Jakarta, A Moveable Feast
It may not be love at the first sight, but Jakarta is one good example that can be given to prove the cliché proverb of not judging a book by its jacket. The wicked old city probably does not suite everyone’s palate, but those willing to
turn the pages will begin to be fond of the Big Durian.
With almost 12 million inhabitants, Jakarta is one of the busiest and most crowded cities in South East Asia. As a well-liked migrants’ terminus, Jakarta is no doubt a misticanza of habits. It can be confusing yet tempting, due to its demonstrations of energy and vibrancy. There’s so much amusement, even in everyday life, that people can find in the city.
Jakarta has always been perceived as a trading hub and huge melting pot. Before the 15th century it was recognized as the strategic port Sunda Kelapa of the Sunda Pajajaran Kingdom, selling pepper as its main commodity. Historical chronicles mention that Pajajaran had other ports such as Banten and Cimanuk, but Sunda Kelapa was the most prominent since it was the nearest port from the center of the kingdom, which now is known as Bogor.
Portuguese documents show that Sunda Kelapa was only a small harbor that stretched for almost two kilometers and could contain only ten 100 ton-capacity ships. These limited dimensions did not stop merchants from the Malay Peninsula, India, China, Portugul and the eastern part of Indonesia from gathering there, not only exchanging their goods but also bringing along their culture. The evidence can be found in traditional Betawi wedding’s outfits or folk performances such as ondel-ondel, which hinted of Chinese and Arab influences.
As Islam’s sway got stronger, the King of Pajajaran turned to the Portuguese for help in bracing Sunda Kelapa from the Muslim kingdoms’ expansion in 1522. The King promised to develop an exclusive pepper trading relationship and to give land in West Jakarta for the Portuguese to build a fortress on. But the Portuguese failed to return to Sunda Kelapa to construct the stronghold because they faced Hindu resistance in Goa, India.
On June 22, 1527 Commander Fatahillah from the Islamic Demak Kingdom conquered Sunda Kelapa and changed its name to Jayakarta. The date was kept to mark the birth of new mega-city, Jakarta. Since then, British and Dutch business ventures as well as Japanese occupied Jakarta, but the colonization did not forbear the borough to evolve. Jakarta had metamorphosed from just a spice market located at the estuary of the Ciliwung River to a vast and vigorous venue for political and industrial activities.
The Sunda Kelapa harbor has had several name changes from its original name. It was Jayakarta during Fatahillah times, then Batavia in the Dutch era. The Japan altered it to Jakarta and after Independence Day the Jakarta administration revived the name Sunda Kelapa. It is still operating as a trading point for wooden ships from many regions of Indonesia, carrying logs, rattan, copra and other agricultural products to Jakarta. In exchange, when the ships leave Jakarta, they take back construction materials like cement.
Just within walking distance from the Sunda Kelapa port stands the old Syahbandar Tower. The structure is known as Uitkijk, constructed by the Netherland trading agency VOC in 1839 to guide the merchants’ ship traffic. The building is equipped with several canons and two administration buildings in front of it. This 12 meter high tower is located in front of the former VOC headquarters, now a restaurant and spice warehouse, with two out of its three floors now a venue for the Maritime Museum (Museum Bahari).
The Maritime Museum presents complete information about Indonesian nautical matters in a wood-dominated edifice. It has a collection of more than 1,800 traditional boats from Riau, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, and other regions in Indonesia. Besides the boats, the Maritime Museum permanently exhibits sailing paraphernalia, vintage ship models, et cetera. This museum was officiated by Governor Ali Sadikin in 1977 after being used as logistics warehouse.
Tourists who are interested to see architectural traces from the colonial times can visit the remains of Old Batavia Town, now known as Kota Tua in West Jakarta (only ten minutes by bus from Sunda Kelapa). The main attractions, especially for photography lovers, are the Jakarta Kota Train Station, Museum of Bank Indonesia, Museum of Bank Mandiri, Fatahillah Museum (Jakarta History Museum) and the Puppet Museum (Museum Wayang). The area is also famous for its extensive banquet of mouth watering East Asian, Middle Eastern, and European dishes, and every spice in-between, served from hawker’s stove to master chef’s furnace.
The Fatahillah Museum functioned as the Dutch’s administrative center in the 18th century. A tour of the Fatahillah Museum will offer a glimpse into the city’s colonial era and culture. There are 37 rooms that are filled with antique furniture and items of the past. The building has a vast square, the Taman Fatahillah, which acted as a venue for several public spectacles, ranging from carnivals to death penalties. Some other beautiful buildings and cafes can be spotted around the park, as well as accessories sellers, temporary tattoo artists, fortune tellers, and also Amsterdam-style bicycle rentals.
The Wayang Museum served as another point for sightseeing in the area. Located on the West side of Fatahillah Park, this museum is dedicated to the ancient traditions of shadow puppetry from the Javanese region. This fascinating museum stands on the site of what was used to be an Old Dutch Church that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1808, and subsequently rebuilt as a warehouse.
The Batavia Society of Arts and Sciences purchased the building and it is now home to a wide range of wayangs (puppets) from Indonesia as well as from such countries as China, India, Vietnam and Cambodia. Museum Wayang, which is open from Tuesday to Sunday, also plays an important role in preserving this traditional art form by frequently carrying out training and workshops and holding a wayang show every Sunday.
Text by Shinta Eka
Syahbandar Tower and Maritime Museum
Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 3pm
Jl. Pasar Ikan 1, Kota
Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Jl. Pintu Besar Utara 27
Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Jl. Taman Fatahillah No. 2
Pinang Siang Tambora
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Posted by » Bali and Beyond Magazine