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LOCATION: Indonesia (Sulawesi)
POPULATION: 650,000 to 1.25 million
LANGUAGE: Malay (Manado dialect and Bahasa Indonesia); various indigenous languages (Bantik, Ponosakan, Tombulu, Tonsawang, Tonsea, Tondano, Tontemboan).
RELIGION: Christianity
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 3: Indonesians


Although the Minahasans produced no pre-colonial kingdoms, as other Indonesian ethnic groups can boast, since the Dutch period they have enjoyed one of the highest standards of education and economic development in the whole country. The term Minahasa itself means "made one," referring to an early confederation of tribes formed to resist the neighboring Bolaang-Mongondow people. Deriving from these nine tribes are the sub-ethnic groups recognized among the Minahasa today: Tonsea, Tombulu, Tontemboan, Tondano, Tonsawang, Pasan Ratahan, Ponosakan, Babontehu, and Bantik. The people of the regency (kabupaten) are also commonly called Manadonese, after the principal city, Manado.

Such as it is known, early Minahasa history is one of constant warfare among clans and villages, marked by headhunting. The Muslim sultanate of Ternate to the east exercised some influence on the Minahasans, though the latter, unlike the Gorontalo farther west, resisted Islamization. In the mid-16th century, the Portuguese, with the first Christian missionary, a Catholic priest, among them, visited the region. From bases in the Philippines, the Spanish also made contacts among the Minahasans, leaving American food crops and horses (the local Malay lingua franca takes its word for the animal from the Castilian caballo).

In the 1650s, the Dutch East India Company drove the Spanish out of Minahasa in pursuit of the spice monopoly. They built Fort Amsterdam in 1673, around which would grow the city of Manado. However, it was only in 1808–09 that the Dutch penetrated very far beyond that strategic outpost; in those years, they subjugated the surrounding highlands. Th is opened up lands for the forced cultivation of coffee and began a cultural transformation, which would include rapid mass conversions to Christianity. While losing a great part of their indigenous culture, the Minahasans took advantage of the opportunities offered by the Dutch colonial government and European missionaries. By 1930, the region had the highest literacy rate in both Malay and Dutch in the whole country. In disproportionately high numbers, Minahasans staffed the bureaucracy throughout the colony. They also served in the colonial military, feeling more solidarity with the Christian Dutch than with their Muslim fellow "natives."

Indeed, the struggle for independence from Dutch rule in the aftermath of World War II received a far from unanimous welcome in the region. However, despite its reputation as the "twelfth province of Holland," Jong Minahasa ("Young Minahasa") was one of the early 20th century regional associations that merged into the Indonesian nationalist movement. Duringthe revolution, Sukarno and Hatta sent a Minahasan, Dr. Sam Ratulangie, to establish a republican administration for all of Sulawesi. Today, the Minahasa region is well integrated into the Indonesian nation, at a distance from the Java and Islam-dominated mainstream but without separatist ambitions. According to one official index, North Sulawesi, of which Minahasa is the most advanced part, ranks only after Jakarta and Yogyakarta in quality of life. Already an increasingly popular tourist destination, particularly for its spectacular venues for scuba-diving, Manado is slated to become one of the principle nodes in a "growth triangle" that will include Malaysian Sabah and Philippine Mindanao.


The Minahasa region occupies the very tip of the Sulawesi's northern peninsula (corresponding to Minahasa regency within the province of North Sulawesi). The landscape is mountainous, dominated Mt. Klabat, which is 1,995-m (6,000-ft), and Mt. Soputan (which erupted in 1989). There is also a sizable upland lake, Tondano, along whose shores wet-rice cultivation flourishes. According to the 2000 census, Minahasans made up 33% of the population of Sulawesi Utara (North S.) province, equaling over 650,000; the province's total population had risen to 2.85 million in 2008. The population density of the Minahasa region, at 750 persons per sq km (1,940 persons per sq mi) is half of Java's but exceedingly high for the Outer Islands. Many Minahasans have settled in Jakarta and other parts of Indonesia, as well as in the Netherlands.

The region, especially the city of Manado, has long attracted outsiders. The common physical stereotype of the Minahasans is that they are strikingly attractive examples of racial blending, though this may not accurately apply to the generality. There is a small community of mixed European and indigenous descent, the Borgo. Intermarriage with Chinese has also been very frequent with noticeable results; anti-Chinese feeling seems to be much lower in Minahasa than in the rest of the country.


