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Home >> Ruling Families >>The Ancient Minahasa Community

The Ancient Minahasa Community

By: Ramly Siwi, USA / Translation: Roderick C. Wahr

Awu and Taranak

Traditional House Minahasa

A family household, the smallest group in the Minahasa community is called Awu. In fact the meaning of that is ash, also used in the sense of kitchen. Up until now still many cooking places are found in the Minahasa that are made from wood or bamboo filled with earth or ash.

With regard to a community, the term Awu was used for one family unit (the household) and was utilized to define the number of inhabitants in a village. In the ancient Minahasa community all of the family, married or not yet married, lived in one big house with the shape of a bangsal that was erected on top of high poles. The building on top of high poles was for reasons security.

When Prof. Reinwardt visited Tondano in 1821 he still saw the houses of which the poles could be embraced by two adults. Later in the report of Dr. Bleeker in the year of 1855 he wrote that the villages in the Minahasa were built on high and large poles, and were occupied by four of the same families together.

According to traditional provisions, if one of the adult family members built a new household, then the new household would get a separate room in the family of the man or the woman. The room that was separated was supplemented with one place of its own for cooking, which meant that the occupier was independent. That room for cooking was called awu. Awu eventually was interpreted to mean household. For that reason people who are married are often called Ka Awu (Ka = friend, brother).

Awu members consist of father, mother, and children.

Tondano before 1880
© Het Geheugen van Nederland

The head of the Awu is Ama (the father) and when he dies then Ina (the mother) replaces him. The function of head in the hands of the father here does not mean that he holds an unconditional authority in his hands within the organization of the household. Here the position of head leans more towards the meaning that there is a household and the obligation to defend the household against attacks from outside. As provisioned by tradition for management of the household the Ama and Ina are obliged to make decisions and determine policies in mutual consultation.

From a marriage an extended family is formed that covers several bangsal. According to custom, a new bangsal must be built adjacent to the old bangsal. This was in the interest of both parties' management, security, and problems with their mutual agricultural land. A complex of such bangsals that are occupied by inhabitants who have family ties is called Taranak. The Taranak leadership is held by the Ama from the family and is called Tu'ur. The main task of the Tu'ur is to conserve the traditional provisions, cover relations between Awu, arrange the ways for exploiting the agricultural land owned together, arrange marriages between members of the Taranak, the relations between Awu and Taranak up to trying and punishing members who are guilty of anything. However, whatever is done by him, if it relates to the security and prestige of the Taranak, he will always ask for the opinion of Taranak members, because that also is a traditional provision.

Different from the Awu level where the management was in the hands of the Ama and Ina together, at the Taranak level the role of the Ina was not too prominent.

Taranak, Roong / Wanua, Walak

Marriages between Taranak members create new Taranaks. Bangsals started to appear in groups, forming a complex that increasingly became wider. The limits of a Taranak as a legal community started to become hazy, and the meaning of a Taranak as a unity became more abstract. So as an identification tool for the occupants of a bangsal complex, a territorial unit was used. In other words the identification function began to shift from a form of blood ties to a form of settlement.

Election of Ukung 1900

As a result of this process a complex of bangsals was created in a unit that was called Ro'ong or Wanua. The legal territory Wanua covered the bangsal complex itself and the agricultural and hunting territory surrounding it that were the mutual property of the Ro'ong or the Wanua occupants. The chief of the Ro'ong or Wanua was called Ukung which meant head or leader. For the management of the territory, the Ro'ong or Wanua was divided in several parts called Lukar. At first this Lukar leaned towards security but eventually Lukar was substituted to become Jaga (guard).

Up until today in some places in the Minahasa the word Lukar is still used in the sense of a person who takes care of security in a village or in the house of the village head.

An Ukung also had an assistant who was called Meweteng. Their task at first was to help the Ukung arrange the distribution of work and the distribution of results of the Ro'ong / Wanua. This distribution is in accordance with that which has been agreed to together.

Moreover the Ukung also had an assistant who functioned as adviser, especially in matters that were difficult with regards to tradition. Advisors like this were elders who were honored and respected and who were regarded as wise, who were not tainted and who were examplary in the Wanua, they were named Pa Tu'usan (who has become an example).

Ro'ong / Wanua's increased from time to time becoming several specific Wanua that eventually were called Walak.

Paesa In Deken

Manado Fighter 1880
© Het Geheugen van Nederland

Minahasa leaders for centuries based their decisions through a conference or Paesa In Deken (the place to unite opinions). From its name it can be clearly seen that all decisions that were made were the result of a conference.

