The port authority PT Pelindo II has created a new maritime museum in Tanjung Priok Harbor to help disseminate more information about Indonesia’s maritime past and development. The new museum is well worth a visit.
IO – Did you ever watch Disney’s animation film Moana? Did your hair stand on end when she discovers the cave with the boats that her ancestors used to cross the Pacific and colonize new islands? Those boats looked very Indonesian, the beat of the drums and the Polynesian singing sounded familiar, didn’t they? Perhaps from somewhere in eastern Indonesia? It is not surprising because many of the Polynesians are believed to have come from island Southeast Asia. Some even say that the word Hawaii is in fact Jawaii. In the past some Polynesians are said to have referred to heaven as Jawaiki.
A thousand years before Columbus the Polynesians were crossing an ocean twice as large as the Atlantic in boats that were like leaves upon the water compared to the first Spanish galleons that crossed the Atlantic. Indonesia has a very long and interesting maritime history and to this day we still have the largest fleet of merchant sailing boats in the world as well as a diversity of traditional vernacular wooden boats from all over the Archipelago that is astounding. So, a really good maritime museum is a must for Indonesia. In fact, the country probably needs more than one maritime museum. For a long time, there were four maritime museums one each in Jakarta, Jogjakarta, Magelang and Surabaya. Now a new maritime museum has opened in Tanjung Priok Harbor, Jakarta.
One of the most outstanding features of the recently opened Indonesian Maritime Museum or Museum Maritim Indonesia in Tanjung Priok Harbor is its spectacular view of the harbor. Even for those not very interested in ports, boats and cranes the view is quite extraordinary and in its own way very beautiful. Just a few feet away from the museum lies the harbor with passenger liners, cargo ships, tug boats, cranes and even a naval ship or two in aquamarine waters (when the clouds have lifted). If one climbs the museum’s tower the view is even more impressive. As the stairs leading up to the tower are very steep and rather narrow it is safest to take off one’s shoes before ascending and then crawling through a hole with a round glass cover partially open. The view at the end is worth it though. It is said that on a clear day one can even see an outline of the island of Onrust, in the Bay of Jakarta where the VOC built its first shipyard in the 17th century.
At first the VOC and later the Netherlands Indies government used Sunda Kelapa Harbor as an anchorage for ships but this harbor soon silted up especially after the eruption of Gunung Salak in 1699 which made it too shallow for large vessels to dock. These would then instead anchor in the Batavia roadsteads and smaller boats would ferry cargo and passengers into Batavia via the Sunda Kelapa Harbor Canal and then what is now the Kali Besar Canal. The situation changed in the second half of the 19th century when the government liberalized its agricultural policies allowing the private sector to become more involved in plantations. Together with the opening of the Suez Canal it created a situation where an increase in products and trade resulted in a need for a larger, deep water port where ships could dock. In May 1877 work began on the creation of a new harbor in the Tanjung Priok area.
Tanjung Priok was once an area of privately-owned coconut groves which were obtained by the Netherlands Indies government and then leased to the Royal Mail Line or Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij or KPM as it was called, for seventy-seven years. The KPM in cooperation with several other companies then built Tanjung Priok Harbor. So, it was in fact the moneyed private sector that pioneered the establishment of Tanjung Priok Harbor.
“At one time Tanjung Priok was much bigger than it is now. It reached to places like Cempaka Putih and Kemayoran but in the 1970s it was limited to its present site with a decidedly smaller area of land. During the Dutch times the master plan for Tanjung Priok Harbour was not changed in 150 years. Everything was in one place and that cut production costs enormously. Now, the production industry and factories may be in Bekasi, the container company in Cilincing and the port in Tanjung Priok whereas before all three were within Tanjung Priok,” commented Dani Rusli Utama, Technical Director of state-owned enterprise Pelindo II who has been very much involved in the creation of the museum and has a passion for it.
“The building where the museum is now housed was originally the office of the port authority for Tanjung Priok,” recounted Antonius B. Sartono an archivist who helped the Anticorruption Commission organize its archives and who is also head of MAPA also known as Masyarakat Perduli Arsip or the Archives Preservation Society. He is also passionate about the museum. “the first building was built around 1918. When the Japanese invaded Indonesia during the Second World War, the Dutch burnt parts of Tanjung Priok Harbor to prevent it from falling into Japanese hands including the offices of the port authority. It was only after independence that the current building was built.”
Tinia Budiati, the new head of the museum was for many years the head of the History of Jakarta Museum and then head of the City of Jakarta Tourism and Cultural Services. She explained that the building now used to house the museum was officially opened in 1958. It was built in the Jengki style. This was the pioneer style of post-independence Indonesia and was part of the search for an Indonesian identity in modern architecture. The style is especially prominent in the building’s elegant overhang which spreads out asymmetrically in front to its entrance doors. Tariq Khalil author of “Retronesia” a book specifically devoted to the Jengki style commented, “The building’s style story is late Art Deco, which for the time was all about borrowing elements from the mid-century modern playbook. In Indonesia this confection came to be known as the Jengki style. The port building mixes these styles elegantly; grounding comes with the Art Deco tower, its diamond motifs and crest decoration. Notable Jengki flourishes come into play with the exaggerated canopy, the downward chevron strip below the windows and the angled floor to roof sequence of window shades that give that off-keel feel.
