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ETHNONYMS: Orang Ternate, Orang Tidore, Suku Ternate, Suku Tidore


Identification. Ternatan and Tidorese are the inhabitants of the islands Ternate and Tidore in the northern Moluccas of eastern Indonesia; they have partly settled also along the coast of adjacent islands, Halmahera among others. They distinguish themselves from other Moluccans by the use of the language of Ternate or Tidore. The people of Ternate and Tidore call themselves in the Malay or Indonesian language "Orang Ternate" or "Orang Tidore" (orang, "people"). Ternatan and Tidorese are closely related to each other linguistically, historically, sociologically, and culturally, but in relation to each other they tend to set a high value on maintaining their own identity. No Ternatan likes to be classified as a Tidorese, nor does a Tidorese like to be seen as a Ternatan. For ages Ternatan have been more closely in touch with people from the more western parts of the Indonesian archipelago than with the Tidorese; as a result Tidorese are generally less educated and less cultivated than Ternatan. The Tidorese are viewed as the more industrious but also the more boorish people in relation to the Ternatan.

Location. The small islands of Ternate and Tidore are two volcanoes, very close to each other and very close to the equator, off the west coast of the large island Halmahera in the northern part of the Moluccas (Maluku) Province, Indonesia, 1° N and 127° E. The peaks of these islands are over 1,700 meters high. Both Ternate and Tidore are more than 40 kilometers in circumference. The volcano of Ternate is active; that of Tidore has not shown any signs of activity for ages. The islands have a healthy climate.

Linguistic Affiliation. Ternate and Tidore can be classified as two dialects of one language, Ternate-Tidore, which is one of the four related languages spoken on the northern half of the island of Halmahera and on the offshore islands to the north and the west. These form a non-Austronesian enclave in Austronesian language territory. These non-Austronesian languages have linguistic ties with the languages of the Bird's Head Peninsula, Irian Jaya. The superordinate group to which all these languages belong is the West Papua Phylum. The teaching medium in schools is the Indonesian national language, Bahasa Indonesia; the languages of Ternate and Tidore are reduced to a position of minor social importance, used in daily conversation but no longer in writing. Until World War II the local language was the officiai language of the courts of Ternate and Tidore and also was used in writing (in Arabic script).

Demography. The number of Ternatan is about 35,000 and approximately half of them live on Ternate Island; the number of Tidorese is about 70,000 and approximately half of them live on Tidore Island.

History and Cultural Relations

The area of Halmahera and adjacent islands is the homeland of cloves, and until the sixteenth century the cultivation of cloves remained confined to this area. At the time the Portuguese arrived in the Moluccas, in 1512, this area numbered four sultanates: Ternate, Tidore, Bacan, and Jailolo. Together these four sultanates, of which the competing realms of Ternate and Tidore were the most important, controlled the total world production of cloves. The power and prestige of the sultanates were based on the control of the sale of cloves to foreign traders and, later on, to Europeans. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Ternate and Tidore succeeded in extending their military power and political and cultural influence over the surrounding islands. Ternate directed its expansion mainly to northern Halmahera, to the islands south of Ternate, and to the east coast of Sulawesi. Tidore directed its expansion mainly to southern Halmahera, the Raja Ampat Islands, and the adjacent coast of Irian Jaya and to eastern Ceram. In the sixteenth century the Portuguese, who had settled themselves on Ternate Island, attempted without success to establish a monopoly on the purchase of cloves, but later on in the seventeenth century the Dutch, who took over the position of the Portuguese, succeeded in this objective. The Dutch restricted the cultivation of cloves to Ambon (central Moluccas) and a few adjacent islands, producing just enough to supply the world market. For any other islands in the Moluccas, including Ternate and Tidore, the cultivation of cloves became strictly forbidden. This interdiction was maintained into the nineteenth century. In compensation for the loss of revenues from clove production and allied trade, the sultans of Ternate and Tidore and their principal officials were provided an annual allowance by the Dutch. Nevertheless, the interdiction of clove production and allied trade resulted in a drastic economic decline for the sultanates and, at the same time, an absolute dependence on the Dutch, cultural isolation, and internal social and political ossification. The abolition of the interdiction on clove production in the nineteenth century brought no change whatsoever because the price of cloves had fallen to a level that made the cultivation of cloves unattractive, and the system of allowances was maintained. Under Dutch protection Ternate and Tidore remained semiautonomous states until Indonesia's independence in 1949. The Indonesian government has pursued a policy of total integration of the sultanates into the modern state. The autonomous sultanates have been abolished by gradually integrating the internai administration with the provincial organization of the Moluccas. The sultanates have virtually ceased to exist now and institutions of the former sultanates survive only in folklore, not as politically significant elements.

