Memoir of Tanah Runcuk: Rereading Ludwig Stern and Kreuzer Wallach’s Travel Literature in the ‘Lost’ Land

By Lukman Sudjatmika


Tanah Runcuk, or Tanaruncuk, is an area discovered by an adventurer-cum-coffee entrepreneur from Hamburg named Ludwig Stern Jr., and his partner Kreuzer Wallach, an anthropologist from Frankfurt, in 1864. According to some sources that have been found, it is explained that Tanah Runcuk was the former colony of a splinter syndicate of the Dutch East Indies-VOC.

However, hitherto the experts are unable to find its exact location. The joint teams of independent researchers incorporated in the Centre for Tanah Runcuk Studies (CTRS) had begun a specific study on the journey and the ethnography performed by Ludwig Stern Jr. and Kreuzer Wallach in 2013. A series of hypotheses and theories have been developed in order to reveal this mystery.

CTRS researchers, in a thorough and careful way, conducted some studies on Ludwig Stern Jr. and Kreuzer Wallach’s collection of ethnographic records and artifacts found in a warehouse of a former library building in Weimar, Germany in 2006. Ludwig Stern Jr. and Kreuzer Wallach’s existences had been unknown since their observation in Tanah Runcuk.

The writing you are going to read is a series of interpretation on Stern and Wallach’s artifacts and ethnographic records made by the experts incorporated in CTRS. The data and analysis will remain developing along with CTRS investigation on the mystery of Tanah Runcuk.

We hope this report may give an alternative viewpoint, and help us all in understanding the historical construct which all this time tended to be a single version.


A part of restored artifacts and piles of document and manuscript belonged to Stern Jr. and Wallach. These valuable discoveries are currently being studied by CTRS.

The artifacts and documents within the photograph have much to tell about Orang Runcuk and the mythology of The Strident Runcuk Horse.

(Archive of CTRS)


The map of Tanah Runcuk which was also discovered in Weimar, stored neatly within Stern Jr.’s travel box. Historicians predict that this map was the one accepted (or taken) by Stern Jr. from the present given by Syaalman to Droogstoppel during his stay in Lauriergracht 37.

(Archive of CTRS)



The map of Tanah Runcuk enclosed in this writing is the map given by Syaalman within his present for Droogstoppel. The map was later remade by Wallach based on his actual survey together with Ludwig Stern Jr. It is very regrettable that the travel and ship navigation maps that brought them from Amsterdam to Tanah Runcuk remained missing. Based on the investigation of Sam Bergmann, a Swedish historician who performed some investigations and researches on the missing works of art and cultural artifacts, the Ancient Cruise Map of Netherland – Tanah Runcuk(1) has changed hands and been illegally sold in antiques black market(2).

The topographic survey on Tanah Runcuk conducted by Ludwig Stern Jr. and Kreuzer Wallach was complementary to the previous survey result conducted by the Dutch people under the authority of Tanah Runcuk which was called Tuan Perentah Tanah Runcuk (TPTR—a sort of antecedent government in Tanah Runcuk).

Stern and Wallach themselves admitted that there had been some measurement discrepancy and inaccuracy intentionally ignored by TPTR. However, the topographic survey is still used to be the basic data functioning as a control variable in making some considerations of economic and expedition activities(3).



Stern & Wallach wrote in their notes, “Notizen aus dem unbekannten Teil der Niederländisch-Ostindien”, that TPTR or “Tuan Perentah Tanah Runcuk” was actually an authority formed in secret by the Dutch        chartered company (VOC) through an economic-political contract with the local rulers preceeding the bankruptcy and the disbandment of VOC in 1799, followed by the Dutch’s loss against Napoleon Bonaparte, and the takeover of power over the East Indies under the control of France(4).

A while after the period of political turmoil in France, Bartjan van der Bunt, a VOC sea captain in Batavia, also wrote in his diary (the diary was unintentionally found within a chest in the Dutch’s “Welvaren” ship that had been sunk in its journey from Batavia to Tanjung Harapan)(5):

“A number of VOC’s conservative authorities smelled something fishy from the left-wing movement radical upheaval heating up in France. A number of these insecure officials suspected that the sore of the French Revolution would impact the political constellation of Europe, including the Dutch Empire. I have heard that a ‘strategic retreat’ had been prepared; even before the battle coming under their noses, thousands miles away from defeat. How disgraceful!” 

Long before the discovery of van der Bunt’s diary, Stern and Wallach had written as well as made a perusal and analysis stating that several VOC’s high officials who tended to be conservative and corrupt made a series of speculation on the probability of the Dutch’s loss in the Napoleonic Wars and its impact towards their economic-political constellation.

