An earthquake with a large force that occurred in Central Sulawesi in 1938, apparently not only occurred on May 20. A number of newspapers, both in Dutch and in Dutch, released the Algemeen Nieuws en Telegraaf Agent Schap (Aneta) report, which was the General Agency for News and Telegraph, which was founded in Batavia in 1917, about the great earthquake that occurred after 20 May 1938.

The newspaper Nieuwe Apeldoornsche courant, for example, in the May 21, 1938 edition or the day after the incident, citing Aneta’s report, explained that the May 20, 1938 earthquake had more serious consequences than expected. Eight people were reported missing and 450 houses collapsed.

The newspaper, based in Kanaalstraat 8, Apeldoorn, in the Netherlands, also reported that Parigi was also seriously affected by the disaster. In Toribulu, the tidal wave rises up to 100 meters inland and has a damaging effect. Of the eight people missing, three bodies have been found.


In addition, many livestock, tens of thousands of coconut trees have been swept away by tidal waves. Then, the Ampibabo area was also badly affected by the earthquake. Then, the earthquake also caused the road from Toribulu to Parigi to be seriously damaged. Many cracks appear later, perpendicular and parallel to the coastline.

The newspaper also reported, the surface of the land on the beach, down in many places and almost all bridges have been destroyed. Gray and yellow mud has come out of the ground. The road from Toboli to Kebun Kopi cannot be passed because of rock slides and subsidence.

Reconstructing Disaster Markers

This report also makes the story of the earthquake and tsunami that occurred in the eastern side of the neck of the island of Sulawesi, on May 23, 1938, must be reviewed more thoroughly. Central Sulawesi disaster observer, Drs. Abdullah noted, in 1938 there was not only one earthquake with a large magnitude. In his notes, an interval of three days from the earthquake in Palu Bay on May 20, 1938, precisely on May 23, 1938, a large magnitude earthquake also struck the Tomini Bay region. This earthquake occurred due to the movement of the Sausu fault, with an epicenter of 120.3 east longitude and 1.0 south latitude, located in the Torue region.

In the notes Drs. Abdullah, this earthquake caused a tsunami in the Parigi region to Toribulu, as far as 60 km, with a wave height of around 2-3 meters. As a result of this earthquake, there was an up-lift or rising ground level off the coast of Parigi, now known as Makakata Island. In his notes, the earthquake caused 942 housing units to collapse, 184 others were damaged, and all bridges along the path were damaged. In Parigi, 16 people were swept away, in Ampibabo 1 person was killed and in Toribulu 3 people were killed. In addition it was reported that Parigi Pier was also damaged.

If Aneta has received information on the impact of the earthquake and tidal waves (tsunami?) On the east coast of the island of Sulawesi on May 20 and 21, 1938, then note that the earthquake of May 23, 1938 caused damage in detail as contained in the notes Drs. Abdullah, needs to be explored further.

Other reports, as contained in the Utrechts volksblad newspaper, June 3, 1938, mention that earthquake shocks with low intensity are still felt in Parigi. The total number of houses destroyed was 942, with an estimated loss of 50,000 guilders. As for the impact of the disaster, the warehouse owned by K.P.M, a Dutch shipping company, was completely destroyed, and the lane between Parigi and Palu for more than 14 km, could not be crossed. Another more severe impact is Torue village in the south of Parigi, which has been washed away by the sea, then the hill behind Torue has partially collapsed.

If you look at this post-disaster report, it is possible that the epicenter of the May 23, 1938 earthquake, as noted by Drs. Abdullah, which caused the disappearance of Torue village, but not other impacts, as reported by a number of newspapers on 21 and 23 May 1938. This assumption is based on the epicenter of the May 23, 1938 earthquake located in the hills above the Torue region (Astina region, Torue ).

The impact of the earthquake in the Parigi region was also explained in the May 27, 1938 edition of the Bataviaasch Nieuwsblad newspaper report. The report citing Aneta’s report from Poso said that a large-scale earthquake was still being felt in the Parigi area (until May 27, 1938 ed.). This earthquake caused severe damage, where only a few buildings remained standing. So far (until May 27, 1938 ed.), The bodies of twenty victims have been found. According to the report, villages along the coast, are the ones who suffer the most from the earthquake.

