A new Indonesian maritime museum in Jakarta

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The grounds of the Indonesian Maritimer Museum and a view of the harbor. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

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.

The new Museum Maritim Indonesia is a very fine exxample of the post independence pioneer architectural style known as Jengki. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

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 Maritime Indonesia surveys a section of Tanjung Priok Harbor from the top of the museum tower. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

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 maritime mural above the stairs of the museum is still being researched but it is thought that it might be by one of the social realist artists of the Seniman Muda Indonesia whose membership included such well-known artists as Sudjojono and Harijdi. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

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.”

A model of a VOC ship in the foyer of the museum. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

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!
(Tamalia Alisjahbana)

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.