The Unveiling of Hidden Histories: Arab-Javanese Contributions in the Java War


The Java War (1825–1830), one of the most significant uprisings against Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia, is often remembered for the valor and leadership of Prince Diponegoro. However, the intricate tapestry of this historical conflict is woven with the contributions of several key figures of mixed heritage, particularly those of Arab-Javanese descent. Among these were Sayid Alwi Ba’abud and his descendants, whose stories exemplify the intersection of cultural and strategic influence during this tumultuous period.

In 1755, the Mataram Sultanate split into the Surakarta Sunanate and the Yogyakarta Sultanate due to the Giyanti Agreement. During this transformative year, an Arab migrant named Sayid Alwi Ba’abud arrived on the northern coast of Java. More than just a horse trader from Hadramaut, Sayid Alwi was also a revered cleric and healer. His relationship with the Yogyakarta Palace began under Hamengku Buwono I’s reign, where he was eventually trusted as a religious advisor due to his profound knowledge of Islam.

The legacy of Sayid Alwi Ba’abud continued through his son, Sayid Husain Ba’abud, who became an integral part of the Yogyakarta royal family. This connection was solidified through his marriage to Raden Ayu Samparwadi, the daughter of Hamengku Buwono II. This union originated under dramatic circumstances; Samparwadi, gravely ill, was healed by the elderly Sayid Alwi, who then arranged for his son to marry the young princess.

During the Java War, Sayid Husain Ba’abud, also known as Kiai Haji Hasan Munadi or Tumenggung Samparwadi, served as the commander of the Barjumungah regiment, a special unit guarding Prince Diponegoro. His son, Sayid Ibrahim Ba’abud, also known as Pekih Ibrahim, played a crucial role as Diponegoro’s negotiator. His efforts included negotiating with Dutch forces, although these negotiations ultimately led to betrayal and capture.

The aftermath of the Java War had severe repercussions for those who opposed the Dutch. Sayid Ibrahim Ba’abud was exiled to Ambon, while Diponegoro was sent to Makassar. Both men died far from Yogyakarta, never to return to their homeland. Despite their exile, their contributions and sacrifices left an indelible mark on the history of the region.

Sayid Ibrahim Ba’abud’s story reflects a blend of Arab and Javanese heritage. Raised by Ratu Ageng Tegalrejo, the consort of Sultan Hamengku Buwono I, he was steeped in Islamic and Javanese cultural values. This dual heritage was embodied in his life and actions, distinguishing him from other members of the royal family. His cousin, Prince Diponegoro, despite being purely Javanese, preferred Arab attire to symbolize his spiritual leadership, showcasing the fluid cultural identities of the time.

Another notable figure was Prince Joyokusumo, the son of Hamengku Buwono II and a Chinese-Javanese concubine. Known for his intelligence and bravery, Joyokusumo stood out for his strategic acumen during the Java War. His dedication saw him staying within the palace during attacks, contrasting with other princes who sought refuge elsewhere. Joyokusumo’s valor earned him a prominent place in Diponegoro’s forces, where he served as a senior commander and cavalry leader.

The Java War also saw the participation of female warriors, some of whom were of Chinese descent. This diverse makeup of Diponegoro’s forces highlights the inclusive and multifaceted nature of the resistance, drawing from various cultural backgrounds and communities within Java.

The histories of the Arab-Javanese and Chinese-Javanese figures during the Java War underscore the complexity and richness of Indonesia’s past. Their stories, intertwined with that of Prince Diponegoro, reveal a broader narrative of resistance, cultural integration, and the enduring struggle for autonomy. As we delve into these lesser-known aspects of history, we gain a deeper appreciation for the diverse contributions that shaped the course of Indonesian resistance against colonial rule.