Other reports also came from the newspaper Algemeen Handelsblad 30 June 1938 edition. The report said, so far (until 30 June 1938 ed.), The earthquake was felt in Parigi, Palu and Donggala. Earthquakes, according to the report, still occur frequently in Parigi, with the direction of the earthquake usually from Southeast to Northwest. More than a month after the disaster, the road connection, is now back to normal.

The report also mentions, fallen trees in the Dolago river in Parigi, piled up like dams due to flooding. As a result of the buildup and blockage, heavy floods flowed over the rice fields. To date (30 June 1938 ed.), It is estimated that around 100 irrigated rice fields have turned into sandy soil, which is filled with tree trunks. The van Binnenlands Bestuur (B.B.) Department or the Department of the Government of the Netherlands East Indies, according to the report, has taken action to clean up the pile of tree trunks, to prevent further damage. The damage is estimated at 25,000 guilders.

Guess Through Smeroefonds

Certainty about the May 20, 1938 disaster occurred in Parigi, present from the financial statements of the Smeroefonds (Semeru Fund), a donor agency based in Surabaya, formed in 1911, after the eruption of the Semeru volcano (Java) in 1909. The Semeru Fund also maintains relations with the organization of the Dutch Orange Red Cross (Orange Cross), which was the main Dutch disaster relief organization in the early 20th century. Their cooperation was consistent in raising mutual funds and sending emergency funds immediately, in the event of a disaster in the Dutch East Indies.

The Het nieuws van den dag voor Nederlandsch-Indië newspaper, August 22, 1939, for example, reported, based on a copy of the 1938 annual report from Stichting Smeroefonds, there were five requests for assistance in 1938, four of which did not qualify, due to the provision assistance in these four requests cannot be considered part of the foundation’s work.

Therefore, Smeroefonds only provided assistance in one case, namely for earthquake victims, which was followed by a tidal wave that occurred on May 20, 1938 in Onderafdeeling Parigi. Smeroefonds provided 3,000 guilders to help with the natural disaster.

Conclusion From Java Bode

If you see a number of these reports, it is most likely, on May 20, 1938, the magnitude 7.6 earthquake, centered in the Makassar Strait, which caused damage and tsunamis in the Palu valley, Donggala to the west coast region of the island of Sulawesi, also triggered a series of earthquake accompanied by tidal waves (tsunami) and damage to the eastern coast of the island of Sulawesi.

This was confirmed by the full report on the May 20, 1938 disaster, compiled by Java Bode, which was reported back by the Haagsche Courant newspaper, June 17, 1938 edition. The report included, on Thursday (May 19, 1938) night to Friday (20 May 1938), Onderafdeeling Parigi affected by the earthquake disaster. May 20, 1938, at around 1:00 in the morning, the first tremor was felt, followed by a severe shock that lasted about five minutes. The aftershocks continued until the following afternoon.

This large-scale earthquake, followed by a tidal wave, which according to eyewitnesses, reached 2 to 3 meters in height, where water flowed up to one hundred meters inland. On the path between Ampibabo and Parigi, a tidal wave swept over most of the houses, where the earthquake also continued to shake.

The report also explained, after arranging assistance in Parigi, Gezaghebber went to Tinombo, because no message had been received from there. Telegraph communication with Donggala was also damaged by the disaster.

Meanwhile, the resident official, Reuvers, quickly took action to study the situation at the location and provide assistance. On May 23, 1938 at 6 am, he departed on the Reiger government ship, to areas affected by the earthquake and tidal waves. During the trip, he was accompanied by the technical leadership of the field police, local government doctors, the head of the port, two paramedics, two police chiefs, 15 officers from the field police and a photographer.

The report also mentions, the Dutch East Indies Government called the May 20, 1938 disaster, the second most serious disaster at that time, after a similar disaster that struck Kakas, North Sulawesi, in 1932. 

Karya: Jefrianto (Mahasiswa Jurusan SPI IAIN Palu angkatan 2019)