By Key H. Lasut

logominahasa Smiling Land Tours

The history shows us that the Spaniards called Minahasan as “Batasaina”. It’s the way the Spanish pronounced the statement “Wata’ Esa Ene”, traditionally regarded as Watu Penawetengan resolution of unity. In conversation with B. Palar he explained that H. van Kol wrote Wata’ = bold men (means waraney or warrior in Minahasan language), Esa = one, Ene = yes. In the Minahasan context it implies, “They (warriors) are all agree about one particular matter through democratic process, and as a decision is unanimous, everyone supports it whatever will be”. Accordingly, we can interpret it as “Waraney are one yes”. It seems that this spirit must be living significantly in Minahasan living during their occupation. No wonder, Pastor Blas Palomino OFM explained that “Batasaina” was the people who bounded, unified, and livened up by unanimity, solidarity and loyalty. In his perspective, Dr. P. J. Bouman’s saw that Batasiana” was heterogeneous community that practiced individualist collectivism. Peter Diego Magelhaens wrote from Manado to Ternate in 1563 said “t Eiland Batasiana” related to geographical usage – the inland of Minahasa. P. Pero Mascarenhas in his letter 1568 mentioned “Batachini” related to anthropological – the highlander. Pastor Du Jarric in 1615 found that “La Batachina” or “Botochina” was used by both Spaniards and Portuguese.[1] In their perspectives, “Batasaina” implies not only the anthropological character and social system of Minahasan but also the geographical administrative application.

When Dutch came, the same trend they find in them that what Spaniards called “Batasaina” they called “se Mahasa”. However, you might have wondered why a word “se” precedes the word “Mahasa”. It is Minahasan third personal pronoun in plural form “they”. We pronounce “e” in the word “se” as “e” in “hey”. When we are talking about the “Maesa” or “mahasa” warriors or leaders in Toumbulu or Tounsea or Toulour languages we must have said, “se Maesa” means, “they are Maesa”. In other word, “se Mahasa” actually is “se Maesa” – Maesa people. If without “se”, Maesa means “united”.

Linguistically, the presence of an affix “ma(h)-“ in the word “esa” or “asa” is forming a progressive action verb or figuring out the state of condition of noun and adjective in Minahasan grammar, whereas a word “esa” or “asa” means “one”, “unity”  for noun or “unite” for verb.  The essence of the expression “se Maesa” or “se Mahasa” means “they are uniting”, “they are becoming one”, they are being one or they are assembling.

The unity seems undergoing some revival and restoration in early seventeenth century in which the expression of Maesa can be traced back when the highlander tribal warriors fighting the intruders. The world wants their promising land makes them in the middle of the war. The fighting seems never ending. Such situation does awake them to see that unity is all they need. Once Sultanate of Ternate obsessed that Minahasa should come under their territory that they facilitated the Portuguese, their ally, to occupied Minahasa in order that they can find the way to control the entire North Sulawesi. The Sultanate of Makassar was crazy to annex north Sulawesi peninsula that they used Spanish as they bridge to rule to Minahasa. In 1606 the king of Makassar asserted himself in Buol (in the west of Bolaang) and in about 1636, being on good terms with Spanish, he forced Manado Tua and many other former ‘vassals’ of Ternate to acknowledge his overlordship so that in 1616 the Spanish, with Babontehu help, settled in Wenang, made the Portuguese lost their power. The neighboring Bolaang Mongondow too did the same thing.

