A.J. Patty: The Ambonese Nationalist Who Defied the Odds

After decades of lying dormant in the Public Cemetery of Pandu, Bandung, the grave of Alexander Jacob Patty, or A.J. Patty, was finally relocated to the Heroes Cemetery of Kapahana, Ambon City. On Wednesday, March 22, 2017, his remains were exhumed and flown to Ambon, where the reburial ceremony took place the next day. However, the life and legacy of A.J. Patty are shrouded in complexity, with varying accounts of his birth and death dates and places.

Rudi Fofid, as reported in the Maluku Post, compiled different versions of A.J. Patty’s birth and death details from various sources. The birthplace variations included Nolloth on August 15, 1901; Nolloth on December 12, 1889; Nolloth in 1894; Banda in 1894; and Ambon in 1894. Although records state his death occurred in Bandung, the dates differ: July 15, 1947, and 1952 to January 16, 1953, 1955, and 1957.

A.J. Patty played a crucial role as one of the pioneers of Indonesian independence. In response to the Communist Revolution in Russia in 1917, the Dutch closely monitored activists and organizations in the Dutch East Indies, such as Insulinde and the Nationaal Indische Partij (NIP), as well as Sarekat Islam. A wave of nationalism spread among the indigenous intellectuals, including in Maluku, leading to the emergence of A.J. Patty.

To advocate for the moral and material interests of the Ambonese people and develop the economic prospects of his homeland, A.J. Patty founded Sarekat Ambon. As the chairman, he was inaugurated in Semarang on May 9, 1920, attended mostly by KNIL soldiers. The organization aimed to address the demand for equal status and wages among native soldiers, challenging the prevailing ethnic disparities.

The establishment of Sarekat Ambon faced opposition from Ambonese KNIL soldiers, leading to the creation of a rival organization named Onderlinge Steun (Mutual Aid) and De Amboinees. A.J. Patty firmly believed in unity among Ambonese and other ethnic groups in Indonesia for progress within the colonial system. However, the Dutch colonial government threatened to dismiss KNIL soldiers actively participating in unauthorized organizations, including Sarekat Ambon.

Facing opposition, A.J. Patty was arrested by the Dutch and tried in Makassar. In 1925, he was exiled to Bengkulu, but this did not deter his political activities. He later traveled to Central Maluku to expand the influence of Sarekat Ambon, facing support from educated individuals but resistance from traditional leaders.

Despite challenges, A.J. Patty’s influence persisted, leading to his election to the Ambonraad, or Ambon Council, in 1924. However, loyalists to the Dutch pressured the council due to concerns about Sarekat Ambon’s influence, causing a temporary hiatus in the organization’s activities.

In 1925, Sarekat Ambon revived, and in the same year, it established Ina Toeni, a women’s organization. A.J. Patty’s commitment to equality faced renewed opposition in 1925 when the Dutch reinforced status differences among native soldiers, contributing to a brief decline in Sarekat Ambon’s support.

In 1930, A.J. Patty was exiled to Ruteng, Flores, and later to Boven Digoel, Papua, a camp reserved for the most dangerous nationalist prisoners. Despite the harsh conditions, he continued his political activities and earned respect for his intelligence.

A.J. Patty, along with other prisoners, returned to Indonesia in 1946. In Bandung, where various versions of his life converge, he breathed his last. His name is commemorated on a street in Ambon and a foundation in Amsterdam.

A.J. Patty’s life reflects the complexities of the struggle for Indonesian independence, particularly within the context of Maluku. His dedication to unity, equality, and the welfare of the Ambonese people marked him as a significant figure in the early stages of Indonesia’s fight for freedom. As the narrative of Indonesian history evolves, A.J. Patty’s legacy endures, challenging historical loyalty to the Dutch and paving the way for future generations of Ambonese nationalists.