N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s travels in Indonesia

N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s travels in Indonesia


The diplomatic relations between the USSR and Indonesia started on February 3, 1950. At the present, Indonesia is one of the most potential partners among the Countries of Southeast Asia. However, the connection between Russia and Indonesia began long before the second half of the XX century. In 1870-1880, the outstanding Russian humanist, scientist and traveler N.N. Miklouho-Maclay was conducting research on the territory of the present Indonesia (on the Maluku Islands (Moluccas), Sulawesi (Celebes), and West Papua).

For the first time N.N. Miklouho-Maclay visited Indonesia in 1873, when the clipper «Izumrud», on which he was returning from his first 15-month expedition to the northeastern coast of New Guinea (the Maclay Coast), anchored off the port in Batavia (now Jakarta).

After learning from the captain of the «Izumrud», Mikhail Nikolaevich Kumani, about the intention of the Dutch authorities to make another expedition to New Guinea, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay asked the Governor-General of the Netherlands East Indies, James Loudon, to take part in this expedition and received a telegram from Loudon informing that the expedition would start at the end of 1873 and that the Russian humanist scientist would be «the most welcome guest» on the ship. That is why Nikolay Nikolaevich decided to get off the «Izumrud» in Batavia. At the same time, Miklouho-Maclay did not waste time during the «Izumrud» anchorage in Ternate (now the largest city in the Indonesian province of North Maluku), he got interesting information from the local sea traders about the inhabitants of Indonesia and various areas of the South-West coast of New Guinea.

In search of a milder climate, the Russian humanist scientist set off from Batavia to Buitenzorg, a garden city located 48 kilometers south of Jakarta. Buitenzorg is located on the outskirts of the present Indonesian city of Bogor (Java, West Java province). Arriving in Buitenzorg, Miklouho-Maclay rented a small house, decided to look around and have a rest, but soon he was visited by Loudon’s assistant with an urgent request to move to the Governor-General’s Palace as an honorary guest. The Russian scientist accepted the invitation, but preferred to live not in the Palace building, but in a small pavilion, in the shade of the trees surrounding the Palace.

In Buitenzorg, Miklouho-Maclay hoped to have a rest and gain strength for new research. Nikolay Nikolaevich actively worked on the materials of his expeditions. While in Indonesia, he prepared a number of publications for the world’s leading scientific journals, including a large article «Anthropological notes on the Papuans of the Maclay Coast in New Guinea» and an article on the dialects of the natives of New Guinea. Even then, Miklouho-Maclay’s travels and research were acknowledged by the world scientific community. On 16 August 1873, he was elected in absentia in Batavia as a foreign corresponding member of the Netherlands Indies Royal Society for Natural History.

The Russian humanist scientist was so fascinated by New Guinea and Indonesia that he decided to settle in the tropics for many years, or even forever.

It was during N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s stay on the territory of the present Indonesia when he decided to go to the coast of Papua Koviai, where many scientists and traders had not dared to travel because of rumors about the bloodthirstiness and treachery of the local residents. Papua Koviai is an obsolete name of the part of the southwest coast of the Indonesian province of West Papua in Western New Guinea. This area is now called Kaimana, according to the name of the same name city. The stories about the dangers of Papua Koviai on the contrary suited the Russian traveler, as he wanted to study the tribes that were less known to Europeans and, as he hoped, less susceptible to external influences of Europeans. As for the risk of being killed, it never stopped N.N. Miklouho-Maclay.

In late February-early March 1874 N.N. Miklouho-Maclay changed for ouroumbay and reached Papua Kowiai. The view caused an extraordinary admiration. According to the diaries of the Russian scientist, the people of Papua Kowiai were surprised by his desire to live among them, but they treated Miklouho-Maclay with friendliness and even respect. As the locals led a mobile lifestyle, moving by their pirogues from one bay to another, from coast to another, the hut of the Russian scientist on Papua Kowiai soon became a gathering center, near which, almost all the time, there were many boats of the locals – just like on the Maclay Coast.

On the Namatota and Aiduma Islands (now part of the Indonesian province of West Papua) the traveler met several times the people from Wuousirau tribe that inhabited the mountains on Papua Kowiai. They invited the traveler and told him that behind the coastal hills there were a large Kamaka Waller (now the Kamaka lake, West Papua province). Despite the weakness and pain in his legs, Miklouho-Maclay made the mountains hike along steep paths and studied the culture and life of this tribe, which was less affected by external influence.

N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s most interesting discovery on the southwest coast of New Guinea for science was the results of the study of the Malay-Papuan mestizos. Miklouho-Maclay found that interracial marriages produce healthy progeny, rather than lead to inferiority. This fact became another argument in favor of equality of all races on the planet. The diary records of the scientist are also supplemented by his excellent drawings. They depict the local people, their houses and magical objects, landscapes, the house of the traveler on the coast of Papua Kowiai. Taking into account the extremely unfavorable situation in which Miklouho-Maclay had to conduct research, and the state of his health, the traveler’s research on the coast of Papua Kowiai can fairly be called a feat.

After the expedition to Papua Kowiai, from time to time on the way to Russia or Australia N.N. Miklouho-Maclay visited the lands of Indonesia that he loved so much. The Russian humanist scientist kept being attracted to Bogor by the romantic memories, as well as the refreshing, but treacherous climate of those places. The Russian scientist even lived for a while in kampong (village) Empang, near Bogor. Peace and quiet, as well as walks in the shady park and in the surrounding hills, restored mental balance and contributed to scientific creativity.

Moreover, in the territory of the present Indonesia, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay continued processing the materials collected during his expeditions, and also published a number of articles that became world-famous. Before leaving his beloved Java, Miklouho-Maclay managed to add the materials on his two New Guinea expeditions to the number of his publications. The traveler finally completed and submitted to the journal of the Netherlands Indies Royal Society for Natural History the work «Further Notes Upon the Papuans of the Maclay Coast, New Guinea» — a work that was destined to remain his largest study on the ethnography of the northeastern coast of New Guinea.

The lands of Indonesia impressed the outstanding Russian humanist scientist and traveler N.N. Miklouho-Maclay. He kept the memory of these beautiful tropical landscapes all his life. In 2011, with the support of the Russian Geographical Society, a monument to N.N. Miklouho-Maclay was erected on the territory of the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Jakarta. This is the first monument to a Russian in Indonesia, who had an indissoluble connection with this wonderful Country.


The article is based on the book of an outstanding Russian ethnographer and leader of the Soviet ethnographic expeditions to the northeastern coast of New Guinea in 1971 and 1977, Daniil Tumarkin, “Miklouho-Maclay: dve zhizni “Belogo Papuasa””, and on the materials of the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation.