 1561, four Dominican friars under the orders of Brother Antonio da Cruz left Malacca to preach the Gospel in those islands. They settled in Solor.
The friars had a noticeable success in the conversions.
In order to protect their spiritual work from the enemies, in 1566 they built a stone fortress at Solor.

The fort of Solor, from the “Livro das Plantas das Fortalezas, Cidades e Povoaçoes do Estado da India Oriental 1600s.


Within the fort were built the friars’ dormitory, a seminary (in 1600 it contained 50 pupils) and the church of Nossa Senhora da Piedade reserved to the Portuguese. The Portuguese captain resided in a tower. On the left side of the fort, a native village was built adjacent to the church of São João Baptista. A few years later, outside the fort, near the sea, was built the church of Misericórdia.
New conversions were also done in the nearby islands of Adonara and Flores.
In the island of Ende Minor the friar built a fort (1595), and, within its walls, was built the church of São Domingos.
The converted indigenous peoples settled in the vicinity of the fort, where three native villages were founded. Numbas, close to the fortress; Currolalas on the left side, with the church of Santa Catarina de Sena; and Charaboro on the right side, with the church of Santa Maria Maddalena.
The first commander of the fortress of Ende was capitão (captain) Pero Carvalhais.
By 1599 the Dominicans had built as many as 18 churches in the Solor islands:SOLOR:
– Nossa Senhora da Piedade, inside the fortress.
– São João Baptista, on the left of the fort, was the native’s church.
– Misericordia, in the village of Laboiana.
– São João Evangelista, in the village of Lamaqueira; it was destroyed in 1598.
– Madre de Deus, in the village of Guno.
– São Domingos, inside the fort.
– Santa Catarina de Sena, in the village of Currolalas.
– Santa Maria Madalena, in the village of Charaboro.
– São Lourenço, in the village of Lavunama.
– Nossa Senhora de Esperança, in the village of Boibalo.
– Nossa Senhora, in the village of Larantuca.
– Santa Luzia, in the village of Sicà.
– name unknown, in the village of Pagà.
– Nossa Senhora de Assunção, in the village of Quevà.
– São Pedro Martir, in the village of Lena.
– Nossa Senhora da Boa Viagem, on the beach of Dondo, but it was neglected a short time after being built.
– Espírito Santo, in the village of Cramà.
– name unknown, in the village of Lamala, destroyed a short time after during a rebellion.
On 27 January 1613, a Dutch fleet appeared off Solor. The Portuguese captain Manuel Alvares depended on 30 Portuguese and 1000 natives to defend the place.
After nearly 3 month of siege, the Dutch conquered the Solor fortress on 18 April 1613. They renamed it the Fort Henricus.
In 1615 (?) the Dutch fled from the fort, but in 1618 they reoccupied it. Again in 1629-30, as the Dutch left Solor, the Portuguese wasted no time and, in 1630, occupied again Solor. However, in 1636, they left Solor and it remained deserted till the Dutch returned again in 1646.
The Dominicans, from 1613 moved their headquarters to Larantuka (Flores). This was the center of the Portuguese in the Lesser Sunda island up to 1662 when the headquarters were moved to Lifau (today Ocussi in Timor).Bibliography:
– Andaya, Leonard Y.  “The world of Maluku: Eastern Indonesia in the early modern period”  University of Hawaii Press, 1993, Honolulu.
– Argensola, Bartolomé Leonardo   “Conquista de las islas Malucas”
372 pp.   EdicionesPolifemo, 1992 (1609), Madrid, Spain.
– Boxer,Ch.R. “Francisco Vieira de Figueiredo: a Portuguese merchant-adventurer in South East Asia, 1624-1667”
118 pp. Martinus Nijhoff 1967 ‘S-Grevenhage, The Netherlands.
The adventurous history of the life of Francisco Vieira de Figueiredo in Makassar and Larantuka.
– Des Alwi & Hanna, A. Willard “Turbolent times past in Ternate and Tidore” (also for the Dutch history)
290 pp. Rumah Budaya 1990 Banda Neira, Moluccas, Indonesia.
– Hanna, Willard A. “Indonesian Banda: Colonialism and its aftermath in the nutmeg islands”
164 pp. Ills. Map, ISHI, 1978, Philadelphia, USA.
– Jacobs, Hubert “A treatise on the Moluccas c. 1544. Probably the preliminary version of Antonio Galvao’s lost Historia das Molucas”
x, 402 pp. Sources and studies for the history of Jesuits n° 3, Institutum Historicum S. I., 1971, Roma, Italia.
– Jacobs, Hubert “The first locally demonstrable christianity in Celebes 1544”
In STUDIA N° 17, pp. 251 – 305, 1966, Lisbon, Portugal.
– Jacobs, Hubert “The Portuguese town of Ambon, 1567-1605”
In: AA.VV. “II Seminario Internacional de Historia Indo – Portuguesa” 601-614 pp. IICT & CEHCA 1985 Lisboa, Portugal.
– Jacobs, Hubert “Documenta Malucensia” Vol. I-II-III
Vol. I 1542-1577.  XLII-84*-760 pp. (vol. 109). Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu, 1974, Roma, Italia.
Vol. II 1577-1605. XXXII-65*-794 pp. (vol. 119). Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu, 1980, Roma, Italia.
Vol. III 1606-1682. XXIV-54*-778 pp. (vol. 126). Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu, 1984, Roma, Italia.
– Jacobs, Hubert “Jesuits Makasar Documents, 1612-1682”
XXIII-36*-284 pp. (vol. 134). Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu, 1988, Roma, Italia.
– Kartodirdjo, Sartorio “Religious and economic aspects of Portuguese-Indonesian relations”
In STUDIA N° 29, pp. 175 – 196, 1970, Lisbon, Portugal.
– Perez, Lorenzo OFM  “Historia de las misiones de los Franciscanos en las islas Malucas y Celebes”
In: “Archivum Franciscanum Historicorum” vol. VI (1913), pp. 45-60, 681-701; vol. VII (1914) 198-226, 424-446, 621-653.
– Pinto da Franca, A. “Influencia Portuguesa na Indonesia”
In STUDIA N° 33, pp. 161-234, 1971, Lisbon, Portugal.
– Ramerini, Marco “Le Fortezze Spagnole nell’Isola di Tidore, 1521-1663” Roma, 2008 


