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The National History Museum


For the sake of facility this area of the diary has been condensed into a more succinct form since due to the vagiaries of perplexing museum opening hours and confusing signing amongst other distractions, both the National Museum and the National History Museum required 2 stabs each over the course of a few days order to satisfy my wonder. The National History Museum was actually housed in an underground recess underneath the National Monument, a stark white marble obelisk centreing Jakarta's main square Lapangan Merdeka, in reality more of a personal indulgence invoked to commemorate the rule of dictator Suharto.

The museum was simply a long procession of puppet illustrated dioramas which related important incidents in the evolution of present day Indonesia, starting with the first notable local power block. The Sriwijaya Empire originating from southern Sumatra endured from the 8th to 13th centuries, exploiting an important crossroads on the India-China trade route to grow in stature. Its rulers were known as the Syailendra dynasty, whose fleet bore outrageously tall bow sprits with spear like projections. Under King Samaratungga they founded the Borobudur temple complex in central Java, which was built as a reflection of the universe and adorned with scenes from the life of Buddha. In 1292 the Jawi Temple was also built at Pandakan, East Java by the last king of the Hindu-Indonesian Kingdom of Singasari, combining Buddhism with Shivaism. Gaja Mada, a prince of the Majapahit Empire is credited as being the first ruler to instigate the concept of Indonesian unity, a quest sworn by him as the Pledge of Palapa in 1331. He vowed not to eat Palapa (rice with accompaniments) until this goal was realised. The Majapahit fleet was strengthened in this vain to resist the growing preponderance of Chinese intrusion evident around this time, though a Chinese envoy subsequently arrived to recognise local sovereignty in deference to their power. At this time the Pesantrens (muslim boarding schools) became important in sealing this unity and disseminated Islam at the same time.

In 1522 the Portugese first arrived at Sunda Kelapa (Jakarta) and established a fort, the farthest in a long chain which they had created in order to make waystations for the spice trade. This action was resisted by the Sultan of Demak and after a long seige the Portugese fleet in an effort to resupply it was finally defeated in 1527. Sunda Kelapa was subsequently renamed Jayakarta (City of Victory) from whence the name Jakarta would eventually evolve centuries later. Unity was also encouraged since the 15th century by the trading exploits of the seafaring Buginese and Makkassarese of southern Sulawesi, their ships were typically square rigged with upcurled bows and what resembled a longhouse lined along the deck.

With no mention of the Dutch arrival following their comprehensive defeat of the Portugese in 1641, the Makkassar War of 1654-1668 related how the Dutch VOC resisted Makkassar's opening to international free trade, with the Dutch fighting to maintain their monopoly. Based on the Treaty of London of 1814 the Dutch then sought to secure absolute sovereignty over the archipeligo which was resisted with the capturing of a Dutch fort in the Moluccas in 1817. The most prominent liberation war however was the 1825-1830 central Java conflict, headed by enduring national hero Diponegoro. In testimony to its scale, the Dutch lost 15,000 men and built many forts during this era, eventually prevailing with Diponegoro's capture. Dutch expansionism in Sumatra was similarly opposed under rebel leader Imam Bonjol, who was also captured in 1837 after a 16 year campaign. Dutch meddling in Balinese court affairs then provoked the Battle of Jagaraga 1848-49. Dutch interest then pervaded Kalimantan, with a resistance movement operating 1859-1905 and Aceh's eternal independent streak provoked clashes with the Dutch 1873-1904, again in a bid to secure their monopoly by preventing Aceh's external trade. The Dutch commander General Major Kohler became one casualty, interestingly I had seen his memorial plaque at the Kerkhof cemetery in Banda Aceh. Dutch invasion of the Batak country was simultaneously opposed 1877-1907.

