Indonesia, a rapidly developing Country in Southeast Asia, is rightfully titled one of the four “New Asian tigers” along with Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. It is the largest island country in the world and is located on the islands of the Malay Archipelago and the western part of New Guinea.

The diplomatic relations between the USSR and Indonesia started on February 3, 1950. However, the connection between Russia and Indonesia began long before that. In 1870-1880, an outstanding Russian humanist, scientist and traveler N.N. Miklouho-Maclay conducted research on the territory of present-day Indonesia: the Maluku Islands (Moluccas), Sulawesi (Celebes), and West Papua.


N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s travels over the territory of present-day Indonesia

While exploring Southeast Asia and Oceania, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay was also interested in Indonesia. He first arrived there in 1873, when the clipper “Izumrud” anchored at Batavia (now Jakarta). It was the same ship that, on December 22, 1872, took N.N. Miklouho-Maclay away from the northeastern coast of New Guinea (the Maclay Coast), where he had been conducting ethnographic, anthropological, oceanographic, volcanological and meteorological research for almost 15 months.

After learning from the “Izumrud”’s captain Mikhail Nikolaevich Kumani, that Dutch authorities intended 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 the 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 “Izumrud” in Batavia. At the same time, Miklouho-Maclay did not waste time during the “Izumrud”’s anchorage in Ternate (now the largest city in the Indonesian province of North Maluku), local sea traders became a source of some interesting information about the inhabitants of Indonesia and various areas of the southwestern coast of New Guinea.

According to Modest Modestovich Bakunin, the Russian Consul General in Batavia, is “It is equally stuffy and humid in the city through the day and night, like in the Russian banya” (“banya” is originally an Eastern Slavic steam bath), so Miklouho-Maclay, who had already suffered from malaria, did not stay in Batavia, but set off to Buitenzorg (meaning “Without worries” in Dutch, the present Bogor), a garden city located 48 kilometers south of Jakarta.

In the second half of the XVIII century, the Dutch built the Buitenzorg Palace on the outskirts of the present Indonesian city of Bogor (Java, West Java province) as the official residence of the Governor-General. Arriving in Buitenzorg, Nikolay Nikolaevich 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, promising that he would feel free as at home. 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. At first, J. Loudon was wary of the Russian traveler, but soon liked him and introduced to a narrow circle of his confidants, who were allowed to maintain informal relations with his family.

In Buitenzorg, Miklouho-Maclay hoped to have a rest and gain strength for new explorations. But here, malaria kept bothering him and took a new, debilitating form. Despite this, 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 for the Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences (Saint-Petersburg). By that time Miklouho-Maclay’s travels and research were already acknowledged by the world scientific community. On August 16, 1873, in Batavia he was elected in absentia as a foreign corresponding member of the Dutch Indies Royal Society for Natural History.

The fifteen-month stay in New Guinea affected Miklouho-Maclay strongly. Despite the hardships and dangers that he experienced, Nikolay Nikolaevich was so fascinated by New Guinea and Indonesia that he decided to settle in the tropics for many years or even forever. He wrote to Alexander Meshchersky from Buitenzorg (Bogor) : “It is becoming quite clear to me that I will not live in Europe anymore. <…> Nature, air, tropics suit my character and taste much better. <…> So, I will settle somewhere in the blessed tropical countries, but far from Europeans  — everything that surrounds them is terribly expensive and boring. Maybe, if have a desire and can afford it, I will come to Europe for a year, but not sooner than in a few years!”.

As we already know, the Dutch authorities planned to send a steamer to New Guinea at the end of 1873 for conducting research and invited Miklouho-Maclay to take part in this voyage. But military and political events affected the plans. The Aceh Sultanate in Northern Sumatra was the last major independent State in the Malay Archipelago. In March 1873, the Batavian authorities demanded that the Sultan of Aceh recognized the suzerainty of the Netherlands, but he refused. Then in April, the Dutch expeditionary force landed near the capital of Aceh. The colonizers failed to take the city over, and with heavy losses they retreated and were recalled to Java. The war began and lasted for many years. These events made the situation more complicated for Miklouho-Maclay: Dutch merchant and passenger steamers made trips between Java and the Moluccas, and then the traveler had to hire a Malay sailboat in order to reach the southwestern coast of New Guinea.

It was during N.N.Miklouho-Maclay’s stay on the territory of the present-day Indonesia that he decided to go to the coast of Papua Kowiai, where many scientists and traders did not dare to travel because of rumors about the bloodthirstiness and treachery of the local residents. Papua Kowiai 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 after the city. Interestingly, the stories about the dangers of Papua Kowiai suited the Russian traveler, as he wanted to study the tribes that were less known to Europeans and, he hoped, less susceptible to external influences. As for the risk of being killed, it never stopped N.N. Miklouho-Maclay.

