Biak Tribe, Indonesian Oldest Sailors from Islands and Coasts of Papua

Biak Tribe, Indonesian Oldest Sailors from Islands and Coasts of Papua

Biak Tribe is one of groups of Papuan that live in Biak Numfor Regency in Papua and some coasts in West Papua. This regency is not located in the mainland of Papua but on islands in Cendrawasih bay. The islands consist of two small islands; Biak and Numfor, and around 42 other tiny islands In their daily life, people of Biak use Indonesian language with numerous dialects spreading in around 19 areas. Those dialects are Ariom, Bo’o, Dwar, Fairi, Jenures, Korim, Mondusir, Mofu, Opif, Padoa, Penasifu, Samberi, Sampori, Sor, Sorendidori, Sundei, Wari, Wadibu, Sorido, Bosnik, Korido, Warsa, Wardo, Kamer, Mapia, Mios Num, Rumberpon, Monoarfu, and Vogelkop. Although the dialects are various, it doesn’t make them misunderstood each others. it is known also that the main original dialects were actually only ten. For the rest, it is because of the migrating people to the areas.

Interestingly, there are some unique and fun facts regarding this tribe. Some of them may be never expected before. What are they?

The Origin of Biak

The name of Biak was from the word V’iak. It is a word used to name a group of people who live in the rural areas of the islands. Literally, the meaning of V’iak is people who live in the jungle or people who don’t know about maritime knowledge. It means that originally, V’iak people didn’t acknowledge much the ways to catch the fish or cross the sea. The name was indeed given people living on the coast that with high ability and knowledge in term of marine. Uniquely, although the name was basically to tease the rural people, it has been used officially for people on those areas whether who deal with marine or don’t. To ease the others in calling the name, the letter V was changed into B. Until now, it is called Biak anyway,

However, it is not the only story of Biak naming. There is a myth known by the local people in which the name was from Burdam clan. This clan was fighting with Mandowen clan and it was ended by Burdam clan left the area. While the clan was in the journey living the islands, they looked back and said V’iak that means ‘Re-appearing’. The people who stayed in the islands were then called as Viak, later, Biak.

The Oldest Sailors in Indonesia

In general, many tribes of Indonesia were known as expert sailors starting from the people of Sriwijaya and Bugis tribe. However, here is something not commonly known by people. History takes a not that the presence of Biak tribe is much older than those two. It means that they have been sailing longer even before the presences of kingdoms in Java, Sumatera, and Sulawesi. They did voyage to the areas of Maluku, Sulawesi, and Java. It means that before the colonial era, Biak people had been sailing anywhere beyond their areas.

Another note tells that the main factor why they sailed far away into the areas of Sumatera was due to the problem of natural resource. It was the time when drought came and they needed food supply to stay alive. Biak people then went around then-Indonesia area to look for ingredients. Of course, there was competition as well to control certain territories.

The Malignant Pirates of Papua

Sure, for their experiences on the ocean as sailors, there was higher chance for them to be pirates. Initially, older Biak tribe traded with barter method. However, since the profit was not enough while they needed to fulfill their daily life, they became pirates and robbed the ships voyaging around Cendrawasih Bay and Raja Ampat. It made them really in power in the past whether in term of social, economy, and politic. It was also another reason that many other tribes were afraid of Biak.

Sophisticated Maritime and Trading Systems

Still related to the maritime and marine thing, until now, Biak people are still famous for their traditional, yet, sophisticated maritime system. It is reasonable since they even started it from hundred years ago. Looking back to the history, they were not only malignant pirates but also good sellers. Therefore, they were also able to connect well with other tribes outside Papua. Some local kingdoms even considered Biak people as good relatives. While Biak found so many things they needed, those kingdoms also gained the same things. Aside from that, many Kingdoms like in the areas of Sulawesi and Maluku would be lucky to be allied with Biak as this tribe would help them in the battles and rebellion.

Time change and Biak people tend to be more harmonious nowadays. There are no pirates, battles, and colonialism. However, it seems there is something remained in this tribe. It is their soul of maritime. Yes, modern Biak tribe is still good on the ocean for whatever it is whether sailing, fishery, and trading.