The original Minahasans are said to originate from Luminuut, who rose from the sea and gave birth to Tar. After many years separation, mother and son met again. Not recognizing each other, they married and their descendants populated the region. Minahasan lands and languages were divided by the god Muntu Untu at Watu Pinabetengan (the dividing stone), a carved rock on the foothills of Mount Soputan.
Rice surpluses from Minahasa’s volcanic hinterland made Manado a strategic port for European traders sailing to and from the spice island of Maluku. Spain established a fort and Manado Rulers wanted their unruly and corrupt Spanish guests out, and appealed to the Dutch VOC in Ternate for help. The Dutch and their Minahasan allies eventually gained the upper hand in 1655, built their own fortress in 1658 and expelled the last of the Spaniards a few years later.
The Dutch helped unite the linguistically diverse Minahasa confederacy, and in 1693 the Minahasa scored a decisive military victory against the Bolaang to the south. Dutch influence flourished as the Minahasans embraced European goods and god. Missionary schools in Manado in 1881 were among the first attempts at mass education in Indonesia, giving their graduates a considerable edge in gaining civil service, military and other positions of influence.
By the mid 1800s compulsory cultivation schemes were producing huge crops of cheap coffee for a Dutch-run monopoly, Minahasans suffered from this “progress”, yet economic, religious and social ties with the colonists continued to intensify. Minahasan mercenaries put down anti Dutch rebellions in Java and elsewhere, earning them the name “anjing Belanda” – “Dutch dogs”.
The Japanese occupation of 1942-45 was a period of deprivation, and the allies bombed Manado heavily in 1945. During the war of independence that followed, there was bitter division between pro-Indonesian Unitarians and those favoring Dutch-sponsored federalism. The appointment of a Manadonese Christian, Sam Ratulangi, as the first republican governor of eastern Indonesia, was decisive in winning Minahasan support for the republic.
As the young republic lurched from crisis to crisis, Jakarta’s monopoly over the copra trade seriously weakened Minahasa’s economy. Illegal exports flourished and in June 1956 Jakarta ordered the closure of the Manado port, the busiest smuggling port in the republic. Local leaders refused and Jakarta backed down. Soon the Permesta rebels confronted the central government with demands for political, economic and regional reform. Jakarta responded to Manado by bombing the city in February 1958 then in fighting in June.
Manado prospered under Indonesia’s New Order, which implemented many of the economic reports (but few of the political reforms) sought by the Permesta rebels. The city has a tolerant, outward-looking culture and it will be interesting to see what the future holds with the implementation of Regional Autonomy.