Nighttime fun in the old part of town
Prodita Sabarini , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Wed, 03/04/2009 12:31 PM | City Shine a light: A group of night tour members read an inscription at the Museum Taman Prasasti (Inscription Museum) in Central Jakarta, where headstones from the days of Dutch colonial rule are housed. Courtesy of Komunitas Historia
For Asep Kambali, creativity is the key to helping people appreciate the history of a city, even if this means taking groups to spend the night at the museum.
“Making it fun is the key,” Asep, the founder of Komunitas Historia history enthusiast group, says.
Asep, who in 2008 won an Indonesian Berprestasi (Prestige) award for his work raising public awareness of and appreciation for Jakarta’s history and heritage buildings, said most Indonesians think museums are dull and that old buildings are eerie.
“We want to change this perception,” he said.
Working in collaboration with the Bank Mandiri Museum in Kota, Jakarta, Asep took a group of 60 people on a tour through this historical area of West Jakarta on Saturday night – until the wee hours of Sunday morning. The group then slept at the Bank Mandiri Museum.
Since 2003, the community has been organizing night and day tours around Kota for history enthusiasts. The idea to spend the night at the museum, Asep says, came to him after watching the 2006 Hollywood film A Night at the Museum.
“I wanted to make people realize that museums and old buildings can be fun,” he said.
“The common perception about old buildings is that they are scary and haunted. I want to show people that these buildings are beautiful and have a history that we should know about.”
In the Dutch colonial times, the Kota area served as Jakarta’s center of administration, holding the city hall. The 16th century hall is now the Jakarta History Museum, better known as Fatahillah Museum.
At 9 p.m. on Saturday night, a group began to gather in the lobby of the Bank Mandiri Museum to begin the tour. Split into three smaller groups, participants started the tour with a trip around the museum.
Komunitas Historia volunteers guided these groups while explaining to us historical aspects of the museum. Yansen Jaya, a geography graduate of the University of Indonesia was the guide who took our group on the tour that night. Joining Komunitas Historia in 2005 and volunteering as tour guide in 2006, Yansen said he had lost count of how many tours he had led.
Yansen explained to the group that the Mandiri museum was once the building of a Dutch trading company, and was built in 1929.
The museum has the interior of a 1930s bank.
During the tour, visitors learned that in the 1930s, Chinese business customers had their own tellers at the bank – which accepted and traded Chinese yuan and Dutch gulden currencies because at this time the Chinese businesses dominated the Jakarta economy. Dutch and Indonesian customers would use separate tellers.
After the Bank Mandiri Museum, the groups moved on, passing the Bank Indonesia Museum (formerly the De Javasche Bank). This building was originally a hospital but then in the early 20th century it was renovated and turned into a bank.
We then walked to Fatahillah square, which was full of people who had just watched a concert. The area, surrounded by old buildings, was full of photographers shooting models at every corner. A throng of sidewalk vendors, bikers and several canoodling couples also were part of the Saturday night scene.
Here, our guide explained to the group a little of the history of the Jakarta History Museum building and square. Built in the 1600s by the Dutch East India Company, it served as the Batavia city hall. The square in front of the museum was once the town square, where executions were held.
Yansen then took our group down into the cramped dungeons of the city hall into a cell of around 9 square meters with a low, arched ceiling which once held prisoners before execution or trial. Yansen insisted on all 20 group members entering the dungeon.
“Come on in everyone. This is the place where the Dutch kept prisoners. Around 100 prisoners were incarcerated in this room, in which -- pardon me-- they did everything including urinating and defecating. That’s why a lot of the prisoners died before their trials ended or execution,” he said.
The dungeon had small stone balls that weigh 50 kilogram each. Yansen said prisoners were chained to these balls and to one another. “And then the chain was attached to a pole, so they couldn’t escape.”
We then moved on to the abandoned 1912 Cipta Niaga building. Popular as sites for film and photo shoots, Asep said, many production houses had damaged these historic buildings.
“Did you guys now that Ayat-ayat Cinta damaged a window here?” Yansen asked. He was referring to a popular film Ayat ayat Cinta (Verses of Love), which was shot in the Cipta Niaga building.
The building was in a bad condition. On the top floor was a gaping hole where there once used to be a roof. Now, people can see the sky from the top floor.
A lot of buildings in the Kota area have been abandoned. Data from Jakarta administration shows that there are around 29 abandoned buildings in Kota, including buildings owned by state-owned companies, and Cipta Niaga is one of these.
We continued our tour to Jl. Kali Besar – an area where boats once passed during the time of the Dutch rule, when boats were used as one of the main modes of transportation around Jakarta.
On our return to the Mandiri Museum, one participant, Grace Manik, said the tour was like finally getting to know the insides of a house that one passes every day.
Working in Bank BNI, also in Kota, Grace said she had passed these old buildings every day, and that seeing the condition of many of them was disturbing.
“I think the city administration should do more to preserve the old buildings in Jakarta. I think what they are doing is still done half-heartedly.”
Yansen, however, said that first the public needs to know about and appreciate the city’s old buildings and history.
“If they don’t know [about history] they won’t care, but if they understand, they will care, and they will speak out for the conservation of Kota,” he said.
“… At least, that’s what we hope.”