Towards the end of their global spice monopoly in the late 19th century, the Dutch colonial state in the East Indies recruited Christian Ambonese men into their army as one of the “martial races” of the Dutch colonies, used to quell indigenous unrest elsewhere in their East Indies empire. Christian Ambonese became synonymous with the colonial state, referred to by Indonesians as the “dogs of the colonial service.” That relationship was challenged, however, with the advent of Japanese occupation in Ambon during World War II.
In the following essay I outline Dutch colonial efforts in the early 20th century to historicize the Ambonese as a superior, martial race; separate from and more “masculine” than other Indonesian peoples. Then, through an analysis of the Japanese propaganda newspaper Sinar Matahari, which was distributed widely in the Ambon regency during World War II, I show how Dutch colonial constructions of masculinity were undone, and new definitions and ideals of masculinity in Ambon were created through a rewriting of Ambonese colonial history. In the pages of Sinar Matahari, Ambonese masculinity was defined as resistant and Islamic. Through multi-week histories of Ambonese resistance movements during the 350-year colonial period, Ambonese history was rewritten. It is in the pages of Sinar Matahari that the threads of Ambonese history were disentangled from Dutch colonization and Christianity. This paper concludes that further analysis of masculinity and its colonial and postcolonial constructions is essential to understanding religious difference and violence in postcolonial Indonesia.