A story from Karawang

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(Photo: Freddy Wally)

IO – Karawang is not just an industry-supporting district in Pasundan, near Jakarta. During the early days of independence, two important events in Indonesian history took place in Karawang. No wonder Indonesia’s famous poet, Chairil Anwar, wrote a poem about the situation on the North Coast of Java in the early days of the republic, entitled “Karawang-Bekasi.”

Talking about Karawang, whose area now reaches 1,652 square kilometers, is inseparable from an important event on August 16, 1945. At that time Soekarno-Hatta, who had just returned from negotiating with the Japanese in Dalat, Vietnam, was kidnapped by several youths from the “Menteng 31” group including Soekarni, Wikana, and Chaerul Saleh, boys who urged the two of them to immediately proclaim Indonesian independence, following Japan’s defeat in World War II.

Soekarno, who also brought Fatmawati and her eldest son, Guntur Soekarno Putra, were brought by the youths to Kampung Bojong Rengasdengklok, the present-day South Karawang area. They settled into the house of a Chinese named Djiauw Kie Siong. As part of the history of the Indonesian nation’s journey, Djiauw Kie Siong’s former house is officially a landmark students like to visit when studying history or state officials who wanted to commemorate the struggles of the nation’s predecessors.

Initially, Djiauw Kie Siong’s house was on the Citarum river bank. In 1957, due to frequent flooding, this house has been moved to its current location – 150 meters away from its old location. Kim Moy, Djiauw Kie Siong’s immediate grandson, still lives in this house and admits that the operational costs to open the house as a museum have been quite choked up.

Here, visitors will find the houses and living rooms are still original, including the distinctive terracotta colored tile floors that carry a special memory of that era. The two rooms used by Soekarno and Hatta as a esting location are also still in their original form, even though the bed that had been used by Soekarno had been taken to a museum in Bandung.

At the entrance, visitors will immediately see a large table similar to an offering altar in the middle of the room which contains several old photos, ranging from a portrait of Soekarno to the host Kie Siong, as well as photos of President Megawati Soekarnoputri and Joko Widodo. President Jokowi visited the house before he became the number one person of Indonesia.

Interestingly, Djiauw Kie Siong’s house had been secured by the youth who kidnapped Soekarno-Hatta as the location to read the Proclamation of Independence on August 16, 1945. The arrival of Ahmad Subardjo from the old group that afternoon finally changed the course of history – as we know Soekarno did carry out the reading of the proclamation on Jalan Pegangsaan Timur 56, or the location of the Proclamation Monument.

Djiauw’s house, formerly known as Babah, was indeed quite strategic for the movement’s youth to hide Soekarno-Hatta, because it was hidden in a thick of trees and far from the Japanese soldiers who were still patrolling around the city. Djiauw died in 1964. His name is practically unknown or even recorded in the history of this republic, especially during the New Order era. However, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Adjie, who was still serving as Pangdam Siliwangi, once gave an award to Djiauw, a certificate numbered 08/TP/DS/1961 that we can still see in his house.

Another object that is just as important, is located about 100 meters from the museum where previously stood PETA army headquarters Tugu Kebulatan Tekad.

Rawagede Massacre
Besides the glorious tale of the proclamation of independence at Djiauw’s house, Karawang also has a dark period two years later, on December 9, 1947. In Rawagede (present-day Balongsari Village), hundreds of residents were indiscriminately shot by Dutch soldiers who want to reclaim power. The massacre had at least 431 victims. However, in the 3,400 square meters of land where a monument specifically dedicated to innocent victims, there are only about 181 tombs.

The square prism-shaped monument was inaugurated in 1996. In addition to the neatly lined up victims’ grave, the Rawagede massacre monument also explicitly depicts the dioramas of the massacre of the people at that time.

“The dioramas were made based on the testimonies of the victims and their descendants, who were still alive at that time,” said one of the officers at the monument whom the Observer had met while visiting this place.

The structure of the monument reflects Indonesia’s independence, starting from the number of stairs totaling 17 according to the date of independence and the shape of the monument in the shape of an octagonal according to the month of independence. Its shape, the square prism, with a height of five meters, certainly symbolizes the year of independence, 1945.

The Rawagede incident occurred because the leader of the Dutch army, Major Alphons Wijnen, failed to find an Indonesian who was also the commander of the Siliwangi Division, Lukas Kastaryo, which led to the slaughter of Rawagede villagers. The Rawagede massacre is considered the most brutal criminal act ever committed by the Dutch army from 1945 to 1949.

A veteran of the Dutch army who was involved in the incident, in a letter sent to the Dutch Honorary Debt Committee (KUKB), briefly explained how horrible was the experience of Rawagede people at that time. “At night Rawagede was besieged. Those who tried to leave the village were killed without a sound (attacked, pressed into the water until they drowned, hit their heads with rifle butts). At half-past six, when it was starting to break, the village was bombarded with mortars. Men, women, and children who wanted to flee were determined to be killed: all were shot dead. There were hundreds of them,” wrote the unnamed veteran from Gerderland province, East Holland.

The Dutch Ambassador to Indonesia, Nikolaos van Dam, said in 2008 that the Dutch government had expressed its deep regrets for the massacre in Rawagede. This regret was conveyed by Nikolaos when attending the 61st anniversary of the “Rawagede Tragedy” at the Rawagede Monument, Balongsari Village, Rawamerta District, on Tuesday, December 9, 2008.

Karawang is not only about the industrial district – two important stories regarding Indonesia’s independence are an interesting educational destination for young people who want to learn about the history of independence. Don’t forget to always wear a mask when visiting tourist attractions in Karawang and make sure to keep your distance from other visitors. (Freddy Wally)