The bad condition seems has been getting started from before the arrival of the Iberians and continuing until far into the 18th century. There were many quarrels and much fighting between the Bolaang and the Minahasan. The troubles must have originated mainly in the marriage of a Bolaang prince with the daughter of a high Tontemboan chief. The prince promised to give the land between the rivers Poigar and Ranoiapo as his marriage gift, but did not keep his word. Rather, his descendants claimed the right to rule over the Minahasa. After coastal Bolaang had become united with highland Mongondow, a fact which allowed auxiliary troops to be formed, the three most typical Minahasan tribes must have successfully joined hands against intruders. However, the South Minahasa remained an uneasy borderland.[2]

The Bolaang’s first invasion in Langowan, Kakas and Tondano broke out in 1606. They were defeated by the Minahasan highlander warriors. Since the second war, when Ratuwinangkang (the son of Panulogon with his wife Raunpo’ondou) enthroned as a king, his son became commander, then the attack occurred more often. Both eagerly want to annex Minahasa. This does alert and push our highlander tribal chiefs to join powers to survive. They soon initiate an alliance ritual. Finally, the new identity “Maesa” they has made (second monumental tribal meeting after Watu Pinawetengan).[3] Historians also clarified, “The name ‘Mahasa’ was already given by the Minahasans to the alliance of the three oldest tribes when they fought against Bolaang”.[4] So together they eradicated Bolaang Mongondow at the third war. This gives Minahasan real lessons learn of what the unity is for.

Some had confirmed the existence of this alliance. Colin, writing in the middle of the 17th century, described the Minahasanass willing and communicative, although cruel fighters. Padt-brugge, in 1679, thought of them as a sincere people, open and frank, especially the upland peasants, who had not been degenerated…. Until the 1650s and 1660s, when the Dutch began to appoint people as chiefs, the ‘village’ population was led by chosen elders (not hereditary). According to Domsdorf, prudence, slyness and power were the major requirements which a subtribal chief had to possess. This author stated that the concept of district (a territorial, not a genealogical unity) became current after the war against the Bolaang intruders and that a Landraad like (General Council) was already functioning under the Spaniards. Of the seven members, five were Minahasans – the district chiefs of the Manado region.[5] Padtbrugge maintained that one could not call the Minahasans resolute, because the process of decision taking was a very democratic and so very slow one, in which gifts of oratory had free play. However, once a decision was taken, right or wrong, people would not budge. When someone from one village murdered someone from a different village and a fine had to be paid, both villages held each other responsible. The smallest feeling of injustice led to a quarrel, so there were many feuds, often fought out secretly. In open wars, the victors would kill all the vanquished males, including the youth. The women and children were mostly enslaved and could be ransomed. When the balance of power was fairly even, impartial subtribes might be able to mediate, and the guilty person or party fined. His subtribe or village had to pay in peasants, in gold (found in Bolaang Mongondow), in other valuables or in slaves. In early Dutch times, delegates of the Company were sometimes sent to arbitrate. They could be successful, especially when quarrels were unclear and the Company offered textile to the claimant. In cases of discord in the village, the weakest party often had to migrate, either founding a new village or going over to another village, subtribe or tribe.[6]

What is “Musyawarah Para Ukung” (Vergadering der Dorpshoofden) or “Dewan Wali Pakasaan” (Raad der Dorpshoofden)? This council was the highest representative of Minahasan society, which last until the end of the nineteenth century, reflecting unity and togetherness principles.[7] This traditional assembly (Maesa) must have been well organized under Dutch control since 1679, when the treaty between Minahasa and Dutch concluded. The general meeting came to be called Landraad (General Council).[8] It is suffice to say that it was the highlander tribal leaders’ alliance named “Maesa” or “mahasa” when they were at war against Bolaang Mongondow and Spanish until Dutch adopted and adapted it to play their role.

Since the expression “Maesa” is used in times of war, so the true contextual meaning of “Maesa” is a heroic call, “Be united. Keep uniting”.

To the certain extent, it is clear in my mind that fighting between them is a fighting in the unity not out of unity. All their fighting is subject to the rule. Their rule is clear for them but maybe blurred for us.