That very fear later urged those corrupt officials of VOC to make a confidential agreement—unbeknown to the Dutch Empire (both in Europe and in the East Indies)—with the local rulers who owned potential territories which had not been largely exposed and were located outside the mainstream of cruise and trade lines(6).

Stern and Wallach underlined that some key documents and maps on the existence of this island have been obliterated by the double agent working structurally, systematically, and secretly in Amsterdam, Middelburg, Enkhuizen, Delft, Hoorn, and Rotterdam. The attempt of blotting out Tanah Runcuk from historical record is executed in order to save the assets, power, and influences of the syndicate of several VOC’s stakeholders, employees, and corrupt officials in the East Indies. The suspicion regarding the existence of the stealth government of “Tanah Runcuk” was almost tracked by Raffles before his reign over the Dutch East Indies ended around 1815. However, his effort was forced to stop as the Congress of Vienna sued for the returning of the East Indies to the Dutch after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

According to the founders’ initial objective, Tanah Runcuk was indeed successfully isolated and free from any impact resulting from the war situation in Europe. This unidentified and undetected place became a paradise for hoarding the assets corrupted by VOC’s employees and high officials, as well as by the Dutch Empire’s stakeholders after the monopoly trading company went bankrupt.

It turned to be a “hiding place” for those who escaped the ideological turmoil and political pressure occurring in Europe at that time. The formation of the “stealth state” Tuan Perentah Tanah Runcuk that used up a great amount of illicit funds could also be one of the factors that led VOC to bankruptcy. This very factor had not been recorded in the history of Europe until eventually Ludwig Stern Jr. and Kreuzer Wallach’s ethnographic record was discovered in 2006.

By the local elites’ lending a hand and by immersing themselves into the oligarchy that had been legitimated irrationally by the people throughout generations, TPTR held an absolute power over the entire aspect of life in Tanah Runcuk(7).

“The photograph of TPTR plantation supervisor.” This photograph is predicted to be a result of photographic manipulation done by the colonial government for the sake of deceiving the people, as well as reviving the myth of the Megaphone-Head Strident Runcuk Horse. (Archive of CTRS)


To look at the context of the VOC at that time, Stockdale’s writing (1811) might be an important reference. Stockdale suggested that in the period before 1740, the free people, who had never been under the control of the VOC, commonly went back to Europe as bringing abundant wealth. The situation had changed since 1740, when there was only a little chance to earn money by conducting individual trade. At that time, business was predicted to be nonprofitable day by day and the condition was not good at all. Such circumstances led the VOC backwards(8).

As a comparison, Stockdale explained that during the same period (the middle 18th century) in Java Island, the governor-general of the VOC was holding a nearly unlimited authority(9). Formally, there was indeed an obligation of reporting accountability to and consulting the board for specific matters. However, in practice, the governor-general held the most independent and authoritarian power among all. It was very much likely to happen when almost all member had certain business with his power. The clearest example was the practice of nepotism, conducted for the sake of providing a certain advantageous position or occupation for either their relatives or friends(10).

Stockdale also stated that in the East Indies, the governor-general assigned someone with the title “commissary of inland affairs” as the representative of the territorial power over the inland areas. The commissary was the person who adjusted all differences emerging from all local nobles, definitely with the governor-general’s notice. The commissary was the party having the right to impose punishment and fine upon the local rulers who were bound to an economic-political contract with him. In this case, the fine was a source of great income for him. In the inland areas, he was a spectre revered like a prince, because one’s happiness was determined by his power(11). The authority within this structure and hierarchy, in conjunction with the weak control and difficult access to directly visit a certain area, had at least opened many chances of abusing the authority commonly occurred in that period.

Such scheme, supported with an organized coordination through a secret conspiracy between VOC’s principal officials and the agents of the Dutch Empire’s administration, had successfully closed the whole possible access of information on Tanah Runcuk. The secret operation that went neatly and slyly turned out to last quite long and be unaffected by European political turmoil. Even after the East Indies was returned to the Dutch Empire by the Congress of Vienna (1815), Tanah Runcuk and its authoritative apparatuses managed to escape the clause of the agreement once again. Event though the local rulers held the power over and legitimacy from the people, TPTR’s economic-political pace remained controlled remotely by the next generation of the ruler of the East Indies whose movement was undetected, neither by Batavia nor Amsterdam(12).



According to TPTR’s record, the area of Tanah Runcuk was 12,539 square kilometers. However, Stern and Wallach doubted this number. They assumed that Tanah Runcuk was broader, but unfortunately there was no more reasonable and scientifically adequate counter record found in comparison to TPTR’s data.

Tanah Runcuk was located in the borders of Pacific, Eurasia, and the Australian tectonic plate; it caused Runcuk to have many volcanoes and be on the tectonic earthquake belt. Tanah Runcuk had several active volcanoes, among others: Kawaruncing (the highest volcano of the land), Karasdendam, Tanagelap, Tanajaoh, Tanaujong, Pacakgilo. The volcanic ash resulted from the eruption was one of the main factors that fertilized Tanah Runcuk. This area was located on the equator, therefore it had tropical climate with two main seasons: dry and rainy seasons(13).

The middle-northwest part of the island received more rainfall and tended to be wetter. On its diagonal line (northwest-southeast) lay Pegunungan Tak Sudah (The Ceaseless Mountains). The mountains geographically shaped the island’s interior and divided it into two geographic patterns (western and eastern parts), as well as built the perception of north-south orientation. Tropical rainforest covered almost the entire middle-northern area of the island. The average temperature was around 22-29°C, with the humidity of 75%. Western and eastern coasts tended to be hotter; the temperature might reach 33°C in dry season(14).




On the northern coastline of Tanah Runcuk, there were many niches with extremely steep topography. High and sharp reefs in the likely shallow water made some cruises and expeditions avoid this area. Many ships were stuck and sunk in the sea around northern Tanah Runcuk due to the hazardous reefs that resemble underwater saws. The northern area rarely had beach; if any, it would be less sloping and less wide, craggy and not ideal for a ship to sail let alone to dock. Based on the note of observation from the sea written by the VOC’s Cruising Team (1790), there were many high and steep cliffs directly led to the sea.

The land of the northern Tanah Runcuk was just as unfriendly as the others. The most part of the area had the characteristic of tropical rainforest which was relatively similar to the middle area, but most of them remained unexplored (parte incognita).  Exploration of this area could not be escalated because of its unfriendly and insurmountable topography, particularly in the area Stern called as The Triangle of Death: Pegunungan Rumpunbatu (Rumpunbatu Mountains), Mount Karasdendam-Mount Tanatombak, Pegunungan Rumpunkelok (Rumpunkelok Mountains).

A number of indigenous tribes in the area survived by hunting and gathering food. It was estimated that 3-5 inland tribes lived nomadically around the area of the triangle of death. They lived and isolated their community, made no contact with other groups of society which had been established, settled down, and managed farms earlier in the southern side of the triangle of death. Such assumption departed from the stories circulating among a more modern tribe, living in the southern area of the triangle of death around Mount Karasdendam-Tajambibir Hill. The assumption was reinforced by Stern and Wallach’s discovery of totem variation seen around the foot of mountain in the outmost of the triangle of death.

Stern and Wallach stated that the eminence of the triangle of death is its variety of height and short-range topography. These aspects ensure its environmental diversity and variety of habitat. The higher elevation generated rain in the area of the mountains, therefore such area was weathered and it had thick soil horizons and perennial stream (in fact, this theory was later proved to be true nearly throughout the mountains zone in Tanah Runcuk).

A difficult geographic condition or ecology hindered the dissemination of food production technology from outside into the area of the triangle of death. According to Wallach’s prediction, a few people who remained living as hunters-gatherers, while in other areas of Tanah Runcuk people tended to be more advanced and sophisticated, managed to break away safely from the pressure of food producers precisely because they lived in an area unsuitable for food production.


Natural Fort: The Ceaseless Mountains

In the inland area in the middle of Tanah Runcuk, there lay a row of high, wonderful mountains from the northwest to the southeast part of the island. The people of Runcuk called it Pegunungan Tak Sudah which literally means: the unending (ceaseless) mountains. From the point of view of The Ceaseless Mountains, other lower mountains and hills appeared to spread randomly to all directions, forming a wide and various valley. A beautiful landscape with steep cliff and valley was the characteristic of the topography of the area around The Ceaseless Mountains.   The inland areas around the mountains had a relatively high level of humidity, dominated by tropical rainforest. Referring to Stern and Wallach’s experiences, the area was said to have apparent mystical dimension, manifested into floras and faunas having a kind of negative energy in a high and fierce intensity. Compared to other areas, the intensity of mystical atmosphere indeed got intensified along the area of The Ceaseless Mountains.

Hundreds of poisonous plants and giant-sized flowers were spread throughout the inland areas. The old, high and dense trees, with large diameter trunks and giant-sized roots, of various kinds grew thick within the jungle. In this area, a great number of predators also prowled. Insects and birds also existed in unreasonable number and various kinds. Venomous reptiles, small-large-giant-sized mammals, bushes, poisonous flowers were scattered around and shaped the complexity of this very habitat.