Throughout the ages Ternate and Tidore have been influenced culturally by the Islamic northeast coast of Java, by the Portuguese, and by the Dutch. Nevertheless there has always been a strong cultural radiation from the political centers of Ternate and Tidore to the surrounding islands.


Ternate and Tidore each has its own capital, namely, Ternate City and Soa Siu. Both these towns developed from neighborhoods that came into being near and in connection with the residence of the sultan. However, the greater part of the Ternatan and Tidorese live in villages that lie scattered along the coast of the islands. These villages number from about 200 to 5,000 people. Most villages on Ternate and Tidore lie along the road that runs along the coast, but there are also some villages situated off the road on the lower slopes of the volcano; the latter can only be reached by footpaths. A village usually consists of a number of houses of farmers and fishermen, without any special layout, and with a mosque more or less in the center of the village.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Ternatan and Tidorese, when not in a town, live mainly on subsistence agriculture supplemented with some fishing. Only a few people are professional fishermen. Formerly the principal food was sago, which grows on Ternate and Tidore only in negligible quantities and had to be supplied mainly from Halmahera, Morotai, Bacan, and Sula. There was and there is yet some dry-rice cultivation on Ternate and Tidore, but not so much that rice could at any time serve as the principal food of the population. Sago has now been replaced as the principal food by cassava and maize, which are cultivated on Ternate and Tidore. The cassava is prepared and eaten in the same manner as sago (i.e., as popéda: by pouring boiling water on the flour one gets a kind of paste that is eaten by preference with a fish sauce). Bananas, taro (Colocasia antiquorum ), and batatas (lpomaea batatas ) are also an important part of the daily diet. If possible the meal is completed with a bit of dried and salted, smoke-dried, or fresh fish. Vegetables are seldom eaten and meat even less. Besides their work in the gardens and their fishery, the villagers also keep a few hens, ducks, goats, and so on. In the town the people live mainly as employees of the government and of Chinese employers, or as retailers at the marketplace.

Industrial Arts. Almost no artisans are to be found in the villages of Ternate. On Tidore there is a traditional division of labor between the villages: for example, the village of Gurabati is known for its makers of atap (traditional roofing) and the village of Toloa for its blacksmiths and boat builders, whereas artisans on the little island of Mare near Tidore specialize in commercial pottery.

Trade. The stores of Ternate City and Soa Siu, like businesses in general, are almost without exception in the hands of Chinese and a few Arabs. Ternatan and Tidorese play only a small role in the trade in fruits, vegetables, and fish in and around the market: the surplus of agricultural products and fish are supplied from the villages to the town market directly or by wholesalers.

Division of Labor. The men do the incidental hard labor in the gardens, such as felling trees. They do some fishing and they see to building and maintaining the house. The women do the daily work in the gardens and the cooking, take care of the children, and try to make some money for the daily budget by selling garden produce and fish.

Land Tenure. In the villages there is still enough land available for nearly every family. People who no longer have enough land to make the necessary gardens can move to Halmahera, to make clearings there in sparsely populated areas.


Kin Groups and Descent. Because descent is cognatic, there are no clear-cut kin groups. On closer inspection, however, various lineages or descent groups are to be distinguished, without having a name; they go back to some ancestor who held an office important enough to still be remembered. Lineages or descent groups derive their status and identity from offices held by their members in state organizations or in the organizations of the religious community. The descent groups are neither exogamous nor endogamous. Succession and inheritance of rights are by preference but not necessarily in the male line. The position of an individual is not exclusively conditioned by descent in the patriline. To be sure, one belongs in the first place to one's father's house, but one also has relations with and rights in one's mother's house.

Kinship Terminology. The kinship terminology is of the Hawaiian type.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage usually is at an early age. Only by marriage can one become a full member of the society and community. In upper-class families, marriages are frequently arranged by parents to protect and enhance the status and honor of the family involved and to avoid misalliances. It often happens that young people are forced into a marriage. On the whole, however, there are now fewer prearranged marriages. As tolerated by Islamic law, marriage may be among relatives, for example, between parallel or cross cousins, and these kinds of marriages do occur. Marriages frequently end in divorce. Polygyny also occurs. Newlywed couples often go to live for some time with the parents, sometimes with the boy's parents but usually with the girl's. The house that is eventually built by the young couple is in most cases situated close to the house of the parents of the girl or the boy.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit usually consists of a married couple, their children, and, frequently, their coresident parents.