Another accumulated tension finally released in 1643, the war between “Maesa” alliance and Spanish broke out in Tompaso. Bolaang Mongondow even joined with Spanish this time, but defeated and made retreat by “Maesa” warriors. The Spanish had repeated fighting with the four Tombulu subtribes Tombarini, Sarongsong, Tomohon and Kakaskasen. It was probably about the late 1644 that the village Kali, situated near Manado, became a new centre of fighting between the Spaniards and the “Maesa”, and a missionary was killed there.  However, the letter written by Father Juan Yranzo in Manila in 1645 mentions the expulsion of the Spanish from the Minahasa region on August 10, 1644. The expulsion resulted in the killing of Fray Lorenzo Garalda. But Still they provoking the bordering kingdom helping them to reoccupy batasaina. In 1692 they finally disappeared.[9]

In 1644, the allied Tombulu communities sent a mission to the Dutch in Ternate, asking for help and an alliance. When the South Minahasa remained an uneasy borderland, and then Dutch came. “It was not until 1679, 35 years after the communicative Minahasans had approached the eager Company, that a treaty was concluded when nineteen of the highlander tribal leaders gather in Manado to sign their loyalty to the VOC, under the auspice of the Governor of the Moluccas, Robert Padtbrugge (third monumental tribal meeting). This was the first Dutch step towards regular political and administrative control of the Minahasa. The contracting subtribal chiefs (whom the Dutch ignorantly called village chiefs), convened in general meeting, promised:

  1. to recognize the Company as their overlord and to assist the Dutch by giving life and property should the occasion arise;
  2. to perform some specified services both for the Company and for the public works;
  3. to deliver paddy for re-suplying ships, and wood in case of ship damage, but nothing for export.

The Company, in turn, promised :

  1. to protect the people of the 23 Minahasa ‘villages’ as its subjects;
  2. to extend the contract to the people of the 4 and half tribes or subtribes which had not turned up (Tonsawang, Pasan, Ratahan, Ponosakan and part of Bantik) if they would stop paying tribute to the king of Bolaang;
  3. to grant freedom from taxation, except if necessary in time of hostile attack.”[10]

In 1694, another Tompaso war happened; again, the troops of king Loloda Mokoagaow II defeated and made retreat by Maesa warriors alliance. Based on the treaty that Dutch have to protect Minahasan. Logically, the VOC must be with Maesa fighting and protecting them. No wonder Residen Herman Jansz Steynkuler was there to reconcile them. Under VOC mediation, the peace treaty concluded and the crossing border agreement between Manado Chief and King of Bolaang was defined at September 21, 1694 that the river of Poigar is a borderline (fourth monumental tribal meeting).

It seems that when Minahasan have no external serious threats, then fighting between them happen. It doesn’t mean that the unity is no more! Let me say that fighting is might have been normal for them. The fighting between them signifies a real training center to prepare them for the real war against the external threats because empirically every time they fighting their common enemies they were contingent in nature. The truth is that their fighting is a part of their cultural and spiritual practices to achieve the honored social position in their community and a testing arena to find the superior one that later will be regarded as manifestation of the supernatural powers in a living being.[11] At the same time, we should also say that the unity is yet in the process of purification to be well united, because internal disputes evidently exist, aren’t they? The history shows us the official written reconciliation reported on October 8, 1789 (fifth monumental tribal meeting) that Dutch Resident Johan Daniel Schierstein not only reconciled the war between sub-ethnic Bantik and Toumbulu (Tateli) known as Tateli war, sub-ethnic Tondano and Tonsawang,[12] but also the clash between Pasan – Ratahan – Ponosakan and Langowan – Tompaso they reconciled on December 9, 1789. Until well into the 19th century, the Minahasa was made up of rivaling warrior societies that practiced headhunting. Only during ‘Pax Neerlandica’ of the formal colonisation of the Dutch East Indies did the state of permanent internal warfare and the practice of headhunting subside.[13]  The last reported headhunting occurred 1862.[14]

While the primordial minahasan ethnicity defines minahasan as a group of people who may ultimately trace their lineages to mythical characters of Toar and Lumimu’ut, history shows that it was probably a combination of western influences and administrative styles that helped to solidify both social and geographical boundaries between Minahasa and others. This is not to say that a distinct minahasan community would not have evolved along the same line without western influence, and indeed it has been shown elsewhere that cultural and linguistic links between the major minahasan subgroups helped to give initial form to Minahasa. However, in order to identifies the processes that made Minahasa solidified social, political, ethnic and geographic phenomenon, the closer examination of the regions historical relationship with the Netherlands must be undertaken.[15]

