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In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the islands of North Maluku were the original “Spice Islands”. At the time, the region was the sole source of cloves. The Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, and local sultanates including Ternate and Tidore fought each other for control of the lucrative trade in these spices. Clove trees have since been transported and replanted all around the world and the demand for clove from the original spice islands has ceased, greatly reducing North Maluku's international importance.

During Dutch rule the North Moluccas became a part de Groote Oost Province in 1938. It was occupied by Japan in 9142 and was made a part of Indonesia Timoer in 1946. After the transfer of  Indonesia Timoer to the Republic of Indonesia the North Moluccas became a part of Maluku Province. On 15 June 1999 Maluku Utara became a separate province of the Republic of Indonesia.




The arms of Maluku Utara are a modification of the arms of former North Maluku District. This showed:


Arms: a mountain rising from the sea on which is a Moluccan proa; surrounded by a crown of cloves and nutmeg, in base a Moluccan shield and a parang in saltire.

Crest: a five-pointed star and

Supporters: two yellow palm-leaves.

Motto MARIMOI NGONE FUTURU (United we Stand).

Backshield: Vert, in base the date 1574



The date 1574 refers to the revolt of the Ternatans against the Portuguese when the new Sultan's forces stormed the fortress of Sao Joao Bautista, took it on St Stephen’s Day (26 December) 1574, and expelled the Portuguese.


The present arms show:


Arms: A mountain-ridge Argent rising from the sea, surrounded by a garland of nutmeg and clove,

Crest: A five-pointed star Or.

Supporters: Two palm-leaves Or, in base a proa Argent from which is rising a pole with a star radiant, and charged with a Moluccan shield and parang in saltire.

Motto: MARIMOI NGONE FUTURU (United we Stand).

Backshield: Vert, a bordure Argent and Gules, in base the date 1999.


š See illustration in the head of this essay.





Goheba ma Dopolo Romdidi




Located in the midst of the “Spice Islands”, Ternate attracted the early attention of European explorers and merchants during the sixteenth century. The Portuguese were the first on the scene and began to interfere in local politics and religious affairs almost immediately. They constructed a strong fortress in 1522 and controlled affairs with utter ruthlessness. The murder of Sultan Khair ul-Jamal [Hairun], shortly after the conclusion of a treaty of peace, stirred the Moluccans into open revolt in 1574. The new Sultan's forces stormed the fortress of Sao Joao Bautista, took it on St Stephen's Day 1575, and expelled the Portuguese.

The Spaniards retook the fort in 1606 and removed Sultan Said to Manila. They then set about converting the Sultan and his family to Catholicism.

The arrival of Dutch in 1599 proved fortuitous to Kaicili Muzaffar, the youngest son of Sultan Said. He forged an alliance with the VOC, which enabled him to secure the throne in 1607. The grateful Sultan granted the VOC a lucrative contract with an exclusive spice concession in 1609. However, the embrace of the VOC proved too constricting, especially after they intervened in a succession dispute in 1650. Although a serious conflict erupted in 1683, the Dutch were now firmly established at Amboina, and defeat was inevitable. Thereafter, Ternate effectively became a Dutch protectorate.

Relations with the Dutch remained peaceful most of the time. The British took over control of the Dutch East Indies during the Napoleonic Wars.

Although there was an attempt to end the sultanate in 1876 and again in 1916, the Dutch colonial powers changed their minds and relented in the face of popular feeling. They restored the sultanate in 1927 and made no further attempts to destroy the institution.

The years of Japanese occupation and the post-war period of the independence struggle were not easy ones for the island. It formed an important element of Dutch attempts to create an Indonesian Federation in rivalry to the Javanese republican regime. The Sultan served in several important posts, so was “encouraged to spend his time” in an administrative post in Jakarta, after unification in 1950. Nevertheless, the republicans did not deprive him of his titles and honours, and his son and successor was duly recognised after his death.




The royal symbol of the sultans of Ternate is a two-headed bird charged with a red inversed hart on its breast.

The bird is documented at the funeral of Sultan Amir Iskandar Zulkarnain Saif ud-din ibni al-Marhum Sultan Said Fathu'llah (1715-‘51). It was on a baldachin above the bier of the sultan... “een Verhemelte van sijde (ledikantsgewijs) met falbalaas van diverse Couleuren en belegt met geslage silvere dubbelde Arende en andere ornamente.” (...a roof of silk (like that of a canopy bed) with curtains of different colors and decorated with chased silver double eagles and other ornaments). [1]


The two-headed bird, called Goheba ma Dopolo Romdidi is explained by the fact that the sultanate (Buldan) was composed of two clans: the Cim (female) Tobona clan and the Heku (male) Tabanga clan. It consists of a land-eagle, symbolic for the Tobona, and a sea-eagle, symbolic for the Tabanga.


The two-headed bird doubtlessly is a representation of Gandabherunda, a mythical bird of Hindu origin. According to legend Gandabherunda is a manifestation of Vishnu as Vishnu took the form of a two-headed eagle in his struggle with Shiva who had changed himself in Sarab’ha to defeat the lion-god Narasimha, an ally of Vishnu. Gandhaberunda was so strong that he could fly away with two elephants in his claws.

Scuptures of Gandabherunda are on 11th century Hindu-temples in South India. He takes the place there of the Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu. In the time of the British Raj he was the emblem of Mysore.

On the other hand it may also have been inspired by the Spanish two-headed eagle used in the Philippines when ruled as a part of Nueva Espana (i.e. Central America).


š See illustration in the head of this section.




