Jakarta has much astonishing history to engage visitors - and a great puppet museum too
A MAJOR trade port even before the colonial era, Jakarta is now a bustling city of 11 million and ringed by modern skyscrapers, but it has managed to maintain an impressive interweaving of Eastern and Western culture.
Arriving in the capital on the island of Java with only limited time to look around, I sign up for a half-day tour that starts at the Jakarta History Museum, home to 500 artefacts dating back to the time when the city was known as Batavia.
Jakarta History Museum showcases more than 500 artifact collections from Batavian period.
The museum on Taman Fatahillah Square opened in 1974, occupying the stately Batavia City Hall erected in 1707 and inaugurated three years later by Dutch governor general Abraham van Riebeeck.
The square has a lovely fountain whose past was both mundane and ghastly at the same time. Citizens would collect their drinking water there – and witness executions, though perhaps not at the same time.
There’s a sizeable Portuguese-built cannon that has a name – the Si Jagur – and an ornament in the shape of a hand making a “fico” gesture that could improve women’s fertility, according to local belief.
The two-storey colonial-style museum has 37 ornate rooms and an interesting exhibition of items from prehistoric times to the early 20th century.
Just inside the entrance is a mock-up of the battle in which Jayawikarta fell to Dutch control. Soon after, in 1619, the new overlords renamed the city Batavia.
A replica of battlefield portrays the days when Dutch army occupied the Jayawikarta kingdom in 1619.
The Justice Council room on the second floor boasts a large bookcase crafted in 1748 and elegantly adorned with gilded bas-relief. You can see the Goddess of Justice wielding a sword and the Goddess if Truth bearing a mirror in one hand and strangling a snake in the other.
Also on view are a 16th-century map of the region and a replica of the Padrao Monument that’s said to represent evidence of the age of Sunda Kelapa Harbour.
There’s also an amazing baroque screen made in the 18th century of gilded wood that was used in the meeting hall of the Council of the Indies in the Castle of Batavia.
The upper panel shows the coats of arms of the six towns that formed the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, with that of the City of Batavia at the centre. In the middle, a young man with rather short legs wears a suit of armour. On his shield is a depiction of the hideous snake-haired head of Medusa from Greek mythology.
Other replicas on display include the Tugu Inscription from the reign of King Purnawarman the Great. It’s said to confirm that the Kingdom of Tarumanegara was centred on the seaport of Tanjung Priok.
A Batavianstyle bookcase is made in 1748 for the Justice Council.
The building once had a prison in the basement, administered by the Council of Justice and Board of Magistrates.
A one-minute walk from the museum is another one – the Museum Wayang – which has a gorgeous exhibition on Javanese shadow puppetry. The edifice has served multiple functions in its time, beginning in 1640 as a Dutch church. Demolished in an earthquake, it was rebuilt in 1808. It became the Old Batavian Museum in 1939 and the Museum Wayang in 1975.
Inside today are more than 4,000 different puppets of different kids. The Wayang Kulit is made of leather, the Wayang Golek of wood, the Wayang Rumput of glass, the Wayang Janur of coconut leaves and the Wayang Kardus of cardboard.
In the puppet performance (Wayang Golek) most associated with Sunda, the brave knight Bima wields a sharp powerful nail called the Kuku Pancanaka.
Museum Wayang is boasting several kinds of puppets made from wood, leather, carton and leaf.
A wooden remarkable Sundanese puppet in the guise of Hanuman from the Ramayana epic is displayed, as is a Purma from Marionette Puppet Mini Bandung. They’re still used in shows inspired by the story of Mahabharata.
A large array of contemporary puppets, dolls, masks and other carved figures from Malaysia, Thailand, China, Vietnam, France, India and Cambodia occupies the second floor.
The Wayang Kulit Revolution made in 1936 tells a story about life in the past and the Dutch-Indonesian that has evolved.
Made in 2001 by Tizar Purbaya in China, Wayang Golek Canton dolls wear vibrant Chinese costumes. The Sasak Shadow Puppets are covered in painted buffalo hide and were inspired by a guidebook called Islami Amir Hamzah.
The museum has its own Wayang theatre and also hosts workshops on making puppets.
The writer travelled courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism Indonesia and AirAsia.
IF YOU GO
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