Stern and Wallach once made an illustration and brief notes on the biodiversity of the forest located in the end of The Ceaseless Mountains, adjacent to Pucukrimba River and Tanagelap Volcano. Stern and Wallach underlined some anomalies (mystical anomalies) within the kingdoms of animalia and plantae. The illustration they attached to The Origirn of Realms described some animals and plants whose frequencies were on the scientific threshold, that they were able to store such a great energy and mystical potential manifested into physical shapes, and the excess of psychokinesis that negated the natural law.

The mystical anomaly in a biodiversity could be classified, and it became more complex and dominant in several specific areas here, particularly on the land where two or more big streams of river met the “fort” of The Ceaseless Mountains. Stern and Wallach marked this area within the map with the illustration of “Devil’s Flower” which they called as Safanus lucifera. This plant is a kind of giant carnivorous plant that preys on small reptiles and insects. It wafts stinking odor and grows wild as parasite. A place with such identification could be found in the northern side of The Ceaseless Mountains, hedged in by Pucukrimba River–Belago River, as well as in the western side of the mountains fenced in by Airpolah River–Masampolah River–Aerkarat River.

Typical orientalist admiration and exaggerated enthusiasm towards the exotism of the jungle in Tanah Runcuk were predicted to contribute to obscure some objectivity of the morphology of this image. (Archive of CTRS)



The west side of the island, viewed from The Ceaseless Mountains, looked terraced starting from the coast to the foot of The Ceaseless Mountains. The coastal area of the southern and western sea was lowland, mostly covered with mangroves, bushes, and some swamps. The opposite condition happened to be in the north, southeast, and northeast sides, where mountains and rocky hills lay more closely and varying.

The landscape and condition of the area around the volcano in the western zone (Mount Tanagelap and Tanajaoh) of Tanah Runcuk were very contrary to the condition of the inland in the middle zone. The condition of the area within a radius of more or less 10 km around the volcanoe tended to be dry and sandy, also consisted of savanna or homogeneous forest. Low humidity, high intensity of mountain-valley breeze, and relatively cold temperature were identical to the area around the foot of this volcano. Great rocks and volcanic sands were the sediments beneath the river and the valley which were the streams flowing the lava of those active volcanoes.

In this area, the dominant fauna was Runcuk horses, or Equus ferus sonitus. The population of this communal animal drastically decreased due to the rituals and traditions of the people of Tanah Runcuk to hunt and take the heart of Runcuk horses.

The coastal area was relatively hotter and dry. The average temperature in dry season might reach 33° C.

The coastal area was as beautiful and wondrous as the mountains in Tanah Runcuk. The main exellences of the nature of Tanah Runcuk were clean and healthy air, as well as its amazing sceneries. After walking for a while from the beach to the mountain, we could see the beauty of a mysterious thick forest. Even in dry season, the air was always fresh and the rivers kept streaming fresh water. Some low and highlands in the west coast were overgrown with paddy, whose fields were irrigated by surrounding rivers with terracing system. Stern and Wallach called such landscape as “the marvelous land of green”.

Rivers and abundant supply of water supported the livelihood within the area. The relatively flatter natural condition with gradual slope enabled the people to settle down, cultivate land, produce food (by farming and breeding cattle), and build a more stable settlement. The area in the western side of The Ceaseless Mountains was the centre of civilization with the most sophisticated technology ever happened in Tanah Runcuk. The long and friendly coastline also enabled ships to dock; thus this is the place where TPTR built its administrative basis and central government.

The availability of suitable mammals and wild plants allowed the citizens to collect the appropriate biological package for the survival of generation. Here was also the place where food production did not generate much competition, and hunting-gathering lifestyle was almost unrecognized. Moreover, the aquatic resources (fish, freshwater and sea clams) were available in abundant amount of supply.

The soil was quite friable and it did not require much treatment, which was very suitable for tobacco plantation. The citizens planted tobacco and paddy intermittently with only one harvest season each year. Following the harvest of paddy and tobacco, the soil was left vacant until the next growing season. Young tobacco plants were produced in a higher land, in the area of the western foot of The Ceaseless Mountains.


The southern part of Tanah Runcuk was an area which was very ideal for plantation and terraced field. The topography of the land had a gradual transition from low-mid-high altitudes in quite long distances, making the land suitable for domesticating plant and animal for the sake of food production. Stable rainfall and humidity as well as regular change in the season made this zone worth for living and settling down (building colonies).

In a relatively higher land, it had the characteristics of black soil mixed with sand, very ideal for coffee plants. The area around Tanatengkarok Hill and Perkara Hill were not much exposed to the sunlight and received less rainfall (which could wash away the fertile soil). The valley around the foot of the mountain or the slope of low hills were the places with the finest fertility because they were flanked by two volcanoes (Tanaujung Volcano and Pacakgilo Volcano). Thus, people opened many coffee plantations here. The altitude of this area indeed impacted on the longer period heading to the harvest season, but it produced excellent coffee beans.

