Dutch Colonial Jakarta

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The Dutch colonists lived along the rivers of Java and built fine solid, white-coloured houses in their capital Batavia (now Jakarta). Many of these buildings are now used as museums, such as The Museum of the History of Jakarta shown below. 

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This museum had a motly collection of old Dutch furniture and display panels with photos and text lifted from the pages of a Google search! For me the most interesting thing in the museum was a wall painting being prepared in a new exhibition space.

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But what was more depressing than the museum was the fine open space in front where visitors could hire brightly-coloured bikes and hats and ride out of control around the square. It reminded me of the Disney theme park look now seen in the historical centre of Melaka (Malaysia). Yet right behind this was an elegant street of old Dutch colonial buildings which had been kept in a style befitting the location.

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And, across from the museum was another grand building and the Cafe Batavia, an elegant restaurant with walls lined with old photos of Hollywood filmstars.

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As this was the day of demonstrations and many roads were blocked, our guide said that we would not be able to get to the National Museum of Indonesia, nor into the Museum Taman Prasasti next door. After a lot of double checking, he decided it was safe to drive in that direction and check things out for ourselves. The expected riots had not happened and we just had time to visit the Museum Taman Prasasti. This is part of an old Dutch cemetery which holds the grave of Sir Stamford Raffles’s first wife, Olivia Mariamne Raffles. Despite its historical significance, it is easy to overlook this grave (bounded by green railings) as the inscription on the top has almost been scrubbed clean away.

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The low marble grave, next to Olivia’s grave, is that of John Leyden, a poet and orientalist who joined Stamford Raffles in the invasion of Java in 1811. John Leyden famously dressed up as a pirate, jumpled off his ship, and landed in Java ahead of the troups; a sight to behold indeed!

This cemetery has been considerably remodelled over time with tree-lined paths, a replica 17th century hearse, and the original coffins of Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, the first President and Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia.

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© Helen Gray 2021