History from Below: Study on Burger Communities in Ambon
In this section I would like to describe briefly about my study proposal in social history. I have concern on the so-called burger communities. Burger is free citizen who live around Portuguese and later Dutch forts in Ambon islands (Ambon, Saparua, Haruku). The emergence of burger communities, and their existence, closely related to the development of Ambon society and social changes underwent during colonial periods until today in Indonesia context.
In VOC periods, burger communities or Inlandsche burger was native people who live in Ambon town. Originally they came from some other regions of Nusantara such as Java and Sulawesi (Makassar) as traders. Inlandsche burger at the time of VOC was not Ambonese. They were divided socially into some stratification: slaves and non-slaves.
Slaves were biggest social group whose lower status in social structure of Ambon society. One stratum above the slave group was non-slave group. They came from everywhere of Nusantara as well. Comparing with the former group, non-slave group consist of people whose big capital dominated by Makassar and Chinese traders and distributors. They had different status than indigenous people of Maluku (what we called orang negeri or villagers). At the upper social level was Dutch group as burger (citizen), civil officers, and soldiers.
By time, in nineteenth century inlander (indigenous people) category had changed drastically. Inlandsche burger was not consisted of people came from outside Ambon islands, but it became identification for people from Central Maluku. It was made possible since the government gave space for orang negeri to dwell in the town and they got status as Inlandsche burger, which different to Europesche burger and Chinesche burger.
As social groups burger communities went through status shifts according with social changes politically and culturally in Ambon islands. At the time of independence struggle, some prominent figures from burger communities took important roles who determined social changes in Ambon. Mostly they were intellectuals and modernists who had no primordial ties anymore with their negeri and adat. Or they had no deep interest regarding their negeri and often opposite to raja (traditional authority) who still loyal for colonial ruler.
Such social changes imposed them to move out from Ambon town and decided to live in some negeri’s lands by permission of rajas in Ambon. According to resident-assistant report from 1924 there were twelve burgerkampongs in Ambon:
1. Galala in Halong land
2. Lata in Halong land
3. Lateri in Halong land
4. Waiheru in Halong land
5. Hunut in Halong land
6. Negeri Lama in Paso land
7. Nania in Paso land
8. Poka in Rumatiga land
9. Nipah in Rumatiga land
10. Larike in Larike Islam land
11. Hila in Hila Islam land
12. Mahia in Urimesing land
In certain period burgerkampongs were get equal status administratively with negeri. However, they uniquely had open social character, flexibility, and found themselves as pluralistic community rather than negeri. Those who came from burgerkampongs actually have vital roles for determining social changes in Ambon town, especially in education and political fields.
Sociologically, burger communities had shown open character as pluralistic community and therefore they performed independent and modern social identity. They mostly were well-known as great nationalists, intellectuals, and thinkers who shared nationalism ideas of Indonesia, and much influenced by Western democracy notions.
I formulate my topic research as “Burger Communities: Identity and Social Changes in Ambon 1884-1965”. By this I realize that archive study is necessary and worthy. Similarly, I also try to apply social science approaches and theories to observe sociological understanding of burger communities manifested through social interactions, communal ideas, and social processes that perpetuated until today. And then tracing what kind of historical memories that remain in social relation forms.
This is a long process of study and exhausting work. I realize it. But it is a way I have to try to perform my academic accountability as church historian for developing historical study and church mission contextually in Maluku and Indonesia.
Ambon, March 11, 2010