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Malay history

The Wapauwe Mosque in the Ambon Island

1. The History

According to the data by Yulianto Sumalyo, the Wapauwe is the oldest mosque in Indonesia and is also originally Indonesia building. It is located on the Kaitetu Village, the Leihitu sub district, Ambon, the province of Maluku, Indonesia. It was built in 1414 A.D which was firstly located on the Wawane Village under the name Jamilu, a name of the one who first brought Islam to the area.

The name Wapauwe has its own history. The flexibility of the architecture of the mosque (it was easily rebuilt) caused it being moved to Tahella village in 1614. The Tahella village is 6 kilometers of the east Wawane. However, the removal of the mosque didn‘t change its original shape. The removal was under the command of a respected religious figure in the area, Imam Rajali, which was based on the concern that the Tahella village was the centre of the Islamic teaching. The Dutch colonialist also contributed as the cause of the removal. The colonialist disturbed the people in Tanah Hitu that started on 1580 after the coming of the Portuguese in 1512. This is the reason that the name of the mosque changed to the Imam Rajali Mosque.

The Dutch successfully conquered the entire Tanah Hitu in 1646 and resulted a policy to demand all of the people who stayed in the mountainous area to go down and settled in the coastal areas. Consequently, the mosque was removed to Ateu village (known as Kaitetu village now) in 1664. Therefore, the Kaitetu was officially recognized as a nation during this year. Kaitetu was a land with lots of mango trees: the forests produced tremendous mangoes (Wapa in the Kaitetu language). The name of the mosque later on was changed to Wapa to identify that it stood under the Wapa tree, a very shady tree.

According to a research conducted by Abdul Bagir Zein, the mosque is decorated with the Quranic mushaf which is considered as the oldest mushaf in Indonesia. The mushaf was written on a paper imported from Europe in 1550 by Muhammad Arikulapessy (the first imam in the Wapauwe mosque). Another mushaf by Nur Cahya (Muhammad Arikulapessy‘s granddaughter) can also be found there. It was written in 1590. Nur Cahya wrote other works which are also in the mosque, the Barzanji Book (a book of the Prophet Muhammad‘s biography and prayers to  Muhammad), the collection of sermons during the Ramadhan in 1661, the calendar of Islam 1407, and other Islamic manuscripts which are hundreds year old. A stone and a wooden scale to measure the zakat fitrah for the residences can also be found there.

The location of the Wapauwe mosque is well known as an area with many historical heritages. An old church inherited from the Dutch and the Portuguese was located around 150 meters of the mosque. This church is now ruined as an impact of the conflict in Ambon in 1999. At the north of the church, around 50 meters, is an old fortress, the New Amsterdam, inherited from the Dutch. It was originally the Portuguese‘s lodge. The fortress is a historical witness of the Wawane war (1634-1643) and the Kapahana war (1643-1646).

The Tourism Agency of the Government of Maluku has established this mosque as one of the tourism objects. However, the Ambon‘s conflict caused the tourists, domestic and international, reluctant to visit it.

2. Location

The mosque historically located on the Wawane village, at the Wawane mountainous area. It was once removed to Tahella and then to Kaitetu, the sub district Leihitu, Ambon, the province of Maluku, Indonesia, and it is still there to this present time. Therefore, the mosque physically stands at the latter place as its final position. It is 46.2 kilometers from Ambon.

3. The Width

The mosque was at first 9 x 9 meters (another source mentions it was 10x10 meters). But, during the second renovation (in 1895) a 6, 35 x 4, 75 meters lobby was added to it. The renovation didn‘t change much the original design though.   

4. The Architecture

The building is unique. Its traditional architecture is elementary that enables it to be removed and rebuilt many times. Not even a single nail was used to construct the mosque, wooden nails were used instead. Its unique construction enables the mosque being removed from one place to another place. The top of the mosque is made of wood with a cylinder shape with molding. Well braided rope made from fiber was tidily arranged on the roof.