Like most other Indonesian languages, those of North Sulawesi are Austronesian. However, they display closer affinities to the Austronesian languages of the Philippines to the north than to their neighbors farther south on Sulawesi. Despite the Minahasa region's small size, seven distinct languages are spoken, each associated with a particular district (Bantik, Ponosakan, Tombulu, Tonsawang, Tonsea, Tondano, and Tontemboan).

The regional lingua franca is a localized dialect of Malay called "Manado Malay" after the multiethnic provincial capital. Daily speech in the indigenous languages is freely mixed with Manado Malay and, increasingly, with Bahasa Indonesia. The lingua franca may drive the Minahasan languages into extinction over the course of the next few generations.

In a pattern atypical of Indonesia, Minahasans use family names, with married women placing their maiden names after their husband's surname.


According to legend, the ancestress of the Minahasans, Lumimuut, was born from foam thrown up by the sea. Lumimuut was impregnated by the wind and bore a son, Toar. Hoping to find mates, the two set out in different directions. After years of wandering, they met again but failed to recognize each other. They married and had many children, among whom Lumimuut divided her realm, the Minahasa land. The sacred stone, Watu Pinawetengan, to which she summoned her offspring for this division, can still be seen, covered with carvings of unknown meaning.


Some 90% of the population of Minahasa is Christian (the majority subscribe to several Protestant sects led by the [Dutch] Reformed Church; a small minority is Catholic). Catholicism was first introduced in the 16th century by a Portuguese priest, Father Diego Magalhaens. Protestantism arrived with the Dutch in the 17th century but massive conversion occurred only in the 19th century.

Belief persists in a wide range of supernatural beings that are believed to have memory, feeling, and energy: opu or dotu, ancestral spirits; murku, the spirits of the dead, which remain near human dwellings; and panunggu, lulu, puntianak, and pok-pok, various categories of demons or ghouls. Good people are believed to become benevolent spirits; evil people, suicides, and accident victims become malevolent ones. Propitiatory rituals attend important life events, times of danger or disease, and the full moon. These rituals are led by mediums (tonaas or walian) and require offerings of eggs, betel nuts, palm wine, cigarettes, and rice. Mediums heal with potions of water in which magical objects have been soaked; they locate these herbs, stones, or wood pieces in places indicated by ancestral spirits through visions. Divination is performed by examining an animal's gall bladder. Some shamans specialize as midwives, thief-detectors, and spell-casters; they are often consulted on political strategy.


See the article entitled Indonesians .


Whereas formerly parents arranged their children's marriages, nowadays young people choose their own spouses. Preliminary to the wedding, the man's family sends a representative to meet with an intermediary named by the woman's family. The delivery of the bride-price formalizes the engagement. On the Sunday before the wedding, representatives of both families announce the wedding and reception in church. On the day itself, the groom goes to the bride's house, knocks on the door of her room, and, usually very embarrassed, they kiss each other in front of onlooking family and friends. The groom escorts the bride to the church, where the wedding ceremony takes place, to be followed by a reception at the bride's house. After church the following Sunday, the groom brings his bride for a visit to his parents' house.


Since the Minahasans never knew an indigenous kingdom, high status was traditionally not inherited but had to be won by demonstrating excellence to one's fellows (who in turn were always eager to challenge those who had managed to win prominence). In conditions of constant petty warfare, this meant personal prowess in battle and the ability to recruit fighters. Agricultural success was also a sign of divine blessing. A man seeking recognition would mount a great feast; completing a cycle of nine such feasts would qualify a man for a waruga stone burial chamber (carved with human figures, whose shape suggests a house with a gable roof). Waruga are no longer being built, but modern people still leave coconuts in front of them, said to be a substitute for human heads; replacing these are ostentatious modern mausolea, sometimes in the shape of boats or cars to reflect the source of the deceased's wealth.

According to Minahasan mythology, three status groups were distinguished: the tonaas or walian, religious specialists; makatelupitu, the leaders and warriors; and ordinary people. In addition to respecting walian and now Christian ministers, modern Minahasans recognize informal social status based on government office, wealth, inheritance, and education (a basic classification is between tou siga, "clever," i.e., educated, people and tou lengei, the "still stupid," i.e., uneducated).