The land was overgrown with bushes, weeds and reeds (Saccharum spontaneum), indicating that the land was very fertile. It was also the centre of pepper plantations that needed a similar treatment to coffee plants. On the side of the rivers streaming down from the mountain springs, many indigo plants grew. Indigo mostly grows both in mountaneous area and lowland. Indigo is the raw material of indigo-blue dye processed into liquid form. The dye was made by squeezing the leaves with some limes. It resulted in the dye primarily used in Tanah Runcuk.

The cotton grown in this area was the variety of Gossypium herbaceum. It was the raw materials of people’s clothes. Cotton produced from woody plants, growing approximately 1.5 feet high, and commonly planted in the fields after harvest season, might be picked in less than 3 months.


In the east and southeast coasts, including the islands around them, the area still had much forests even though not as thick and heterogeneous as the other zones in Tanah Runcuk. Some areas were indeed barren and desolate (just like the island in the northeast side of Tanah Runcuk where Stern and Wallachstopped over for the first time).

The differences of geographical characteristics impacting on contrasting periods of season (between the west and east side of The Ceaseless Mountains) were caused by several factors, particularly some high mountains which imaginarily diveded Tanah Runcuk into two geographical interiors. When the southwest wind brought high precipitation, the rainfall tended to be restrained by the height of The Ceaseless Mountains. The restrained clouds on the west side of The Ceaseless Mountains would generate rainfall in the western zone, while the eastern zone did not experience the same season. Mount Pucukrimba and Pacakgilo Volcano (on the southeast side), as well as Rumpunkelok and Tanatombak Mountains (on the northeast side) with such altitudes that were able to break and hold the monsoon seemed to fortify some parts of the eastern zone from longer dry season and low precipitation.

It impacted on the type of the forests overgrown this area, which was dry tropical forest. The trees growing therein were able to store water and food supply for the plants to survive the dry season; and the leaves tended to fall in dry season. Such condition certainly affected the creatures living within.

Sunlight might reach the ground, thus it was less favourable for the trees. The biodiversity of this place was lower compared to other areas in Tanah Runcuk. Some large-sized predators, and also vertebrates, proved their adaptability to the difficult climate. Water supply was the key to life within this area.

In an area with low humidity (closer to The Ceaseless Mountains), or with relatively shallow groundwater, the spectrum of the forests would turn into evergreen forests. It might be observed along the river stream: many trees remained green because the leaves did not fall. In this kind of area, the formation of the forest became wetter.

The dominant plants growing in the eastern zone of Tanah Runcuk were among others candlenut (Aleurites moluccana, the same species as candlenut growing in Maluku), reonja (Acacia leucophloea), klampis (Acacia tomentosa), sengon (Albizia chinensis), terisi (A. lebbekoides), Asian palmyra palm (Borassus flabellifer), Indian rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia), kesambi (Schleichera oleosa), walikukun (Schoutenia ovata), tamarind (Tamarindus indica), and so on.

In a small island (Chandana Island or widely known as Keciksebarong Island), located on the eastern side of Tanah Runcuk, there were abundant trees producing sweet-scented sandalwood (Santalus album). The island was the final destination of Stern and Wallach’s journey (Stopover XIV). The wood of this parasitic plant was utilized as spices, incense, and creese blade. The wood has strong scent which might linger for more than one hundred years. Because the root is unable to support its own life, the sprout needs a host in order to grow.  Since it requires a special condition to live, this island was the only place where the plant might grow.

Volcanoes, Mountains

Stern and Wallach entered Tanah Runcuk through a beach on the northeast side, after previously docked for a while in a quite barren and dry island across Tanah Runcuk (Stopover I). In the island, they penetrated to the inland area from the northeast beach located between Mount Tanatombak and Kawaruncing Volcano (Stopover II). From the seashore, Kawaruncing Volcano seemed to loom high. Due to its height which could be seen from afar, it became a sign for the sailors.  Here, they were treated with very thick forests. As they entered deeper to the inland, Stern and Wallach reported that Kawaruncing Volcano was surrounded by desolate fields lying until the foot of Mount Tanatombak.