Historian have shown that the territory of Minahasa as it is defined on modern map can be traced back to an agreement brokered by the VOC and agreed upon by the chief of Manado and the neighboring Bolaang king in 1694. A more stringent contract was signed by the VOC and Bolaang 1756 that would forever establish the boundary between the kingdom of Bolaang Mongondow and the Landstreek van Manado (that would later become known as Minahasa). “The boundary which they created ultimately came to separate two distinct countries where formally there had been amorphous fluidity.”[16] Thus, Minahasa became a bounded territory, recognizable on the VOC maps and subject to company’s control. The line dividing these two territories was seen as necessary step in undermining the influence and power of Bolaang king to the south while at the same time helping to consolidate VOC territorial rights and obedience of those inhabiting the area.[17]

Once of the territory of the VOC rule had been distinguished from neighboring areas, the need lucrative trade operations became of the most concern for the company. While the physical conditions of North Sulawesi were ideal for agricultural production of almost every variety, the prevailing social atmosphere was prone to violent conflict and rivalries amongst the more extended village communities (walak) and linguistic/”ethnic” groups. Schouten has written that, “It is evident from the many wars that inter-walak relations were characterized by hostility rather than unity. “[18] Frequent disputes in the area only served to hinder the production and distribution of goods from inland areas to the VOC trade posts. The relationship between the various groups had never been harmonious, but an apparent growing availability of firearms and the intensification of the prosperous slave trade during 1780s and 1790s helped to invigorate the already present rivalries and hostilities.[19]

For these reasons, the Dutch would soon find themselves playing the role of intermediary between local factions.[20] As part of this role, the company organized meetings among the various walak chiefs that allowed the Dutch to “guide” the resolution of the internal arguments among the various members, as well as provide suggestive operational/production strategies to these same chiefs. It is from one of these meetings that the word “Minahasa” is used for the first time in Dutch written accounts. When the word Minahasa first appears in Dutch records in 1789, it refers not to the territory, nor even to its population as a whole, but to the council of chiefs convened to receive Dutch instructions and resolve internal disputes.[21]

The golden moment to unify the whole rivaling tribes comes with war. The opening gate is when the Tateli War broke out on October 1, 1789, the war between Bantik and Tombulu (Tateli). Walak chief of Bantik alleged to order his people to kill people got him arrested. Due to this case, the Resident J.D.Schierstein compelling each Ukung (=hukum tua) to send 50 personnel to join with Dutch troops attacking Walak Bantik. Consequently, Walak Bantik has no other choice than agree to reconcile.  In resolving the whole internal disputes, he invite all Ukung to participate to hold the rally in keeping peace and unity collaborate with the Residen to compel all Walak to reconcile each other and become one. With their own local wisdom and spirit, the resolution they have made to keep their own peace and unity between them. For all the subtribal leaders have become one entity in spirit and will always unite that they have come to a beautiful resolution to call, the people who convene that have made this monumental unification, with a beautiful name, “Minaesa” – have become one. The Residen reported it on October 8, 1789, to the governor of Maluccas, Alexander Cornabe, written as Minhasa – the Dutch pronunciation version of Minaesa.  Finally, the quarrel between Pasan – Ratahan – Ponosakan and Langowan – Tompaso reconciled on December 9, 1789 and they held a cultural celebration for their reconciliation at the end of that month.

Schierstein also showed us the oldest document writes the name “minhasa” referred to the village name in Manado and another one records that the indigenous inhabitant on of North Sulawesi peninsula called “Manado people”. Everhardfus C. Godee Mohlsbergen too, the Netherlands Indische Governor of Ternate, Maluku between 1675 and 1682, mentioned the word the minahasa in the official historical book.

