Marking 400 years since the genocide on the Banda Islands, The National Maritime Museum decided to research and present a manuscript about the history of the islands. A Malay manuscript from the collection was written in 1922 by M.S. (Saleh) Neirabatij and is presented in a mini-exhibition in The National Maritime Museum until 7 November and is available online on this page. 

the hikayat of Neirabatij

The collection at The National Maritime Museum contains a manuscript about the history of the Banda Islands. The manuscript, also known as hikayat (story, saga), was long thought by researchers to be lost. M.S. (Saleh) Neirabatij wrote the document in 1922 in the Malay language. He was an influential person in the village of Lonthoir on the island of Lontar. The document mainly deals with the rich history of the Banda Islands before the arrival of the Europeans. This hikayat is a collection of stories that was written at the time with the aim of revealing the rich history of the Banda Islands. The hikayat can be seen in the National Maritime Museum until 7 November 2021.

manuscript with illustration

manuscript with illustration

Photo: Jeremy Flohr/ Beyond Walls

what makes the document special

Historical sources written by local residents during the colonial rule in Indonesia are very rare. The hikayat therefore contributes to a more inclusive perspective on the (maritime) history of the Banda Islands. The M.S. Neirabatij hikayat is handwritten and illustrated with drawings of ships. It also contains special verses (kabatas). The style of writing of the hikayat suggests that it was written to be recited publicly.

Unlike European sources, Islam is an important guideline and the leading roles are reserved for local leaders and heroes, including Cilu Bintang and her brothers. They built a ship, which they used to travel to the Majapahit Empire and Mecca, where they discovered Islam and brought it back to Banda. The story of Agastoe is unique, an enslaved boy who was transported to the Netherlands and brought back to Banda to be employed as an interpreter and mediator. The hikayat also talks about the special position Lonthoir has, the village where the writer comes from, in relation to the Dutch population and other villages on the Banda Islands. 

long-lost manuscript

Until now, the contents of the text were known only through a published summary by Dr. Ph. S. Van Ronkel in 1945. Van Ronkel mentions that the manuscript is a description of local mythology and history, the arrival of Islam on the Banda Islands and that it contains drawings of various vessels. After 1945, the location of the manuscript was unknown within the international academic community and had been presumed lost. The similarity between the hikayat described in Van Ronkel's article and the copy in the collection of The National Maritime Museum was noticed by curator Diederick Wildeman in the 1990s. 

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research into the hikayat

In recent months Dr. Joëlla van Donkersgoed researched the hikayat together with the National Maritime Museum. Making the contents of the document accessible was the main goal of the study. Van Donkersgoed copied the entire text from old Malay into modern Indonesian. She also provided an English summary of the stories with page numbers so that a wide international audience could familiarise itself with the content. The hikayat mainly deals with the rich history of the Banda Islands before the arrival of the Europeans.

copies of the hikayat

During the research, Dr. Joëlla van Donkersgoed worked on the Banda Islands together with her contacts. The National Maritime Museum will offer three facsimiles (physical copies) as soon as the corona measures make this possible. One copy will go to the traditional house (Rumah Adat) on Lonthoir, one to Hatta-Sjahrir College on Pulau Banda and one copy will go to the Rumphius library in Ambon. Aside from this, Dr. Joëlla van Donkersgoed is also working with Dr. Muhammad Farid (dean of Hatta-Sjahrir College) on an academic article, and she will work with Indonesian partners on a book with the transcription of the manuscript.

Find a copy of the manuscript and an English summary on this page.

researcher Joëlla van Donkersgoed

researcher Joëlla van Donkersgoed

Photo: Jeremy Flohr/ Beyond Walls

Joëlla van Donkersgoed

The research into the lost manuscript was carried out by Dr. Joëlla van Donkersgoed, who recently completed her PhD research on the cultural heritage of the Banda Islands, at the American Rutgers University. Her research focuses on a local perspective of the history and heritage of these islands. She quickly realised that this history has always been written from the point of view of the Dutch colonists. Since then, she has been committed to projects to give the local Bandanese population a platform so that their vision of history can be heard. Making this manuscript widely accessible is one of these initiatives and along with this, together with an international interdisciplinary working group, she has organised an online series of discussions about the history and heritage of the Banda Islands.

The hikayat is on show at Het Scheepvaartmuseum from 3 July until May 2022.