The interior’s standout feature is the maritime mural done in the social realist style – more commonly associated with artists such as Sudjojono and Harijadi from Seniman Muda Indonesia – who popularized this style for public buildings like the stone murals at Kemayoran airport.”
The opening of the museum is in line with the new government cultural strategy which is to form the basis of the development program and which will be promoting tourism and the creative economy as renewable sources to create more jobs and more income for Indonesia. The Director General of Culture, Hilmar Farid said, “I hope that this museum may act as an inspiration and model for other state-owned enterprises to encourage them to follow suit and allow their old heritage buildings to be used for the public good. The development of this museum alone will create new jobs in the field of conservation, graphic design, insurance, souvenirs, transportation, packaging etc. The museum will be promoting the concept of Indonesia as a maritime axis by providing information and education to the public about Indonesia’s maritime history and current as well as future developments.”
PT Pelindo II is the company that runs Tanjung Priok Harbor as well as eleven other major ports in Indonesia. Dani Rusli Utama of Pelindo explained that the Pelindo II management had already been considering creating a museum since 2010 in line with the government policy to increase public information and education regarding Indonesia’s maritime sector which is extremely important for an island nation. In 2015 further steps were taken and the building was chosen and refurbished as a museum with a very interesting and well-displayed exhibition which had its soft opening near the end of last year. He says, “Pelindo has the building, the dream and the vision for this museum and we are open to collaborating with exhibition designers, artists, historians, archaeologists and other experts in creating this maritime museum. What we are planning is to have a truly living museum so that every six months it has new exhibitions. We want this museum run professionally and working together with the best.”
With this in mind Tinia Budiati who for many years was the best museum head in Jakarta and who is an archaeologist, historian and museum expert, is an excellent choice. Pelindo II who own the museum would like the public to have a better understanding of Indonesia’s maritime history as well as its future. It will not only have exhibitions but also digital information available from all over the world. Dani Rusli Utama has met with the directors of the Rotterdam as well as the Amsterdam maritime museums and says that the Museum Maritim Indonesia will be working together with both these museums.
“We want the public especially young people to remain interested in Indonesia’s maritime wealth and traditions. It would be a tragedy if at any point our nation forsakes its maritime heritage. At present the public has an idea of Tanjung Priok Harbor as a dirty and chaotic place. This museum will be the first step in introducing the public to the new Tanjung Priok Harbor and showing them that the Harbor is going through many changes and that we are turning it into a world class port that the nation may be proud of,” declared Dani Rusli Utama. “And of course, the museum is also a good reflection of Pelindo II’s corporate image.”
The attractive permanent exhibition on the ground floor of the museum has been carefully thought out and very innovatively displayed. It tells the story of Indonesia’s maritime history from its early migrations eastward into the Pacific until the present time however, one of the things that differentiates it from the Museum Bahari in Kota Tua is its emphasis on the development of harbors in Indonesia. Also, the Museum Bahari which is a former VOC go-down placed stronger emphasis on the VOC period.
The exhibition room to the right has displays showing Indonesia’s maritime history before independence even before the Srwijaya and Majapahit periods right into the colonial period. The exhibition rooms to the left meanwhile, are filled with Indonesian maritime history after independence especially the history of the development of its harbors. This is where PT Pelindo II comes into its own. There is also an instrument that simulates a ship where visitors may pretend to be a captain sailing a ship.
The museum is in the process of encouraging donations of maritime objects to add to its collections. One of the most important donations is from the family of former Prime Minister Djuanda Kartawidjaja who created the Djuanda Declaration of 1957 which created the Archipelagic Principle whereby the Indonesian government has absolute sovereignty over all the waters lying within straight baselines drawn between the outermost islands of Indonesia. The Djuanda Declaration is probably the most important maritime event in modern Indonesian history as it has added substantially to the size of Indonesia’s territories and wealth.
Noorwati Djuanda, the youngest daughter of Prime Minister Djuanda described her father as, “A very disciplined man of high integrity who was never late. He was very firm about wasting other peoples’ time. At cabinet meetings he was always the first to arrive and would wait for the others.
Every year a commemoration is held for him where the Declaration is read out at the Taman Hutan Raya in Bandung. We donated the uniform that President Soekarno presented him with when he appointed him an honorary four star general, to the Museum. It had lain in a camphor chest all these years and was still in very good condition. Also, a letter case from the Round Table Conference which he attended, photographs and some books and my mother’s Mahaputra Adipradana medal as we had already given all my father’s medals to the small museum at the Taman Hutan Raya in Bandung.”
The Museum’s building is a very fine example of the Jengki style, its collections are interesting and well displayed but perhaps what is most spell binding about the museum are it’s views – even without the climbing up its tower. As Dani Rusli Utama expressed it, “The view is so beautiful. You know especially at that time of day when the light is just turning to darkness and the lights are starting to come on in the Harbor – it’s the best!” And he is right the view alone is worth the visit!
The museum which is open every day except Mondays from 9 am onwards is situated on Jl Raya Pelabuhan No.9 or Jl Pasoso no 1, Tanjung Priok Harbor, North Jakarta.