The sketch of this mosque shows that it is in a square shape with four columns as the saka guru and a tajug roof which is influenced by the Javanese architecture. The saka guru is made of very big timbers sizes 22 x 22 cm2.  The top of it is covered with a pyramidal roof with sharp slope.  The lower part of the roof is less sharp. Several windows are among the up part and the bottom part of the building. The windows are meant as the ventilation. The roof of the mosque was firstly made of the rope from the palm fibers (known as ijuk). The fourth sides of the bottom part of the building, which is in the square shape, protrude to the outside and form an ellipse shape. A sentence ‘Allah and Muhammad‘ is found at its every corner.

The roof of the mosque is made of the frond of the sago palm. It was walled with soil in the beginning before the frond of the sago palm. Half of the wall is also mixed with limestones. Some renovations are added to the building, but they don‘t change the original shape. The Mihrab (the niche in a mosque wall directing toward Mecca) is in 2 x 2 meters, the ordinary size of the mosques around Java and Bali. The stage is made of wood in the shape of a chair and is supported by stairs. There are also curves made of woods to decorate the top of it. The bedug (the large drum suspended horizontally at a mosque to summon the prayers) is made of big timber of 2 meters long. This bedug is tied with rattans and is hung on a big beam of wood on the top.

5. The Designer

The establishment of the mosque was initiated by Pernada Jamilu, a religious figure from Jailolo, Maloku kie Raha (North Maluku) who was the first to spread Islam to the mountainous Wawane: the Assen village, the Wawane, Atetu, Tahella, and the Nukuhaly. Several preachers from Arab had visited these areas long before Jamilu did. Nevertheless, the mosque was originally addressed to as the Jamilu Mosque before it was changed to many different names several times.

6. The Renovation

This mosque was renovated firstly by its founder, Jamilu, in 1464 without changing its original shape. Even though it underwent two renovations, its original shape didn‘t change. The second renovation was in 1895 with a lobby added to the eastern front part. The secondary renovation took place several times after the independence of Indonesia. The roof of it started to use PC cement in 1959. It was before with gravels. Two big renovations took place after that, on December 1990 - January 1991 when two pillars that supported the roof were changed. In 1993, the rafters and the ridges were also changed without changing the four core pillars which were the main part of the building. In 1997, the roof of the mosque which used zinc was changed to mangrove trees. The roof from the mangrove tree was changed once for five years. Even though several renovations have been taken place, the original design of the mosque didn‘t change at all. This is the reason why it is considered as the oldest mosque in Indonesia which originality is still preserved until now. (MA/trj/7/01-08)


  • Abdul Bagir Zein, Masjid-Masjid Bersejarah di Indonesia, (Jakarta: Gema Insani Press, 1999).
  • Yulianto Sumalyo, Arsitektur Mesjid dan Monumen Sejarah Muslim, (Yogyakarta: Gadjah Mada University Press, 2006), 2nd edition.
  • Republika (www.republika.co.id), 22 January 2006.

Photo credit: www.wisatamelayu.com (Photo by: Tuti Nonka)

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Comment of "the wapauwe mosque in the ambon island"

14 Okt 2013. masrur siddik
Alhamdulillah saya sempat shalat sunat di Masjid ini 22 Februari 2013 yang sebelumnya meninjau 'bendungan alam' Wae Ela. Bendungan tsb terbentuk oleh longsor bukit setelah diguyur hjan lebat pada Juli 2012. Material pebukitan berupa produk gunungapi Tersier tersusun oleh tufa breksi yg lapuk. Kewaspadaan atas bencana banjir bandang atau galodo telah dilakukan pemompaan air serta 'rencana pembuatan spill way' ..... namun Juli 2013 bnedungan jebol juga. Dampaknya .... Negeri Lima tempat berdirinya Masjdid (1414) , Gereja (1646?) dan benteng Amsterdam didekatnya ...... porak poranda...... Allahuakbar
04 Feb 2014. Muhamad Irbar Kardi
Koreksi terhadap nama yang di pakai yaitu: Tahella,yang sebenarnya Tehala
06 May 2014. Itang Navira Hatuwe
Saya anak asli Negeri Kaitetu, rumah saya pas di depan mesjid Wapauwe. Untuk Tahella sebenarnya Tehala. Maaf, dan juga desa kami tak pernah porak porandah oleh kerusuhan Ambon, dalam rekaman sejarah sekalipun. *_*

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