The remains of Ende fort.

 The remains of Ende fort.

The remains of Ende fort.

The remains of Ende fort.

The remains of Ende fort.

Photos by Mark Schellekens and Greg Wyncoll

The ruins of the Portuguese fort on Ende island (Ende Minor) are nothing more then a collection of coralrocks. Just a single wall remains standing up and for the rest there are some floor parts and foundations visible. The site is used nowadays by local farmers to farm Tapioca and corn and little remains as most of the stones from the fort have been used to build houses in the village of Kemo (pronounced as “K’mo”). This village is easily reached from mainland Flores, from the town of Ende from where 4-5 boats daily sail to Kemo, where the ruins are located.



Tracing Portuguese Heritage in Jakarta

Up until 1940, Tugu residents spoke Portuguese in daily conversations.

 People pinpoint the spot as Kampung Tugu (Tugu Kampong). Situated in Semper Barat, Cilincing Subdistrict, North Jakarta, the Kampong is squeezed by a number of industrial buildings. Tanjung Priok Harbor is only located around four kilometers north-west of it. 
The Kampong is inhabited by Tugu people. They are Portuguese descendants who started to inhabit the area in 1661. “The word Tugu is derived from Portuguese,” Arthur Michiels, a dweller of Kampung Tugu, told VIVAnews.

The story began as Vereenigde Oost-indische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company) occupied a port city in the Malacca Straits in 1641, previously colonized by Portugal. Then, Dutch colonizers took the Portuguese to Indonesia as prisoners of war. They were then placed in Kampung Bandan.
After settling in Kampung Bandan for 20 years, 23 families, around 150 Tugu people, were liberated and transferred to Kampung Tugu. The Dutch colonizers called them De Mardijkers, meaning ‘the liberated people.’
At that time, Kampung Tugu was surrounded by swamps infamous as a malaria-bearing mosquito nest. There, the Tugu people survived by hunting animals and fishing.

The Portuguese traditions still enliven the homes of Kampung Tugu. In fact, up until 1940, they spoke Portuguese in daily conversations. “Today, Tugu inhabitants are provided with weekly Portuguese course from several embassy officials who speak Portuguese,” said Michiels.

The population in Kampung Tugu is estimated to be around 1,200 people. There are only 600 people that still dwell in Kampung Tugu. Around 100 others are spread around Indonesia. In addition, 500 Tugu descendants reside in the Netherlands. “In 1950, many of the Tugu people went to Papua and migrated to the Netherlands through Suriname,” said Michiels.

Those who are still in Kampong Tugu still practice several Portuguese traditions including Rabo-rabo. The Rabo-rabo tradition is held every new year’s eve: it is an inter-family visiting tradition. A family visits their relatives, and these two gathering families will visit other families. The process continues until all families gather in the oldest family. “In line with the nature of the Portuguese who often frequent parties, we always sing and dance in any event,” said Michiels.

Tugu Church

The Portuguese inheritage is very apparent in Tugu Church, which was founded around 1678 by As Amelchior Leidecker. “Those who come and pray in the church are not only people from Tugu. Many outsiders also pray there,” he said.
The church still maintains its original architecture although it has often been renovated. The structure of the building is simple. The white concrete walls are combined with red window panes and doors. A cemetery is located at the churchyard. Rumor has it that Leydecker is also buried in the area.









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