Not until 1822 is there any hard evidence that the term is being used to geographic and ethnic sense.[22]

It was the former resident of Manado, WENZEL, Johannes that established the Land of Minahasa-Raad written as Manahassa-Raad, 22 September 1828 No. 20 (Staatsblad Nummer 47), away from minahasan spirit. It only functioned as a judicial body. The president was the resident himself with two members, one from Dutch and another one from Walak chief of Minahasa. Later, it became Landraad in 1889.

Since Dutch had issued a decentralized law in 1903, as official implementation of Ethical Policy 1901 by Queen Wilhelmina in The Netherlands, then the Staatsblad Nummer 64, dated Marc 1st, 1919, finally established the ‘Locale Resort Minahasa Raad‘, the house of the representative of Minahasa.

To distinguish our ancestral father from Bolaang Monondow tribe, VOC applied the term “Minhasa”. From Maesa Dutch pronounces it become Mahasa, from Minaesa to Minhasa, later they improved our lovely ethnonym become Minahasa, Dutch spoken version of Minaesa. “Mina” signifies a complete action verb, “have become” and “esa” is one. The spirit of “Minaesa” or “Minahasa” declaring the perfect result: We “have become one”, a name with a peaceful message.

Wata’ Esa Ene – Maesa – Mahasa – Minhasa – Minahasa


Pakatuan wo pakalawiren! I YAYAT U SANTI…!

Key Lasut

End Notes

[1] B. Palar, Wajah Lama Minahasa ( 2009), 148-150; 160, 161.

[2] Riedel (1869); Godée (1928), 6-9, 41; Aernsbergen (1925); Valentijn (1724-1726)

[3] J.E. Jasper,”Historische verhalen en Legenden v.d. Minahasa” (1916), 283

[4] See for these names Godée (1928), 7, 53; Riedel (1869), 512; Reinwardt (1858), 583; Jouke S. Wigboldus, A History of the Minahasa c. 1615-1680, 95

[5] Aernsbergen (1925), 21-2; Domsdorff (1930), 352, 356; (the italic inserted)

[6] Jouke S. Wigboldus, A History of the Minahasa c. 1615-1680, 85

[7] Max Laurens, Dari Mina’Esa ke Minahasa Raad (Dewan Minahasa) akhir abad ke-19 sampai awal abad ke-20,

[8] Henley (1996), 36

[9] Jessy Wenas, The Wailan in the 15th Century.htm

[10] Godée 1928, 53-8; Schouten 1998:41; See Jouke S. Wigboldus, A History of the Minahasa c. 1615-1680, 71

[11] Schouten (1998), 25

[12] Godee Mohlsbergen, 1928 : 53

[13] Schouten, M.J.C. Leadership and Social Mobility in a Southeast Asian society. Minahasa, 1677-1983 (Publisher: KITLV Press, Leiden, 1998) ISBN 90-6718-109-9 P.11 and P.51

[14] Henley, David E.F. National and Regionalism in Colonial Context: Minahasa in the Dutch East Indies. Leiden: KITLV Press 1996, p. 57

[15] Kirsten Marie Brown, Decentralization & Ethnic Regionalism in Indonesia: The Case of Minahasa (2002), 81

[16] Henley (1996), 33-34

[17] Henley (1996), 32-33

[18] Schouten 50

[19] Schouten 49-50

[20] See David E. F. Henley, “Jealousy and Justice: The indigenous roots of the colonial rule in northern Sulawesi.” Paper for KITLV workshop ‘Violent in Indonesia’(Leiden, The Netherlands, 13-15 December 2000)

[21] Henley (1996), 36 & 40, see also Schouten 50; Godee Mohlsbergen (1928), 53; See also Kirsten Marie Brown, Decentralization & Ethnic Regionalism in Indonesia: The Case of Minahasa (2002), 82

[22] Henley (1996), 36 & 40, see also Schouten 50; Godee Mohlsbergen (1928), 53; See also Kirsten Marie Brown, Decentralization & Ethnic Regionalism in Indonesia: The Case of Minahasa (2002), 82