Portuguese colonialism in the East Indies

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The Portuguese were the first Europeans to establish a colonial presence in the East Indies. Their quest to dominate the source of the lucrative spice trade in the early 16th century through the Portuguese East India Company, and their simultaneous Roman Catholic missionary efforts, saw the establishment of trading posts and forts, and a Portuguese cultural element that remains in modern-day Indonesia, although not nearly as strong as in neighbouring East Timor.


The nutmeg plant is native to the Banda Islands. Once one of the world's most valuable commodities, it drew the first European colonial powers to the Spice Islands.

Europeans were making technological advances in the early 16th century; new found Portuguese expertise in navigation, shipbuilding and weaponry allowed them to make daring expeditions of exploration and expansion. Starting with the first exploratory expeditions sent from newly conquered Malacca in 1512, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in the East Indies, and sought to dominate the sources of valuable spices[1] and to extend their Roman Catholic missionary efforts. Initial Portuguese attempts to establish a coalition and peace treaty in 1522 with the West Javan Sunda Kingdom,[2] failed due hostilities among indigenous kingdoms on Java. The Portuguese turned east to Moluccas, which comprised a varied collection of principalities and kingdoms that were occasionally at war with each other but maintained significant inter-island and international trade. Through both military conquest and alliance with local rulers, they established trading posts, forts, and missions in the Spice Islands, including Ternate, Ambon, and Solor.

The height of Portuguese missionary activities, however, came at the latter half of the 16th century, after the pace of their military conquest in the archipelago had stopped and their east Asian interest was shifting to Portuguese India, Portuguese Ceylon, Japan, Macau and China; and sugar in Brazil and the Atlantic slave trade in turn further distracted their efforts in the East Indies. In addition, the first European people that arrived in Northern Sulawesi was the Portuguese. Francisco Xavier supported and visited the Portuguese mission at Tolo on Halmahera. This was the first Catholic mission in the Moluccas. The mission began in 1534 when some chiefs from Morotai came to Ternate asking to be baptised. Simão Vaz, the vicar of Ternate, went to Tolo to found the mission. The mission was the source of conflict between the Spanish, the Portuguese and Ternate. Simão Vaz was later murdered at Sao.[3][4]

Decline and legacy[edit]

The Portuguese presence in the East Indies was reduced to Solor, Flores and Timor (see Portuguese Timor) following defeat in 1575 at Ternate at the hands of indigenous Ternateans, Dutch conquests in Ambon, north Maluku and Banda, and a general failure for sustained control of trade in the region.[5] In comparison with the original Portuguese ambition to dominate Asian trade, their influences on modern Indonesian culture are minor : the romantic keroncong guitar ballads; a number of Indonesian words; and some family names in eastern Indonesia such as da Costa, Dias, de Fretes, Gonsalves, etc. The most significant impacts of the Portuguese arrival were the disruption and disorganisation of the trade network mostly as a result of their conquest of Portuguese Malacca, and the first significant plantings of Christianity in Indonesia (cf. the Kristang people. There have continued to be Christian communities in eastern Indonesia through to contemporary times, which has contributed to a sense of shared interest with Europeans, particularly among the Ambonese.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ricklefs, M.C (1969). A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1300, second edition. London: MacMillan. pp. 22–24. ISBN 0-333-57689-6.
  2. ^ Sumber-sumber asli sejarah Jakarta, Jilid I: Dokumen-dokumen sejarah Jakarta sampai dengan akhir abad ke-16. Cipta Loka Caraka. 1999.;Zahorka, Herwig (2007). The Sunda Kingdoms of West Java, From Tarumanagara to Pakuan Pajajaran with Royal Center of Bogor, Over 1000 Years of Propsperity and Glory. Yayasan Cipta Loka Caraka.
  3. ^ Vaz, Simon. Halmahera dan Raja Ampat sebagai kesatuan majemuk: studi-studi terhadap. p. 279. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  4. ^ Francis Xavier; His Life, His Times: Indonesia and India, 1545-1549. Xaviers mission. p. 179. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  5. ^ Miller, George (ed.) (1996). To The Spice Islands and Beyond: Travels in Eastern Indonesia. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. xv. ISBN 967-65-3099-9. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Ricklefs (1991), pages 22 to 26