Inheritance . Property is usually divided more or less equally among the children. The outcome of the division, however, is to a great extent the result of a (subtle or crude) play of forces, because inheritance is informally arranged entirely within the family, without the interference of persons not directly involved.

Socialization. Socialization of the children is by the parents, grandparents, and siblings, although frequently uncles and aunts are involved to a certain extent. There is only a vague borderline between play and learning the really important things of life. When the boys are at an age when they might be expected to marry, they are not expected to do heavy physical labor. They are the pride of the families and, in contrast to the girls, they are not expected to demonstrate their fitness for marriage by a show of diligence and industry. Only after marriage does the seriousness of life begin for boys.

Sociopolitical Organization

Ternate and Tidore now are part of the national state of Indonesia. Their sultanates have ceased to exist.

Social Organization. Ternatan and Tidorese identify themselves by means of descent from one of the traditional units of sociopolitical organization, soa, each soa having its own name. The meaning of "soa" is literally "ward," "quarter," or "hamlet," but the soa were by no means pure territorial units. One did not belong to a soa on account of residence but rather on account of descent. Membership in a soa was transmitted in the patriline. The soa was not a clan or lineage, however, because the members of the soa did not claim a common descent from one ancestor and because the kinship organization is not unilinear but cognatic. The soa was headed by a chief who was appointed by the sultan. With the abolition of the sultanates, the soa as units of sociopolitical organization have become obsolete; they are no longer accepted by the government as units of administration, and they do not have a function in the field of kinship organization. The soa chiefs have been replaced by democratically chosen village chiefs.

Political Organization. Since Ternate and Tidore are part of the Indonesian state, the political organization is the same as everywhere else in Indonesia. All government employees are members of Golkar, a semipolitical grouping that is closely related to the government. In the elections one can vote for Golkar or for one of the two other political groupings in parliament. When there are no elections for parliament coming up, political parties are almost completely inactive.

Social Control. Social control is exercised by neighbors, fellow villagers, and members of the family. Generally violators of commonly accepted norms are not dealt with too harshly, provided that the transgression of the norm is done in an inconspicuous way. If people feel forced by a public scandal to maintain the norms, measures tend to be taken without delay. For example, young people who have been caught in the act of extramarital intercourse are immediately forced to marry, more often than not after a severe beating.

Conflict. Ternatan and Tidorese are not aggressive people. If they do not like other people, they tend to avoid them rather than fight with them. People of foreign origin are easily integrated into the society, provided they profess Islam.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. Ternatan and Tidorese are convinced Muslims, as is expressed by the rituals at circumcision, marriage, and death; in the strict maintenance of the fast during Ramadan; in the celebration of the holy days; and in the high value placed on the pilgrimage to Mecca. At the same time they retain a great number of traditional local customs that are incompatible with orthodox Islam, such as the belief in shrines that are visited to pray for recovery from illness and for other pragmatic purposes. There also exists a widespread belief in guardian spirits, who are venerated and beseeched for help by means of shamanistic rituals.

Religious Practitioners. Formerly Arabs especially acted as religious teachers. The leaders of religious ritual, imams and khatibs, were appointed by the sultan, who acted as head not only of the polity but also of the religious community (ummat ). That situation changed after World War II. Indonesia has created a nationwide educational system for the training of religious teachers. The bureaus of the Department of Religion are filled with graduates from the schools for religious training. This department has its branches on Ternate and Tidore, where it appoints imams and khatibs and takes care of religious jurisdiction, as it does elsewhere in Indonesia. The traditional position of Arabs as teachers of religion has been strongly undermined by this new educational system for religious teaching. The modern teachers of religion are more orthodox than the traditional Arab teachers and are inclined to cleanse Islam of traditional customs incompatible with orthodoxy. Leaders of shamanistic rituals, however, are still tolerated for traditional reasons.

Arts. There are no conspicuous art performances on Ternate or Tidore.

Medicine. People value modern medicines highly, but besides these most people also believe strongly in traditional forms of surgery and in traditional ceremonies to prevent illness and all kinds of mischief.

Death and Afterlife. Ideas about death and afterlife are borrowed wholly from Islam.

See also MoluccansNorth; Tobelorese


De Clercq, F. S. A. (1890). Bijdragen tot de Kennis van de Residentie Ternate. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Polman, K. (1981). The North Moluccas: An Annotated Bibliography, Bibliographical Series, Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Landen Volkenkunde, no. 11. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

van Fraasen, Ch. F. (1987). "Ternate, de Molukken en de Indonesische Archipel: Van soa-organisatie en Vierdeling: Een studie van traditionele samenleving en cultuur in Indonesie." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Leiden.