A village (kampung) headed by a hukum tua is traditionally divided into subvillages headed by a kepala jaga, which break down further into groups of houses led by a meweteng who distributes work duties. Other village officials include a clerk, a land surveyor, an irrigation supervisor, a town-crier, and a police chief.

People belong to mutual aid associations (mapalus) that assist their members in holding funerals, weddings, and other major celebrations, as well as with agricultural tasks. Similarly, organizations for kin and people from the same locality play an important role, flourishing among Minahasans in Jakarta and elsewhere outside their homeland. In hotly contested village-head elections, these organizations provide support for candidates who must mount large feasts to win votes.


According to 17th-century European accounts, ancient Minahasan villages were fortified, consisting of dwellings built on massive pillars and housing six to nine related families, each in a separate room with its own kitchen; the eldest, who was the head of the kin group, possessed the largest room.

Modern houses are built on smaller wooden or limestone piles (2.5 m or 8 ft high) and house a single family. An unwalled front room as long as the rest of the house is edged by a simply carved railing. A corridor with rooms on either side runs down the middle of the walled part of the house. The space under the house is walled in for storage or left open for a cart. Roofs are made of palm thatch or zinc; the latter, along with glass windows, expensive woods, and a cemented undercroft floor, is the mark of a richer family's house. Separate outbuildings are used for cooking, bathing, and toilet functions. Reminiscent of Europe, local houses are renowned for their hedged yards, well-tended gardens, and potted plants adorning window sills and porch railings.

As fields may be some distance from the family house, rural Minahasans make use of sabuwa, small, simple houses for shelter from the rain, storing produce before taking it to market, and cooking and sleeping when crops need to be guarded from animals for days at a stretch.

Villages (wanua) consist of houses arranged along a main road (or also down side roads in larger settlements); the church, market, headman's office, police, shops, and food stalls are concentrated on this axis. Ox- and horse-drawn carts are still common.

The Minahasans' home province, North Sulawesi, has a Human Development Index (combining measures of income, health, and education) of 74.2 (2005 score), far higher than Indonesia's national score of 69.6 and second only to that of the region of the national capital, Jakarta (76.1). North Sulawesi's GDP per capita is us$8,360, moderately high for Indonesia (cf. us$10,910 for North Sumatra, us$6,293 for Central Java, and us$2,919 for North Maluku). In 2000, the level of infant mortality, at 27.77 deaths per 1,000 live births, was the third lowest in country, after the national capital region of Jakarta and the highly urbanized Yogyakarta region.


Kinship is bilateral, with equal emphasis on connection to maternal as well as paternal relatives. The family includes parents and their unmarried children; a daughter and her husband may live with the parents before setting up their own house. A couple, their children, and their children's families constitute the basic kinship unit, the patuari or famili (a Dutch term), which is exogamous (wider kin-groupings have lost their function in modern times). Divorce is common, governed by modern laws. Inheritance is divided equally among heirs, who may include surviving spouses and biological, adopted, and stepchildren; the eldest son oversees the rotation of non-divisible property.


Heavily Europeanized, modern Minahasa is not known for distinctive costumes, because indigenous weaving died out in the 19th century.


Maize is the staple food for most Minahasans. While papaya fruit is fed to pigs, people eat the cooked leaves. Dishes are accompanied by rica-rica, a mixture of chili peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and ginger. Regional specialties include pork sate, tinoransak (another pork dish), kawaok (fried forest rat), kelalawar pangang (bat stew), RW (rintek wuuk, "fine hair," a euphemism for spiced dog), and cat (tusuk or "eveready" as in the battery with the cat logo). Fish is common fare, the best-loved preparations being fried carp dipped in dabu-dabu sauce (chili, tomato, onion, and lime) and smoked tuna (caka-lang fufu), fried or cooked in coconut milk. Tinutuan, famed throughout Indonesia as bubur Manado, is a rice gruel with greens and dried fish. Milu is a clear soup with young corn kernels and small shrimp, slightly sour from lime. A common snack is panada, Iberian-style meat-and-vegetable turnovers. Desserts include halwa kenari (kenari nut with brown sugar), various confections (bagea and wajik), and fried ice cream.


