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Indonesia History - Sultanate of Ternate

Ternate is deemed the principal of the Moluccas, both by the Dutch and natives, as the Dutch made it the seat of their government, and the chief sultan of these islands the place of his residence. This island produces cloves in great abundance, admirable almonds, delicious fruits, a few goats and some poultry, but not rice, or any other grain ; for the excessive heat which is requisite to ripen spices, and meliorate fruit, parches the earth so, as to render it incapable of bearing wheat, harley, or rice.

The sultans of Ternate and Tidore were once celebrated through the east for their power and regal magnificence;" and after describing how the sultan of Ternate was attired in rich cloth of gold, adorned with a diamond, emerald, ruby and turquois, when Drake saw him in 1579, he remarks, " All this glitter of barbaric gold was the produce of the spice trade."

According to the Portuguese account, the Sultan of Ternate was the first of the Muluccan chieftains who became a Muhammadan. This prince, who occupied the foremost place among the independent rulers in these islands, is said to have made a journey to Gresik, in Java, in order to embrace the Muhammadan faith there, in 1495. Islam, however, seems at first to have made but slow progress, and to have met with considerable opposition from those islanders who clung zealously to their old superstitions and mythology. So that the old idolatry lasted on for some time, crudely mixed up with the teachings of the Qur'an, and keeping the minds of the people in a perpetual state of incertitude.

From these islands Islam spread into the rest of the Moluccas; though for some time the conversions were confined to the inhabitants of the coast. Most of the converts came from among the Malays, who compose the whole population of the smaller islands, but inhabit the coast-1ands only of the larger ones, the interior being inhabited by Alfurs. But converts in later times were drawn from among the latter also.

When Drake visited Ternate in AD 1579, the Portuguese had been driven out of the island by the sultan. Ternate with Batchian constitutes the ancient Moluccas. Milton sang of "The isles of Ternate and Tidore, whence merchants bring their spicy drugs." Par. Lost, Book II.

When the Muluccans took advantage of the attention of the Portuguese being occupied with their own domestic troubles, in the latter half of the sixteenth century, to try to shake off their power, they instituted a fierce persecution against the Christians, many of whom suffered martyrdom, and others recanted, so that Christianity lost all the ground it had gained, and from this time onwards, the opposition to the political domination of the Christians secured a readier welcome for the Muslim teachers who came in increasing numbers from the west. The Dutch completed the destruction of Christianity in the Moluccas by driving out the Spanish and Portuguese from these islands in the seventeenth century, whereupon the Jesuit fathers carried off the few remaining Christians of Ternate with them to the Philippines.

Notwithstanding their small size, Ternate and Tidor had always been the chief centers of political power in the northern, and Amboyna in the southern Moluccas. These islands had long been occupied by civilised Malays, who easily asserted their supremacy over the surrounding lands, which are inhabited chiefly by rude wild tribes at a low stage of culture. Formerly the Mohammedan sultans of Tidor and Ternate were amongst the most powerful rulers in Malaysia, their dominions stretching westwards to Celebes and eastwards to New Guinea, and comprising all the intermediate islands. It was as heirs to these potentates that the Dutch claimed all the western part of New Guinea, as far as the 141st meridian.

Installed in Ternate in 1607, the Dutch had to proceed with greater circumspection in the Northern than in the Southern Moluccas, on account of the power of the Sultan of Ternate. Moreover, the inferior fertility of these islands could not ensure them the same enormous profits as those derived from the southern group. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Sultanate of Ternate won peculiar renown in Europe, and became enormously wealthy, by the sale of spices and by piracy. Holland was at first unable to benefit by the one, and had always a prime interest in suppressing the other.

The sultan of Ternate has great power, which extends to a part of Papua, whence he receives a tribute of gold, amber, and hirds of Paradise. The country governed by the sultan, who lived in great state, was divided into five nigris, or districts, over which were as many synagees, or chiefs. The dominions of the sultan of Ternate comprehended the greater part of the north of Gilolo, also a large extent of the N. E. quarter of Celebes. To the Sultan also belonged the island of Satigir, with the adjacent islands of Siao, Karaklta, Tagulanda, Banka, and Tellusyang. Forrest's Voyage in 1774, p. 36, 39, 34. Pere Avitay, in his Description generate d'Afie, p. 904, asserts, that in former times the kingdom of Ternate drew militia from seventeen islands, to the amount of 87,700 men, whilst Ternate itself furnished three thousand.

The Dutch residency of Termite included that part of East Celebes which is watered by the Gulf of Tomini, together with the adjacent islands. In Ternate was centred most of the trade of the northern Moluccas, which exported spices, tortoise shell, trepang, beeswax, bark, and birds of paradise in considerable quantities.

Nominally the sultan was still ruler, but virtually his powers were greatly curtailed by his conventions with the Dutch-Indian government, under which he surrendered, with the concurrence of his grandees, many of his former rights to the Dutch resident, who became the de facto governor of the easternmost colonial possessions of Holland, especially since the transfer of Dutch New Guinea in 1901. Among the rights surrendered by the sultan of Ternate to the Dutch were those of granting monopolies and mining concessions, vested in the Dutch resident.

There is a volcano iu this island, which cast out a sulphureous fire tbree montbs in the year, and sometimes did great mischief. The base of Ternate volcano is beneath the ocean. Its circumference around its shores is six miles, and its height is 5400 feet. Severe and destructive eruptions took place from it in 1608, 1635, 1653,1673, after which the next was on the 26th February 1838, then on the 25th March 1889, on the 2d February 1840. In that of 1673, a considerable quantity of ashes was carried to Amboyna. In that of 2d February 1840, for fifteen hours the solid ground rolled like the sea, but the heaviest ground-wave was at 10 A.m. of the 15th February, and the people then took to their boats. In this interval, great eruptions of ashes and hot stones fell like hail. Lava poured from the crater into the sea. For ten days, clouds of black smoke poured out. About midnight of the 14th, the shocks were more violent, and before 3.30 A.m. every house was levelled. Fissures formed in the earth, out of which hot water rose for a moment, and then the earth closed again, to re-open at another place. Its population in 1865 was 9000.

By 2008 the Sultan of Ternate combined imperial authority through his role as Sultan with the democratic credential of serving as one of four North Maluku MPs in the national parliament. A self-declared "Sultan of the people," Haji Mudzhaffar Shah II acknowledged his limited authority and symbolic function as Sultan of Ternate. However, he also framed his authority as Sultan as a power given to him by the people, noting that the people could remove him from power if they protested his rule. The Sultan described his reign as a "different form of democracy," stating that Ternate has practiced decentralization for over 800 years with the Sultanate holding significant power as local authority.




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