In order to provide for European markets and subsidise their own repression, the people of Java were forced onto plantations and the resulting neglect of their smallholdings created famine 1830-1870. The diorama depicted here was particularly vociferous in demonstrating local contempt, slaves tied to a pole were whipped with the rebuke that the Dutch became wealthy upon such dealings. The church became important in increasing educational opportunities, and a new intelligentsia led to the National Revival of nationalistic sentiment under the Budi Utomo organistaion in 1908. In 1912 the Muhammadiyah organisation was similarly founded to disseminate nationalist movement through Islam. Then in 1922 Indonesian students in the Netherlands became politically active and demanded independence in 1922, a national educational institute was also set up at Yogyakarta this year in opposition to the imposed Dutch curriculum. Students of the National Medical College, birthplace of Budi Utomo subsequently became the focus for the independence movement. Rebelions at Banten, West Java spread from 1926-27 which resulted in thousands of arrest and exile to Irian Jaya. The spirit of national unity brought together youth movements to a congress, pledging "One Country, One Nation and One Language-Indonesia". Upon the Dutch surrender to the Japanese in March 1942, people dubbed "Romusha" were employed as forced labour, resulting in thousands of deaths. Surprisingly, perhaps due to a vague new atmosphere of colonial unshackling, a volunteer local army called PETA was formed enthusiastically under Japanese tutelage in 1943, there was at least one incident of mutiny however. Following the Japanese surrender, nationalists seized the oportunity under the resulting power vaccuum to declare independence on 17th august 1945. Soekarno and Hatta were sworn into the new presidency and a new constitution promptly ratified. Allied insistence that the locals hand over captured Japanese arms resulted in the Battle of Surabaya 10th November 1945, whereupon thousands were killed, perhaps since the locals were already aware that the Allies had the agenda of re-establishing Dutch colonial rule which resulted in a nationwide guerrila campaign 1945-49. With the fall of the new independent government's seat at Yogyakarta in 1948 during the Dutch "Agresi dua" (Second Aggression), the leadership was arrested whereupon General Sudirman, commander of the free Indonesian forces asserted control from a new seat established at Bukitinggi, Sumatra. The Dutch were finaly forced to accede under UN supervision , recognising rather compromisingly Indonesia's sovereignty over a federation or United States OF Indonesia. In 1950 the states promptly declared untification as the republic of indonesia. Indonesia joined the Un and hosted the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference. The first general electio took place the same year. It was arevelation to me that the Dutch had retained Irian jaya until 1963, when finaly it too was acceded to indonesia on the promise of a local referendum. It took place in 1969 but rest assured had to have been rigged against ocal wishes for autonomy. There was a coup in 1965 commonly reported as a Communist uprising, but was most certainly opportunism by generla Suharto who took control under a military government, taking the opportunity of simultaneoulsy crushing opposition from communist and military opponents. demonstartions ere suppressed and the cabinet was disolved. With Portugese capitulation in East Timor, whatever the museum tried to tell me , Indonesian forces moved in and seized it amidst widespread atrocities, formalising its integration prportedly reluctantly in 1976.

With Helen in tow this time I managed to piece together a few more segments of Indonesia's colonial jigsaw puzzle, before heading out the short sweaty distance for the old colonial cemetery. It was in the passing that we approached the Istana Presiden (Presidential Palace), and though it was invisible behind thick foliage save an uninspiring squarish corner gable, we promptly got a bonus as the big yin's motorcade blared past us with President Yodhoyono clearly visible in his limo. The cemetery was presented as a museum which was a bit of a joke, save for a few habitual rusty cannon and a lone deer to keep us company it was merely a facade of inscribed stone slabs which had been elevated to form an entrance portal into the graveyard. They were by far and away Dutch of course, few sadly rendering more insight than the born Amsterdam, died Batavia variety, though a few errant wanderers had also left their regrettable impression. One mourned a Scotsman (there's one everywhere sure enough), a John Patrick Sturrock who "rendered 15 years service to the C.N. Bank, born at Broughty Ferry", he succumbed at the ripe old age of 36. There were also a couple of ships engineers out of Liverpool, and strangely a boy inexplicably from New York who had lived to only just see his 17th birthday. Another Scotsman John Leyden, born Teviotdale, died "2 days after the fall of Cornelis". I could only surmise that that was Fort Cornwallis on Penang, but didnt understand the link if that was the case. Maybe that was another story still waiting to be told. Top discovery however was unexpectedly none other than the wife of Sir Stamford Raffles of Singapore, a prominent mounted plain sarcophagus. Unfortunately like so many others, the inscription was now barely legible.

Helen and I dodged more ridiculous traffic on the way back home, taking a different route so that I might treat her to a Starbucks I had chanced upon the other day. I felt bad trailing her about in the heat, especially with her fashion victim sandals hurting her, but then she said she was just happy spending time with me and I had to believe her. I felt the same way.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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