N.N. Miklouho-Maclay set off to the Moluccas on the steamer “King William III”. He spent time onboard the ship observing the passengers among whom there were many Euro-Malay mestizos, Chinese-Malay mestizos, and etc.; and asked old skilled sailors about the various customs and traditions of the inhabitants of Java and other Islands of the Malay Archipelago. On December 22, the “King William III” anchored at the Harbor of Makassar, the capital of the Sultanate of Gowa, which included the southeastern part of Sulawesi and a number of small islands. Makassar now is the capital of the Indonesian province of South Sulawesi. On  January 2, 1874, “King William III” docked at Ambon (now the capital and largest city of the Indonesian province of Maluku). The humanist scientist wrote in his letters to Russia: “My plan is the same as in 1871: to meet the inhabitants and learn their customs and language, living with them, and keeping up with my zoological and meteorological observations”. Despite the continuous fever, Nikolay Nikolaevich decided not to deviate from the plan. As in other critical periods of his life, the traveler showed great willpower and, ignoring illnesses, got a grip to achieve the desired goal.

In late February-early March 1874 N.N. Miklouho-Maclay changed for ouroumbay and reached Papua Kowiai. The scenery caused an extraordinary admiration: “The sea with its numerous bays and Straits, sheer cliffs, high mountain ranges of various contours, extremely rich vegetation form the most spectacular combinations in Papua Kowiai, and the scenery can not be called “beautiful”, but “majestic””.

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 from one bay or coast to another in their pirogues, the hut of the Russian scientist on Papua Kowiai soon became a gathering point, near which, almost all the time, there were many local boats – just like on the Maclay Coast.

On the Namatota and Aiduma Islands (now part of the Indonesian province of West Papua) Nikolay Nikolaevich met people from the Wuousirau tribe that inhabited the mountains on Papua Kowiai. They invited the traveler and told him that behind the coastal hills there was 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.

So, what are the scientific results of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s expedition to Papua Kowiai? First, Nikolay Nikolaevich came to the conclusion that the inhabitants of Papua Kowiai, like the inhabitants of the Maclay Coast, belong to the Papuan race, although there are people of mixed origin – descendants of Malay men and local women. Second, the scientist spotted a big difference between the ways of living of the inhabitants of Papua Kowiai and the Maclay Coast. Despite the fact that the inhabitants of Papua Kowiai had long been familiar with iron tools, Malay clothing and jewelry, and even firearms, they still retained a kind of household and cultural type of coastal fishermen and tuber cultivators, which assumed seasonal migration within a limited household land.

Despite the fact that the inhabitants of the Maclay Coast were quite isolated from other races, they were not familiar with any metals, they used stone axes for building large villages with very comfortable large huts; they carefully cultivated their plantations, which provided them with food all year round, and also bred pigs, dogs and chickens.

Finally, his most interesting scientific discovery on the southwest coast of New Guinea was the results of the study of the Malay-Papuan mestizos. Miklouho-Maclay found that interracial marriages result in healthy progeny, rather than 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, now there are more than twenty of them. 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 without any doubt be called a feat that made an invaluable contribution to world science, and once again proved that there were no superior or inferior races, and all people were equal by nature.



After the expedition to Papua Kowiai, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay visited the lands of Indonesia that he loved so much from time to time on his way to Russia or Australia. 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.

Noteworthy, while on the territory of present-day 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 a number of his publications. Nikolay Nikolaevich finally completed and submitted his work “Further Notes Upon the Papuans of the Maclay Coast, New Guinea” to the journal of the Netherlands Indies Royal Society for Natural History. The work was destined to remain his largest study on the ethnography of the northeastern coast of New Guinea.

In January 1876, Miklouho-Maclay settled in Cirebon (now a port city on the northern coast of the Indonesian Island of Java) and began preparing for his second trip to the Maclay Coast (1876-1877) on the schooner “Sea Bird”. Going to New Guinea in an attempt to protect his friends on the Maclay Coast from colonizers, the traveler did not lose sight of the situation in Papua Kowiai. From Cirebon, he sent a letter to Governor-General Lansberge, in which he said that he had submitted to his predecessor a note on the social and political situation of the inhabitants on the coast of Papua Kowiai, including a condemnation of the slave trade in that area. Nikolay Nikolaevich asked “for the sake of humanity and justice” to take some actions to ease the desperate situation of the residents of those regions. The Russian humanist scientist, defying public opinion of that time, made a statement in the world press that the people of the Pacific were no different mentally from Europeans, and proved it scientifically.

In 1886, two years prior to his death in Russia N.N. Miklouho-Maclay, overcoming illness, processed his diary records about the last visit to Batavia. Soon the essay appeared in the magazine “Knizhki nedeli” [Books of the week]. In addition to interesting biographical information, it contained an analysis of the ethnopolitical situation in Dutch India – one of the first attempts of this kind in Russian literature.

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.