Compared to other ethnic groups, Minahasans have long enjoyed superior access to modern schooling. The Dutch colonial government and Christian churches promoted education; by 1900, there was 1 school for every 1,000 people in Minahasa, while Java's ratio was 1 school for every 50,000 people. Because of this educational advantage, Minahasans have been disproportionately represented in the bureaucracy. Disdaining manual labor and commerce, Minahasans migrate to fill positions in areas with a shortage of civil servants.

In 2005, North Sulawesi's level of literacy stood at 98.87%, high by Indonesian national standards and even higher than in the region of the national capital, Jakarta (see also the article entitled Indonesians in this volume).


Throughout Indonesia, Minahasans are famous for their singing skills (which they readily display at parties), as well as for the kolintang, an orchestra of wooden xylophones; their music, widely available on cassette, is Western in style. A legacy from the Dutch colonial military of which Minahasa, along with Ambonese, formed an important component, marching band music on bamboo versions of brass and other wind instruments (trumpets, trombones, tubas, saxophones, and clarinets) accompanies festivals. Early Spanish influences survive in a tradition of Christmas mumming (masked dance) and katrili, a kind of square dancing. For competitions and the reception of important guests, a number of dances of a more indigenous character have been secularized and modernized. Group dancing (maengket) includes: the maowey kamberu, depicting the rice harvest; the marambak, depicting housebuilding; and lalayaan, a dance offering the sexes a chance to interact. Also performed in the Moluccas, the cakalele (also called kabasaran or mahsasuh) is a war dance consisting of red-clad men waving swords and shields and emitting fierce cries.


Some 76% of the population earns a living from agriculture. Inland valleys with volcanic soils support wet-rice, but swidden (shifting-cultivation) field maize is the staple food, grown along with tubers and peanuts. Cabbage, Chinese cabbage, onions, tomatoes, water spinach, and chili are also grown for market. Important cash crops are coffee (declining in importance since the 19th century), coconut for copra and oil, and, since the 1970s, cloves. The domestic cigarette industry's demand for cloves has enriched many farming families; the short harvest time pulls in all available labor, closing schools and offices. Most land is owned by individuals (aside from a diminishing amount of land owned by kin-groups), and conflicts over inheritance frequently erupt. Sharecropping is common. Villagers may use communal lands after informing the village head.

Other occupations include livestock-raising and fishing (usually by families, from outrigger and non-outrigger canoes). Each village has a carpenter. Tibo brokers sell produce purchased from farmers, transporting it in carts.


See the article entitled Indonesians .


See the article entitled Indonesians .


Gardening is a major leisure activity; roses, hibiscus, bougainvillea, and citrus are grown.


See the article entitled Indonesians .


Minahasan women enjoy among the highest levels of wellbeing and empowerment in Indonesia. North Sulawesi's Gender-Related Development Index (combining measures of women's health, education, and income relative to men's) is 62.1, higher than Indonesia's national GDI of 59.2. The province's Gender Empowerment Measure (reflecting women's participation and power in political and economic life relative to men's) is 55.1, also higher than the national GEM (54.6).


Badan Pusat Statistik: Statistik Indonesia. http://demografi.bps.go.id (November 9, 2008).

Dalton, Bill. Indonesia Handbook. Chico, CA: Moon Publications, 1991.

Jonge, Nico de, ed. Indonesia in Focus: Ancient Traditions—Modern Times. Meppel: Edu'Actief, 1988.

Koentjaraningrat, ed. Manusia dan Kebudayaan di Indonesia [Man and Culture in Indonesia]. Jakarta: Djambatan, 1975.

LeBar, Frank M., ed. Ethnic Groups of Insular Southeast Asia. Vol. 1, Indonesia, Andaman Islands, and Madagascar. New Haven, CT: Human Relations Area Files Press, 1972.

Melalatoa, M. Junus. "Minahasa, Suku Bangsa." In Ensiklopedi Nasional Indonesia (ENI) vol. 10. Jakarta: Cipta Adi Pustaka, 1990.

Profil Propinsi Republik Indonesia: Sulawesi Utara. Jakarta: Yayasan Bhakti Wawasan Nusantara, 1992. Volkman, Toby Alice and Ian Caldwell, ed. Sulawesi: Island Crossroads of Indonesia. Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1990.

—revised by A. J. Abalahin