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Wapauwe Mosque: Central Maluku

Wapauwe Mosque, built almost six centuries ago, is evidence of a
long history of Islamic civilization in Maluku. Found in Kaitetu village in Leihitu district, Central Maluku, the old mosque, made of dried sago stems covered in sago leaves, continues to stand strong.

It is still used regularly by locals at prayer time, despite the fact a newer mosque has been built in the village.

The mosque measures 10 by 10 meters, with an additional veranda area spanning 6.35 by 4.75 meters. Despite its small size and simple design, it boasts a number of unique qualities, including the use of wooden pegs rather than iron nails throughout its structure.

Two old copies of the Koran, believed to be the oldest in the country, can also be found in Kaitetu.

The oldest Koran of the pair was inscribed without the use of borders by Muhammad Arikulapessy, the first imam of Wapauwe Mosque, in 1550.

Nur Cahya, Arikulapessy’s grandson, completed the other Koran in 1590. It also has no borders and was written on common European paper. Both Korans were exhibited at the Istiqlal Festival in Jakarta in 1991 and 1995, where their authenticity was proven by Koranic experts.

A compilation of sermons, which includes the first Friday sermon at the mosque during Ramadhan in 1661, a 1407 Islamic calendar and various Islamic artifacts and manuscripts dating back hundreds of years can also be found at the mosque.

The Koran inscribed by Arikulapessy remains at Wapauwe Mosque, while the Koran inscribed by Nur Cahya can be found nearby at the Hatuwe family’s home, which is now headed by Abdul Rachim Hatuwe, the 12th descendant of Arikulapessy.

The Korans have been damaged over time, despite being well maintained by generations of heirs.

Islamic preachers from the Middle East were instrumental in spreading Islam to the area, sharing at the same time aspects of their cultures. Local traditions such as hadrah music, unique marriage ceremonies and circumcision derived from these Middle Eastern cultures.

“The spread of Islam at the time was restricted to the sharing of Islamic objects and symbols due to language barriers. Islamic teachings were proselytized by preachers from Baghdad, known as Tuni Ulama, or masters,” former Kaitetu village official Djafar Lain said.

Djafar said Persian preachers played the most significant role in spreading Islam to the area, rather than traders from Gujarat as is often thought.

The mosque was built in 1414 in Molloko Kie Raha, North Makuku, by Perdana Jamilu from Persia.

Perdana Jamilu spread Islamic teachings in five districts around Mount Wawane, namely Assen, Wawane, Atetu, Tehala and Nukuhaly.

The mosque was initially named Wawane Mosque due to its location in the foothills of Mouth Wawane. It was relocated in 1614 to Tehala village, six kilometers away from its original site, after the arrival of the Dutch in the area.

By 1646, Dutch colonial forces dominated the entire area. In a bid to implement their political and economic policies, the Dutch ordered residents living in the hinterland to move to coastal areas. The five districts were relocated in 1664 – the year Kaitetu was established.

According to local folklore, when the Tehala, Atetu and Nukuhaly tribes moved to the coast, they merged to become Kaitetu. At the time, the Wapauwe Mosque was still located in Tehala.

One morning when the Kaitetu people awoke, the mosque had miraculously moved to the middle of the village. It was intact with all of its trappings.

Today it takes an hour to reach Kaitetu from Ambon city along a steep and winding road.

The remnants of a church built during the Portuguese and Dutch colonial eras can be found 150 meters north of the mosque. The church was destroyed during sectarian conflict that broke out in Ambon in 1999 and is yet to be restored.

The New Amsterdam Fort, another remnant of the colonial period, is located 50 meters from where the church once stood.

The fort, which is located on the coast, is a silent reminder of the Wawane Battle, fought from 1634-1643, and the Kepahaha Battle, fought from 1643-1646. Both battles were fought between local independence figures and Dutch forces.

“The old mosque and other historical remnants in Kaitetu could be redeveloped for research and tourism purposes. They are of archeological importance and must be preserved,” Djafar said.

M. Azis Tunny