The dominant factor that often was decisive in the decision making was the opinion of the leader. It became customary that in each final mention of his opinion, the leader always spoke: " Dai Kua?" (is it not so?) and almost always the answer from the members was: " Taintu" (it is so). This is based on the thought that the leader's opinion was the opinion of most members.

It was an obligation that all provisions that had been decided had to be followed through although they were not agreed to by some members. Sanctions for refusal of the Paesa In Deken were very heavy, that is: banishment from the community. This punishment was very heavy because no one of the Taranak would care for the fate of the accused. If he became the target of the enemy, he could not hope to get help from anyone. It is this provision that is the authority of the heads / tu'a in ancient Minahasa.

However, when the leader took measures that were not in accordance with the traditional provisions or disturbed the community then the members of the community will ruin him with all their might. This has already been demonstrated by the Minahasa people when dealing with the Walak heads. Through pressure from the people, the Compagnie (VOC) with all of their authority bowed and agreed to the replacement of his position.

In the year 1679 Padtbrugge wrote:

"Apart from the official conference that was led by the Ukung there also were other conferences of the Minahasa people. And the decisions could only be made based on a majority of voices, without considering the differences and exceptions of the participants; in this case they will not change, and there was no force of any kind in the world that could shift them an inch, even if that would cause them a loss and would bring them destruction."

What was meant was, the conference that was held outside by the Ukung, whether the decision or the policy of the Ukung, which was regarded by the majority of members of the community, was compatible with the specific provisions, the current customs and traditions. The source of their stubornness to maintain the decision of the conference, was the conviction that the gods were on their side. In a case like this the Ukung was already regarded as violating the regulations of the gods. The decision that they took, and that was already sealed by an oath, was interpreted as something that was already handed over to the god who was always mentioned in the oath, and not just to ask for help.

Therefore although Paesaan In Deken already contained the seed of authority, and gave the opportunity to a leader for that, a conference like this (that is held outside the authority of the Ukung) was a warning to the Ukung to not violate the traditional provisions. This was the element of democracy that was present in the Minahasa.

Besides that the position of head in the Minahasa was never inherited; if a Tu'ur in a Taranak died the members of a Taranak, adult women and men, would hold a conference to choose a new leader. In the election the focus would be on quality. If two people had the same quality and as a thank you to the leader during the period of his leadership. It meant that that father during his leadership period was a good leader while alive.

There are three required Quality Criteria ( Pa'eren Telu) :

  1. Ngaasan - To have brains; where he has expertise in running a Taranak or Ro'ong.
  2. Niatean - To have a heart; has courage, perseverance in dealing with problems, capable of feeling what other members feel.
  3. Mawai - Has the strength and can be relied on; someone who is physically capable of overcoming any situation, capable of dealing with warfare.

Therefore, it clearly was not easy to be acknowledged and chosen as leader in the Minahasa community in the past. It is also clear that the position of leader in the Minahasa never was inherited.

Dr. Riedel wrote:

"In the Minahasa, anyone could be called (be chosen) to undertake the government. In accordance with the customs and traditions in this area, the Paendon Tua, is chose by the Awu."

Mapalus (helping each other)

In Mapalus, the same principle applies as where women carry the hoe, the shovel etc. These provisions do not mean that women had a lower position, however, men had the obligation to maintain security of the Mapalus group and are required to bring machetes, spears and other armaments.

These Mapalus organisation provisions were undertaken stringently the same as other traditional provisions. When forming the leader (in Tontemboan language Kumeter), after choosing, the leader must be whipped with a rattan stick by one of the leaders in the village, while saying "as hard as I lash you, so hard must you lash a member who is lazy and is an offender of regulations".

Up until now these provisions still take place in several parts of the Minahasa.

The meaning of Mapalus has already experienced changes along with development and culture of the community. In the ancient community, Mapalus at first was still had the same meaning as gotong royong (working together as a commune) because farm land was still mutual property. But because of further development of the community, where individual property was created and stood out, then the meaning of Mapalus changed to become helping each other. As it is now each Mapalus member has the right to get help from other members as a service because he has already helped other members by doing work in the rice-fields, the fields as well as the house etc.


Published in SulutLink. Sent by Ramly Siwi, USA. It was adapted from an old book of which the title cover and writer to be taken into account was lost. According to credible sources, the contents of the book were really consistent with the traditional stories of the elders who told their children and grandchildren who are still alive today. If anyone knows the title of this book, please contact the editors of SL: or

Read also: The Meaning of Kawanua


2004 by Roderick. All rights reserved. write comments to: