Forts

Forts

Halmahera, North Maluku, Indonesia

Military Architecture

It seems that the Spanish were the first Europeans to erect fortifications on Halmahera, the largest island of the Moluccas archipelago. It was during a Spanish expedition led by Rui Lopes Vilalobos (1542-1546) that its survivors helped the self-proclaimed Sultan of Jeilolo, Katarabumi (r. 1534-1551), build a fort in the township of the same name that he used as a residence and capital. As happens with almost all the fortifications erected by the Portuguese and Spanish in the Spice Islands, the characteristics of this construction are largely unknown. It replaced another larger and stronger fort that was surrounded by a ditch that the same Sultan Katarabumi had built before in the neighbourhood, following the plan drawn up by a renegade Portuguese in his service. Despite the fact that the original fort had easily repelled a siege led by the Portuguese captain of Ternate, Jordão de Freitas (1544-1545) and the commander of an armada sent from Goa to the Moluccas in 1545, Fernão de Sousa de Távora, Katarabumi decided to demolish it and build a new, smaller and more defensible one on slightly higher ground, but, like the former one, with access to the sea. Both the new fort and the ‘city’ and adjoining mosques were conquered and burned to the ground by Sultan Hairun of Ternate (r. 1535-1545 and 1547-1570) and Portuguese forces led by the captain of Ternate, Bernadim de Sousa (1546-1549 and 1550-1552) in 1551. The fort had a double curtain of walls. The outside one, which boasted two large bulwarks, was extremely strong and resistant to artillery, while the inside one was much weaker and formed a type of tower or castle, together with two other towers or bulwarks, which served as the residence for the sultan and his wives and children. The fort was trapezoidal in shape, as was the local fashion, with a large frontage in the lower part, while the part facing the interior of the island was much narrower. It was part of a complex of smaller fortifications, designated as bulwarks and bastions, scattered around the surroundings. They were precarious stone constructions with “weak walls”. One of those bulwarks, facing the sea, protected a few houses that stood outside the walls and the boats drawn up on the neighbouring beach. Gabriel Rebelo described the Fort of Jeilolo in the following words: “The wall was made with earth and stone and completely surrounded by a ditch; it had two bulwarks and a very wide ditch strengthened with wooden stakes on the inside rim, while the outside rim was protected by stakes and posts [...] which were the whole strength of the castle, which was defended by many muskets and cannon. The castle had two other bulwarks, with their ditch strengthened with stakes, and another near the castle”. The exact location of these forts erected by the Sul- tan of Jeilolo with the collaboration of Europeans is not known. They probably stood on the beach of Galala, near Jeilolo, where, according to oral tradition, there was a Portuguese fort. We were not, however, able to find any vestiges of the former fort. A lengthy inspec- tion of the surroundings revealed several groups of tombstones, some of them very old, with Arabic inscriptions, which ties up with the above-mentioned historical-documentary information examined. The Spanish later had a fort at Sabugu on the island of Halmahera, which lies in the estuary of the river of the same name, which was the main port and township in the region of Sahu, on the coast of the island of Halmahera, and which was abandoned at the beginning of 1613. They also had a fort at San Juan de Tolo, which stood further to the north on the same river, in the region of Moro, the population of which had been Christianised by Francisco Xavier. The fort may have been of Portuguese origin, and if this were so, the Spanish must have limited themselves to making some improvements. It was evacuated in August 1613, being included in the Spanish decision to abandon the forts of Sabugu and Gilolo. There are the ruins of a fort at Sidangoli that, according to tradition, was Portuguese. It is a small structure standing on an inlet and surrounded by a canal that served as a moat and which today is completely silted up. The remains of a walled perimeter and some constructions inside can still be seen. The fort was probably abandoned without having been occupied by the Dutch. Also according to tradition, the township was under the vassalage of the sultan of Ternate and not the neighbouring sultan, or sangaji, of Jeilolo. It may have been the Spanish fort, mentioned in 1637, that stood three leagues south of Tobaru, where the Dutch had a fort. In the proximity of the mosque of Gamlamu (“former city”) are the ruins of a fort which was said to be Portuguese and near which was found a cannon that today stands on the square in front of the mosque.

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