Rumpunkelok Mountains covered with tropical rainforest lay behind Mount Tanatombak. Barren fields with volcanic sand started to disappear and changed into the trees at the foot of Tajambibir Hill (Stopover III). From Tajambibir Hill heading to northwest, the forests got thicker and more complex as it approached Mount Karasdendam (Stopover IV). Wild and savage animals, as well as mystical plants, dominated this place. The area lay on the eastern side of The Ceaseless Mountains; and big rivers with many tributaries streamed over it. Heading to north, Stern and Wallach arrived at Rumpun Batu Mountains (Stopover V) which was dominated by limestones and dry, barren land. This stopover made a sudden contrast. Continuing to the west side of Rumpun Batu Mountains, Stern and Wallach again trod tropical rainforest and passed through the end of The Ceaseless Mountains which was dominated by jungle. They continued the walk to reach the foot of Tanagelap Volcano that was desolate and sandy just like Kawaruncing Volcano (Stopover VII). On the northwest side, they saw Mount Tanajaoh looming clearly from the barren, sandy landscape at the foot of the mountain. In their journey, Stern and Wallach chose to go along the branch of Tanagelap Volcano extending to the southwest side: Mount Tanarimba (Stopover VIII). The mountain was covered with forest which was not as dense as in the middle zone of the island. Stern and Wallach went along the mountains and arrived at the tropical rainforest on the west side of The Ceaseless Mountains (Stopover XII). Thence they headed to the southeast to meet the edge of The Ceaseless Mountains ended with rocky Tanatengkarok Hill, located precisely next to Perkara Hill. From that place, they might see Tanaujung Volcano and Mount Rentetbukit on the west side. Meanwhile, on the southeast side appeared Pacakgilo Volcano exactly in line with Mount Pucukrimba.

Illustration of the ritual in a crater by Stern Jr. (Archive of CTRS)

Rivers And Lakes

The mountaneous area had many big rivers and tributaries; while there might be even more small rivers within. Many springs also spread throughout the expanse of the island. There is no point of counting the number of them all. Those rivers primarily functioned as the support for farming and the access to distribute big logs.

There were also a lot of lakes in different sizes which always provided freshwater all year round. Four big lakes recorded were Lake Air Dalam (located between Tanagelap Volcano and the end of The Ceaseless Mountains), Lake Salalaot (located at the foot of Mount Tanatengkarok), Lake Takberiak (located between The Ceaseless Mountains, Mount Karasdendam, and Tajambibir Hill), and Lake Tulangbatu (located at the foot of Kawaruncing Volcano).


Concentrated in the Western Zone – Southern Zone – East Coast (Access through the south route; by sea or land)

Paddy Field

Tanah Runcuk was very ideal for farming. Its fertile soil was able to grow any seed falling to the ground. The growth of plants in this area was relatively fast due to the help of the season and stable water supply. Most citizens of Tanah Runcuk earned their livelihood as farmers and fishers; the numbers were followed by the administrative officers of TPTR, and other jobs in the fields of artistic and recordkeeping (the numbers were very few and nearly undetected).

The farmers planted crops in a great amount. Other than to fulfill their own basic need, they also had to deliver their yields to TPTR (the sole authority in Tanah Runcuk). Since most of them earned their livelihood as farmers who depended on cultivating land, buffaloes, and irrigation system, they eventually formed a typical structure of agrarian society.

Fertility and luxury given by the nature for the farms did not force the farmers of Tanah Runcuk to give much effort in order to improve their standard of living. A little effort might be able to produce abundant yields. Being the staple food of the area, the cultivation of paddy spread over almost the entire land nearby the settlement.

In the work structure of the farmer, there was no division of labour based on gender. Therefore, each family had 8-10 workers in average. With such composition, half of the harvest generated a surplus and it was commonly managed to buy a few necessities of farming, clothing, and furniture. Nevertheless, clothing and furniture were never a priority. Children were left naked even though the farmers family could afford clothing.

Despotic governance run by TPTR impacted on the absence of protection over the proprietary rights of land in Tanah Runcuk. The ruler’s policy on the result of land cultivation also tended to be unstable and pressing the farmers.


Plantation was executed in a systematic and organized manner. The land of plantation and its supporting facilities were concentrated in the western and southern sides of The Ceaseless Mountains. Within the areas, plantations and settlements were monitored and managed by TPTR.

Coffee was brought into the East Indies in the 18th century by the Dutch colonial. Thence it was smuggled illegally to Tanah Runcuk through some main harbours on the west side of the island. Later it was distributed by sea for its planting in the southern area of The Ceaseless Mountains. What had been recorded regarding Javanese people in the History of Java written by an English man, Thomas Stamford Raffles, tended to be similar to the way people planted, treated, and distributed the harvest to the barn in Tanah Runcuk; for example being done by the people under pressure and force, as well as other violent actions performed by the foremen hired by government.

Pepper, opium, cotton, tobacco, indigo, sandalwood (in Keciksebarong Island, on the east side of Tanah Runcuk) were the exported commodities managed by TPTR to be traded in the black market. The plantations which were forceful and bound the farmers tended to give no chance for the farmers to manage their own basic needs. Many farmers died of starving, escaped to the forest of The Ceaseless Mountains; or some of them committed suicide because they could not stand the oppressive rulers.

