Bacan islands

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"Bachan" redirects here. For other uses, see Bachan (disambiguation).
Bacan Topography.png
ID Bacan.PNG
Location South East Asia
Coordinates 0°37′S 127°31′E / 0.617°S 127.517°E / -0.617; 127.517
Archipelago Moluccas (Maluku Islands)
Area 1,899.8 km2 (733.5 sq mi)
Highest elevation 2,120 m (6,960 ft)
Highest point Buku Sibela
Population 60,741 (as of 2010 Census)
The position of the Bacans in the Moluccas

The Bacan Islands, formerly also known as the Bachans, Bachians, and Batchians,[citation needed] are an group of islands in the Moluccas in Indonesia. They are mountainous and forested, lying south of Ternate and southwest of Halmahera. The islands are administered by the South Halmahera Regency of North Maluku Province.

Bacan (Dutch: Batjan),[1] formerly also known as Bachian[2][1] or Batchian,[3] is the group's largest island. The second and third largest islands are Kasiruta and Mandioli.[2] Bacan includes about 60,000 people of which about 8,000 live in the capital Labuha; it is subdivided into 7 districts. Kasiruta and Mandioli each have over 8,000 inhabitants, and each is subdivided into 2 districts. There are dozens of smaller islands in the group.


In 1513, the first Portuguese trading fleet to reach the Moluccas set up a trading post on Bacan which at the time was subservient to the Sultan of Ternate. The fleet's commander, Captain Antonio de Miranda Azevedo, left seven men on Bacan to buy cloves for the following year's expedition. Their arrogant behaviour and reported bad treatment of Bacan women led to their murder. As Ternate did not have enough stock, the ship for which the men had stayed to prepare was used by the Sultan of Ternate to fill Ferdinand Magellan's last ship, which was the first ship to circumnavigate the world. A slave and two birds of paradise were given to the ship by Bacan. Bacan became a place of refuge for rebellious Ternateans. The Portuguese sent a punitive expedition against Bacan but it failed, and instead the Portuguese Governor Galvão challenged Bacan's sultan to a duel to determine who was to be subservient to whom. The challenge was accepted but the duel never took place.[4]

In 1557, Father Antonio Vaz converted Bacan's sultan and court members to Catholicism. The king subsequently married Sultan Hairun of Ternate who had also become a Catholic. Ternate invaded in 1578 and the king apostasized. A community of Christians remained and were later joined by correligionists from Tobelo and Ambon. A small Roman Catholic hospital was built by an elderly Dutch nun. Today, Protestants significantly outnumber Catholics. During the mid-19th century Moluccan travels of British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, Christians in the Moluccas were called Orang Sirani (lit. "Nazarene People"), a term regularly applied to locals of European ancestry in the Malay Archipelago, thought to have been descended from the Portuguese. They had dressed in white and black and Wallace reports they dance "quadrilles, waltzes, polkas, and mazurkas with great vigour and much skill".[4]

Following the 1578 Ternatean invasion, Bacan appears to have become subservient to Ternate. The wife of Sultan Said of Ternate was provided by Bacan. A Spanish fort was built in 1606. Once the Dutch established hegemony in the 17th century, the Netherlands' power on Bacan was based in Fort Barnaveld.[4]

In 1705, the sergeant in charge of the fort and the sultan captured the English explorer William Dampier, seized his ship, looted its cargo, and threatened all aboard with execution. It is thought that this was in response to Dampier violating the trade monopoly. When the sergeant's Dutch superiors heard of the incident, Dampier was released, his ship restored and the English provided with sumptuous hospitality in Ternate.[5] The chief town at the time, also known as Bachian, was Amasing or Amasingkota on the island's isthmus.[2]

Ternate and Bacan were the only places in the northern Moluccas that had a Dutch curriculum school and a Protestant minister in the late 19th century. The majority of Bacan's Roman Catholics became Protestants during the Dutch colonial period.[citation needed] These Sirani wore semi-European dress and celebrated Sundays with dancing and music.[2] The Sultanate of Bacan was treated as a Dutch protectorate;[2] it was replaced by a council of chiefs under a Dutch contrôleur in 1889.[1] What independence remained was lost with the Japanese occupation during and Indonesian independence after World War II.[6] The most significant modern town is Labuha on the west coast. Bacan has more recently been in the news due to violence between Christian and Muslim inhabitants of the island.


Bacan is of irregular form, consisting of two distinct mountainous parts, united by a low isthmus, which a slight subsidence would submerge.[2] The total land area is around 1,900 km².[citation needed] The prevailing rocks are sandstone, coralline limestone, and pebbly conglomerate, although hot springs attest to volcanic activity as well.[2] The ancient and non-volcanic rocks are especially prevalent on the south side of the island.[1] The sulphur spring at Taubenkit has a temperature of 125 °F (52 °C) and a still more remarkable example is found at Sayowang on the east coast.[2] "Amasing Hill" on the northern half consists of three small andesitic volcanoes: Cakasuanggi, Dua Saudara, and Mount Sibela. The highest elevation on the southern half is Gunong Sabella[2] or Labua (6,950 feet or 2,120 meters),[1] which the locals traditionally considered the seat of evil spirits.[2] Coal and other minerals have been discovered.[2]

During the 19th and early 20th century, large portions of the island were richly wooded, with indigenous sago, coconuts and cloves abundantly produced.[2][1] The Dutch purposefully exterminated the native nutmeg trees: a large grove still remained as late as the 1870s[2] but it had disappeared by the onset of World War I.[1] It is the easternmost point naturally inhabited by primates, in the form of a black ape which also occurs on Sulawesi.[1] The world's largest bee, the giant mason bee, occurs here and on nearby Halmahera.


By the mid-19th century, the interior of the island was considered uninhabited and the coastal dwellers all non-indigenous.[2] They consisted of the Christian descendants of Portuguese sailors (Sirani), of Malays and Papuans, of Galelas from northern Halmahera, and of Tomore people from Sulawesi's Bay of Tolo.[2] Prior to World War I, the population was around 13 000, including some Chinese and Arabs.[1] In the late 1990s, 193 of Bacan's 7,700 Christians were Protestants.[6]

Several Austronesian and non-Austronesian languages are spoken on Bacan, including Tobelo, Galela, Ternate, Bajau, and Tukang Besi. However, the indigenous language of Bacan is Bacanese, also known as Bacan Malay (ISO 639-3) btj. There is some debate as to whether Bacanese is a Malay variety or a Malay-based creole.

Some Bacan words occurs in Wiltens & Danckaerts' 1623 vocabulary.[7] Bacan is also reviewed in Adriani & Kruijt's 1914 monograph. The most detailed studies are by James T. Collins, who concludes that Bacan is indeed a Malay variety, descended from the Malay used in the Bacan Sultanate.[8]


Colonial interest in Bacan was primarily driven by the spice trade, which was flourishing in Ternate, Tidore, and Halmahera. The island of Bacan was not particularly sought-after for its own resources, but rather, to assist control of the more valuable islands nearby. The Dutch East India Company paid a stipend to the Bacan sultan as compensation for the destruction of Bacan's clove trees that was higher than the salary of the Dutch Governor on Ternate and about 1/9 of that paid to the Sultan of Ternate.

It is thought that gold was washed on Bacan since at least 1774; in the mid-nineteenth century, 20 skilled Chinese gold workers were brought from west Borneo but a gold rush did not eventuate.[citation needed] During the era of steam power, an attempt was made to establish coal mining on the island[2] using Japanese convicts imprisoned by the Dutch. However, following the delivery of several tons the grade of coal was deemed poor and the mining was discontinued.

From 1882, an Amsterdam merchant cleared plantations for vanilla, coffee, tobacco and potatoes, however, his land was unsuitable and the crops succumbed to floods, drought, rot, insects and rodents. Despite over ten years of large investments of capital, creditors forced him out of business in 1900 although they also did not succeed with the plantations.[5] The indigenous economy included the gathering of pearl and mother-of-pearl, and the harvesting the resin from dammar.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i EB (1911), p. 132.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p EB (1878).
  3. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th ed., Index, p. 39. 1889.
  4. ^ a b c Muller (1997), p. 130.
  5. ^ a b Muller (1997), p. 131.
  6. ^ a b Muller (1997), p. 132.
  7. ^ Wiltens & al. (1623).
  8. ^ Collins (1983).


  • Collins, James T. (1983), "Penggolongan bahasa Bacan", Nusantara, No. 10, pp. 86–125 . (Indonesian)
  • Muller, Karl (1997), Maluku: Indonesian Spice Islands, Singapore: Periplus Editions, ISBN 962-593-176-7 .
  • Wiltens, Caspar; et al. (1623), Vocabularium, ofte Woort-boek naer orare vanden alphabet in 't Duytsch-Maleysch ende Maleysch-Duytsch, 's-Gravenhage . (Dutch) & (Malay)