We are quite well informed about the flags of Ternate. [2]


The battalion flag was yellow, charged with a white disc with the legend “The Molucca’s Sultanate of Ternate” in purple lettering. It is descibed as follows:


I. Bandera kompani or Bandera batalyon (company flag or battalion flag).

The flag is made of yellow silk, and the cloth is wound around a pole; the pole ends in an iron point and has a copper knob at the lower end; length Ķ width = 1 m., length of the pole is 250 cm. In the center, a disc of  Ę 40 cm. has been cut which has been filled with a piece of white silk of the same size, on which is written in purple silk letters:

that is, Al Molok Buldan Tarnate, “The Moluccas, Sultanate of Ternate,” Molok being an abbreviation of Moluccas.

This flag is only flown on grand ceremonial occasions, such as when the Sultan’s whole company of soldiers joins the army, or on the proa of the Sultan, at which time one of the officers acts as standard bearer on top of the tent-like structure. [3]


II. Paji-paji koi ma-rau (flags like pisang leaves).

There are six different kinds, all made of cotton, 2 m. long and 50 cm. wide; six of them are placed on the proa of the Sultan to the left and right of the bow and stern, and four are placed on the proas of the princes. When they are fixed to the bowsprit, they are called dayalu.


III. a. Paniki; b. Nyoa (pennants like a bat and ray). [4]

These are also made of cotton, and on ceremonial occasions they are attached by threes, with a koi ma-rau, along the outside of the tent on the Sultan’s proa, six sets of three on the left side and six on the right side.


IV. Amral (big pennant).

It flies from the top of the mainmast on the Sultan’s proa above the Dutch tri-color. The princes are allowed to fly this flag, but the sangajis are not.


V. Dayalu or koi ma-rau.

These are half as big as the Sultan’s flags, and are meant for the sangajis, who are allowed to have four at the stern and bow.


The Crown


The Ternate Mahkota (crown)


The crown shows a crescent-and-star which is the symbol of a (muslim) Head of State.


Sultan’s Flag


On several internet sites the present flag of the Sultan of Ternate is documented. In front of the Sultan’s Palace it flows together with the State flag and the flag of Indonesia. A reconstruction of this flag is as follows:


Ternate Sultan’s Flag


Flag: Black, the Goheba and the motto LIMAU CAPI between ‘KESULTANAN TERNATE’, all yellow.







Tidore was a spice-funded sultanate that was founded in 1109, and spent much of its history in the shadow of Ternate.

The sultans of Tidore ruled most of southern Halmahera, and, at times, controlled Buru, Ambon and many of the islands off the coast of New Guinea. Tidore established a loose alliance with the Spanish in the sixteenth century, and Spain had several forts on the island.

Sultan Saifuddin


Krakow, Mus. Czartoryski,

inv. nr. XII-276

After the Spanish withdrawal in 1663 it continued to resist direct control by the Dutch East India Company (the VOC). Particularly under Sultan Saifuddin (r. 1657 - 1689), the Tidore court was skilled at using Dutch payment for spices for gifts to strengthen traditional ties with Tidore's traditional peripheral territories. As a result he had little need to call on foreign military help for governing the kingdom.

Tidore long remained an independent state, albeit with growing Dutch interference, until the late eighteenth century. In 1781 Prince Nuku left Tidore and declared himself Sultan of the Papuan Islands. This was the beginning of a guerilla war which lasted for many years. The Papuans sided with the rebellious Prince Nuku. The British sponsored Nuku as part of their campaign against the Dutch in the Moluccas. Captain Thomas Forrest was intimately connected with Nuku and represented the British as ambassador.

The sultanate was abolished in the Sukarno era and re-established in 1999 with the 36th sultan.




The present arms of Tidore Sultanate consists of a five-sided black shield charged with two parang in saltire and the motto LIMAU DUKO in base.




We are also well informed about the flags of Tidore [5]



I. Bandera khalifa or Bandera batalyon (battalion flag).

This flag is made of yellow cloth with red cotton letters. The length is 175 cm., and the width is 125 cm. Along the upper edge is the well-known motto:

which means, “There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet.” In the center is written,

which reads Sultan Todore, the Sultan of Tidore.


      IV                       V


II. Paji-paji.

These are triangular flags, 2 m. high and 1.25 m. wide, with pennants above, fixed to the bowsprit of the Sultan’s proa. They are also called dofo ma-uli ma-oma because they are placed fore and aft with the pole in a bamboo.


III. Koi ma-rau. A flag on the Sultan’s proa, six fore and aft.


IV. Paji-paji. A flag for lower headmen.


V. Koi ma-rau. A flag for the headmen of marieku loah isa.

Flying the pennant is the same as for Ternate, and a few headmen of New Guinea have special flags which sometimes change.


The Crown



Sultan of Tidore Crown









Maluku Utara is controlled by

TNI Kodam XVI/Pattimura




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© Hubert de Vries 2011-03-07

Updated 2011-10-09

[1] Clerq, F.S.A. de: Bijdragen tot de kennis der Residentie Ternate. Leiden, 1890. Bijlage VII, p. 346.

[2] Ibid. Bijlage VIII.

[3] This and the following  translations by Paul Michael Taylor and Marie N. Richards.  Smithsonian Institution Libraries Digital EditionWashington, D.C., 1999.

[4] Paniki and nyoa are not Ternatese words. The first means “bat” and comes from Makassarese or from the Philippines; the second is a kind of fish, called paru-paru in Malay, a kindof “ray.”

[5] Clerq, F.S.A. de, op. cit. Bijlage VII, B. p. 352.