Stern Jr.’s illustration of plantation commodities in Tanah Runcuk (Archive of CTRS)

Orang Runcuk (The People of Runcuk)

According to Stern and Wallach, the people of Tanah Runcuk were the members of the same race as the people living in Java, Sumatera, and around the southeast Asia. As written by Thomas Stamford Raffles on his investigation of Javanese people, their ancestors came from the islands on the east side of the Peninsulas of Asia which were the first place inhabited by human. Their ancestors were the Tatars(15). According to Dr. Faris Buchanan who wrote the report on the monarch of Burma(16),

“There was a great nation residing in the East Asia, including the Tatars in the eastern and western lands of China, the Chinese, the Japanese, and some other nations living in the Indian Peninsula outside Gangga, and in its southern and eastern islands, until New Guinea. The nation might be described as short, stout, gallant, muscly people who were very different from the Europeans. They have square face, with sharp forehead and chin, wide cheek bones, thin eyebrows, small eyes dented into the facial bones. Their nose is small, unlike the Negroes’ nose, it is not flattish. Europeans’ nostrils look parallel and pointed, while these people’s nostrils are nearly round and wide, septum nerium is the thicker part of their face, making it nonparallel. The shape of the mouth is common, the hair is coarse, straight, and black. Even those who live in the hottest place are not as black as Negro or Hindu, and those who live in the coldest place are not as white as European.”

Within their development of history and interaction with other civilizations, ancient Orang Runcuk, as the ancestors of Orang Runcuk, can be categorized into two groups. The categories departed from the distribution pattern and the way Orang Runcuk produced their food. The two categories include Orang Runcuk living in the inland areas (Orang Runcuk Dalam) and Orang Runcuk living in the coastal areas (Orang Runcuk Luar). The development of these two types strongly depended on the extreme geographical split of Tanah Runcuk.

Due to its relatively vicious and less explorable inland environment and nature, ancient Orang Runcuk mostly migrated (from one beach/island to another in Tanah Runcuk) by sea. However, since the arrival of the Europeans, the domination over sea was held by the more sophisticated and deadly European fleet. It impeded Orang Runcuk’s marine expedition and urged those who could not adapt to the circumstance to move deeper into the inland areas and became alienated from their own maritime tradition. Some others remained staying in the lowland and coast (concentrated in the southern and western zones), adapting by performing some syncretic actions.

Orang Runcuk Luar/Coastal Orang Runcuk

Orang Runcuk Luar, or the citizens living in the coastal area, were the sailors and traders strongly influenced by the spirit of expedition and struggle for a new place. However, they were increasingly pushed inside and eventually performed agriculture in the lowland, becoming the agrarian people who were bound to their fertile land, polite and calm, barely interacting with and at last not having much interest to cruising and foreign trade.

In order to bridge the alienation, (western and southern) Coastal Orang Runcuk really kept in mind their imagination of their past, maritime glory. These people of Runcuk lived in the pride of the past, and at the same time in the pride and possessiveness of “becoming the people who believe in God”. The underestimation upon these believers was affected by the assumption that “monotheism” is the peak of spirituality. It made them accustomed to underestimate other people’s talent, regardless of its being expressed out or kept in their own community.

Orang Runcuk living in the western and southern zones were collective yet hierarchical society. Compared to the people of other areas, those who lived within these zones (spreading over the coastline and its surrounding lowland) had earlier encountered and adapted to the values of spirituality, modern technology, and economic system brought by the merchants from India, Arab, China, and later Europe.

In Tanah Runcuk, lowly workers spoke in a language and dialect only known to their own community; they tended to be exclusive and showing up their social class. The dialect and language spoken by them could not be used as the means of communication with the people belonging to a higher social hierarchy. Such situation formed a separator that confirmed the border of social class difference, while at the same time avoid any close relationship among different social classes.

Superstitious belief had been firmly ingrained and deeply-rooted in Orang Runcuk of almost all social classes. Monotheism, instead of setting them free from the attachment with superstitious and old beliefs, made a bigger chance for Orang Runcuk to legitimize the existence of such beliefs. Orang Runcuk Luar were very enthusiastic about worship and ritual, and it had been an inseparable part of their identity and honour system. In this case, honour is a well-maintained imagination; thus it might be a sensitive matter when someone tried to underestimate or belittle it.

Orang Runcuk’s pride of identity was formed by the romanticisim of their past glory, by means of their belief of myths and fantastic traditional stories. Orang Runcuk were a patriarchal society. The patriarchal spirit was represented in the way people worshipped time, honour, and full obedience to the persons who belonged to a higher hierarchy. Moreover, it was also represented in the awareness of their position within the social hierarchy of the society. These attitudes shaped inferior individuals, who concealed their enthusiasm and genuine traits that were actually energetic and sometimes quite extroverted.

