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Centre for Stories

Fish Eat Fish

Islands of Home is the second series in Centre for Stories’ collection, The Indian Ocean. Written by Agustinus Wibowo, they bring to life intimate and telling moments of contemporary Indonesian society in five parts.

Islands of Home is the second series in Centre for Stories’ collection, The Indian Ocean. Written by Agustinus Wibowo, they bring to life intimate and telling moments of contemporary Indonesian society in five parts. In them, we reflect on history, ritual, politics, fashion and culture, all told in a perceptive and approachable voice. This is story five, “Fish Eat Fish”.

Image: Agustinus Wibowo

Voice: Grace Gilbert

Copyright © 2017 Augustinus Wibowo.

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

This story was originally published on June 13, 2018.

View Story Transcript

If only the Republic of South Maluku (RMS) had gained independence, Docianus Ony Sahalessy would certainly have become a national hero. He is the composer of the RMS national anthem, Maluku My Fatherland. He spent ten years of his life as a guerrilla fighter in the forest, fighting against the occupying Indonesian army with the dream of an independent Moluccan homeland. Now the 78-year-old man lives modestly in the Netherlands, relying on minimum social benefits provided by the Dutch government. I met him there in an elderly care house inthe small town of Assen. It has been two months since Ony got sick, and he recently underwent surgery because his aging body deteriorates. His physique is small, hunched and frail, and he struggles to walk. His voice wavered. When I, who came from a country he once fought against, asked him to dig out the long-buried memory of his homeland his eyes wandered away, sometimes tearing up.

Maluku, Ony’s homeland, is a string of small islands in eastern Indonesia. Known as the Spice. Islands, Maluku produces various exotic spices that once were highly sought after in Europe. Because of this, Maluku became the target of the Western nations that roamed the oceans, which led to centuries of Dutch domination over the archipelago. The Dutch then recruited many soldiers from the South Moluccas to support their occupation on other islands in Indonesia. That time Ony was a little boy. His grandfather was a Dutch soldier, but he hated the Dutch.

While in the school, Ony also learned from the Indonesian soldiers that the name of his homeland is Indonesia, and so he had a confusing and colonial sense of identity growing up. In 1949, the Dutch finally recognized Indonesian sovereignty, provided that Indonesia was a federal state consisting of several autonomus states. But within months, one by one the states dissolved and joined the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia. The South Moluccas was initially a province of the East Indonesia State. They believed that Indonesia had violated the agreement so they proclaimed the independence of the RMS on 25 April 1950. At this time, when Ony visited the forest next to his kampong for food, he met the RMS guerrillas. They lived in misery, in tattered clothes, thin-skinned with wounds here and there. They said, “You must understand, boy, Maluku is the only land we have. If outsiders take over it again, what we are going to be?” That question prompted Ony to ask: which one is right, Indonesia or Maluku?

One day, in the middle of his kampong, Ony saw five RMS guerrillas who came to surrender themselves to Indonesia soldiers. Among them was Colonel Nussy, an important leader of the RMS guerrillas. The Indonesian commander pushed his shoulder, and said, “Later, fish eat fish, huh?” Nussy nodded. Not long after that, Nussy became a commander of an Indonesian army troop, with mission to destroy the RMS guerrillas. He, a Moluccan himself, was the cruelest in killing fellow Mollucans.

Fish eat fish. Brother kills brother. Your only choice is to be a fish that eats, or be fish that is eaten. Ony thought: If my grandfather had been a dog of the Dutch, why have we become the dogs of Indonesia? He decided to leave his study at the age of 19, to enter the forest, to join the RMS guerrillas under the leadership of Mr. Dr. Chris Soumokil. In this forest, he composed the melancholic Maluku national anthem.

Maluku, my homeland,

My land of origin.

I devote my strength to thee

As long as I may live.

The Indonesian army came to his house, asking his father and mother to persuade him to come out of the forest and surrender. Papa did not want to, but Mama, cooked his favorite meal, went to the forest and shouting his name. Mama cried and threw all the food on the ground. Not long after, his mother died in grief, never seeing Ony again. The national anthem went on:


Thou art my great heritage

Uplifted above all.

I will always honor thee

Until my dying day.

I will recall in memory

Above all thy harrowing history.


Among the Indonesian soldiers, there were many Moluccans, even many of Ony’s schoolmates. In the days of the guerrilla fighting in the forest, when the silent midnight fell, Ony often came out of the huts. He hugged his rifle, praying with tears in his eyes. “O God, I hold this weapon not to kill people, but to defend the homeland that You gave. O God, if they are innocent in Your eyes, let my bullets deviate from its direction. “

The RMS guerrilla resistance lasted thirteen years. On that final day day, Ony with dozens of fellow RMS guerrillas was on the other side of the island, separated from their movement leader, Soumokil. From a transistor radio, they heard that Soumokil had been arrested. They were shaken, instantly smashing the radio with an axe. “We should not listen to this radio, otherwise we will lose faith and surrender,” said one of them.

With the capture of Soumokil, the RMS folded. Not long after, Ony was arrested by the Indonesians. For many years, he was a prisoner in his own land. His fighting spirit was almost extinguished by being labeled a traitor. What gave him hope was knowing that the RMS struggle was still raging, far away there, in the Netherlands. The flame in his already-cold heart started to

burn again. After recognizing Indonesian sovereignty in 1949, the Netherlands was responsible for dissolving its colonial army. But there were problems with the soldiers of Maluku origin. As fighting was still going on in Maluku against the RMS, Indonesia did not allow these Maluku colonial soldiers to return to Maluku, fearing that they would fight for the RMS. These

Mollucans also refused to join the Indonesian military, as they were bitter enemies who used to kill each other during the colonial wars. Finally, in 1951, the Dutch had no choice but to take 12,500 Mollucans—the soldiers and their families—across the Indian Ocean, all the way to Holland. All the Mollucans thought this was a temporary journey, and soon they would be returned to their tropical home islands. In fact, they never went home and grew increasingly hostile. In the 1970s, they attempted to kidnap the Indonesian ambassador, took hostage on the

Indonesian Consulate in Amsterdam, hijacked two Dutch trains, took hostages in a Dutch school and a Dutch government building. Those actions across the ocean inspired Ony to continue his struggle. He made a dangerous journey that seems taken from cinema. He smuggled himself to Jakarta, bribed his way to get an Indonesian passport, flew to Germany, then entered the

Netherlands using a Dutch passport belonging to someone else. Upon his arrival in the Netherlands, and after forty years living here, Ony witnessed the reality that the RMS Cabinet was no longer as solid as it used to be, splitting apart until the struggle dimmed away and died. The RMS became an extraterritorial movement, which was only noisy abroad but had no whisper inside the country. Most Indonesians do not even know that the RMS still exists and many of the young generation of Mollucans in the Netherlands do not even know their own story.

The saddest thing for Ony, is to see that his song being sung year by year by the Moluccans even as they do not understand the pain behind the song. Despite his own struggle, Ony still dreams. He writes about Maluku history, about the struggle and colonization, about the diplomatic efforts that Maluku has taken at the UN.

Now time to say good bye. He embraced me—a guest who came from a country he had fought against, but also a brother in one language and history. His tears flowed again. “What I do is not ideology,” he said, “but a call from God.”

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