The Social Class and Characteristics of “Orang Runcuk Luar”

 In order to understand the characteristics of hierarchical society of Runcuk, firstly we must comprehend their individual/communal level of dignity. Orang Runcuk who belonged to a high social stratum, for example government executives or high officials, had the tendency to enjoy a certain luxury and wealthy life. They were usually sly and corrupt, showing many contradictions between their attitudes and the morality they worshipped and celebrated through monotheistic rituals. The citizens of Tanah Runcuk were generally influenced by their system and governance that were corrupt and applying double standard.

Otherwise, the lower class citizens (the majority of the people) was the most harmed group. Since they were uprooted from their maritime tradition, and pushed backwards to the inland areas, Orang Runcuk Luar lived by producing food and farming, which were later managed by Societas Tanaruncia in a monopolistic and authoritarian manner for the sake of illicit trade. The tedious oppression had deprived their confidence and courage to have any ambition and to express something independently. In articulating their attitudes, the people tended to prefer congregating and delivering communal expression, by means of prominent figure or patron as the representative of their voices. The emerging tendencies as the result of such characteristics were dependency and excessive confidence at voicing their arguments within a crowd.

In practice, Runcuk farmers as a part of lower class society (the majority) in Tanah Runcuk were those having the qualities of hard-working, discipline, and highly loyal. Such qualities were shaped by regularity and proximity to all aspects they had been working on for earning a livelihood: cultivating land, growing, and harvesting.   The peasants were modest, honest, and natural. Their tendencies were contrasting to the traits of high class people: full of pretention and power-hungry.

Orang Runcuk were commonly obedient and innocent. They were basically credulous. However, living under a government that did not execute a clear legal enforcement made them have an inclination to be suspicious, and finally performed frontier justice upon those who were “assumed to be guilty” based on the values they believed in. Such inclination could be seen in their judgement upon the “guilty persons” in the form of either social excommunication or collective judgement by physical violence.

This kind of situation raised a trend among Orang Runcuk to take the act of revenge, that was commonly triggered by murder or jealousy. Past stories had proved that prolonged war often raised vengeance within Orang Runcuk—who were inferior, but having a high self-esteem. Such situation frequently lapsed Orang Runcuk into senseless violent acts.

Orang Runcuk who were uprooted from the habit of cultivating their own land had even worse behaviours. They were commonly the leaders of lower class being subject to Societas Tanaruncia, or those having the trust of being the extension of the Europeans’ hand in plantation monitoring and government management. This note has to be read and comprehended in careful manner because the society had multilayered pattern. Lower class society—the majority—should have been the emphasis while reading the context of Orang Runcuk; the concern given on them should be different from the way we look at Orang Runcuk who had been contaminated by the corrupt mechanism of Societas Tanaruncia.

A very rare antique map by unknown artist, describing the unknown part (Parte Incognita) of Tanah Runcuk. (Archive of CTRS)

Orang Runcuk Dalam

Orang Runcuk Dalam were the native tribes of Tanah Runcuk who remained living in the jungle throughout The Ceaseless Mountains (Middle Zone), the Triangle of Death (Northern Zone), the Area of Karasdendam Volcano, Keciksebarong Island (Eastern Zone), and other wildernesses in Tanah Runcuk.

The inland tribes were mostly unidentified and unclassified in a proper way. Other than the natural condition that caused them to be unreachable, the reason was that these tribes were likely to be nomadic.

Based on the discovery of several totems in the outer area of the Triangle of Death and the jungles of the middle zone, it can be traced and assumed that each tribe developed a distinct language system and way of life, including the belief systems of animism-dynamism. Being geographically separated and not having any direct contact with Orang Runcuk Luar led to the absence of cultural and value exchanges between Orang Runcuk Dalam and Orang Runcuk Luar.

Following the arrival of VOC who later infiltrated the local elites around the coastal and lowland area, and claimed themselves as Societas Tanaruncia, Orang Runcuk Luar underwent a rapid acceleration of civilization. The entire aspects of life rapidly evolved and were oriented to economy. The hegemony gradually brought some major changes in the existence of Orang Runcuk in general, and of the closest tribes to the more modern civilization of Orang Runcuk Luar in particular.

The pace got faster as the economic liberalization of the Europe affected the pattern of agriculture and plantation industries in the western–southern zones (1850-1860s). The demand of industrialization upon certain commodity plantation by TPTR had impacted on some agrarian expansions to the middle zone where Orang Runcuk Dalam lived.



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Javanese Jungle. Oil on canvas. Raden Saleh, circa 1860. Source: Smithsonian American Art Museum.


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