All parties finally agree to save Cimanggis manor – but they need to hurry

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Cimanggis Manor House seen from the side. (photo: IO/Alfino)

IO – The biggest enemies of Cimanggis Manor House are time and bureaucracy. To avoid confusion it probably needs to be explained that the manor house was not part of Cornelis Chastelein’s Depok plantation. It was an elegant plantation house with Baroque features built between 1771 and 1775 by David J. Smith and later bought by Adrianna Johanna Bake, the widow of Governor General Petrus van der Parra. She was a lady with a reputation for kindness as she raised many orphans. The house’s Baroque features are reflected in the beautifully carved teak fanlights above its doors and windows. The most prominent and eye catching of the fanlights is one with the carving of a baby or cherub at its centre. Adrianna Bake’s fondness for children is very likely the reason for the carving of a child. The fanlight measures 1.62 x 1.48 meters and is very heavy as it is made of solid teak.

InMembers of the Depok Historical Community or Komunitas Sejarah Depok. (Photo: IO/Tamalia Aisjahbana)

On the 25th of June 2018 the Komunitas Sejarah Depok (KSD) or Depok Historical Community which is headed by the historian J.J. Rizal announced that the highly decorative fanlight and most important Baroque ornamental feature of Cimanggis Manor had been stolen together with some extremely valuable old teak beams and rafters. Fortunately, an antique dealer had approached one of the members of the Depok Historical Community (KSD) to sell the fanlight which was immediately identified as being the fanlight belonging to Cimanggis Manor.

Ornamental fanlight with figure of baby before theft. (photo: IO/Fino Suhanta)

In a press release announcing the theft, the KSD stated that the antique seller had not been aware that the fanlight was stolen and he immediately offered to handover the fanlight free of charge to the KSD to be returned to its rightful owners. KSD accepted it and held a press conference. Ferdy Jonathans who is the deputy head of KSD disclosed to the Independent Observer, “It is now being held for safe keeping by the KSD while we obtain a legal aid lawyer before meeting with the police in case we are somehow accused of being implicated in the theft by the police.”

The theft occurred just days after President Jokowi visited the site where the Universitas Islam Internasional Indonesia (Indonesian Interntional Islamic University) is planned and laid the first stone. Cimanggis Manor is located in the grounds of the university’s future campus and the theft is a red mark for the Ministry of Religious Affairs which currently owns and manages the grounds and the Manor. Jonathans who is descended from one of the original 13 slave families that inherited much of Depok from its 17th century owner Cornelis Chastelein said that the KSD held the press conference because they were unsure whether the theft was purely criminal, if it was an inside job (it would not have been easy to remove such heavy wood) or whether it had political overtures.”

The ornamental fanlight stolen from Cimanggis Manor. (photo: IO/Fino Suhanta)

Jonathns further revealed that the image of the baby had been cut from the fanlight and then the fanlight itself had been cut into four pieces. This was probably how the thief managed to pries the extremely heavy fanlight from above the door. Later the thief apparently glued it together again. Meanwhile, Ratu Farah Diba of the Depok Heritage Community said, “The police are investigating the theft and the Ministry of Religious Affairs now has four security patrols of the Manor every day. Previously, it was only patrolled twice a day.”

After nationalization of Dutch assets in the 1950s the house was under the authority of Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI).  Ratu Farah Diba from the Depok Heritage Community explained that when RRI was in charge of the manor it was partitioned and 13 families, all members of staff of RRI lived there. In 2003 the families moved out probably because RRI was in the process of transferring the property to the Ministry of Religious Affairs. When the building was no longer occupied the community used it for weekly bazars. They enjoyed the park with its rubber trees and the elegant building early in the mornings and when they went to catch the evening breeze there. No one however, was taking care of the building and by 2013 a great many roof tiles had fallen down and the building came into a period of decay. By 2014 the public were no longer allowed access to the building other than for exercise and walks in the park.

In 2016 President Jokowi issued Decree number no 57 of 2016 by which the Indonesian International Islamic University was created. The decree provides that one of the university’s main reasons for existing is to promote moderate Islam and support tolerance and diversity. At first the university wanted to tear down the Cimanggis manor to make way for the university (which will be given 142 hectares of land as a campus). Last year Vice-President Jusuf Kalla remarked that he did not see why the government should preserve a Dutch colonial building from a corrupt governor general. The building is however not from the period of Governor General Van der Parra but his widow and the Heritage Law protects not only Hindu Buddhist and Islamic structure but also colonial ones. The Vice-President’s remarks were met with fierce opposition from heritage groups and lovers both in Indonesia and abroad and the issue of preserving Cimanggis Manor received wide spread attention in both the press as well social media.

Since then however, both the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the rector of the university appear to have reconsidered the matter and softened their stance. In an interview with the Independent Observer Komaruddin Hidayat said that Cimanggis Manor would not be pulled down but restored. “However that will be very expensive. Some of the money will have to be raised through fund raising but some of it we can ask from the Central Government budget. However we will not be able to do so unless the building has been declared a heritage building.”

Vice-President Jusuf Kalla echoed Komaruddin Hidaya’s sentiments when he recently declared, “The government cannot do anything to help the house without the proper documents being in place,” – meaning the declaration of regional heritage status for the manor.

This leads to the second part of the problem. When Cimanggis Manor first began appropriating space in news reports, the Ministry of Education and Culture instructed the Badan Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Propinsi Banten, Jawa Barat, Jakarta dan Lampung or the Heritage Conservation Body for the Provinces of Banten, West Java, Jakarta and Lampung to instruct the West Java Regional Heritage Team to observe and make their recommendation with regard to the Cimanggis Manor House. In April 2018 the letter from the Regional Heritage Team was issued. Under the Heritage Law of 2010 the Mayor of Depok was obligated to then issue a decree declaring the Cimanggis Manor a regional heritage building. This would give the building added protection. The Mayor of Depok, was apparently unfamiliar with the Heritage Law and fearful that the Ministry of Religious Affairs might sue the Depok township if they declared Cimanggis Manor a heritage building as both the building and the land belong to the central government. He argued that the central government should be the ones to declare it a heritage building and had his legal team study the laws and regulation involved. The issue was further held up with the intervening regional elections and it is only now that the Mayor’s office has decided to send a letter to the Ministry of Religious Affairs asking the Ministry to confirm that it has no objections. If the Ministry confirms that it has no objections the Mayor’s office will declare Cimnaggis Manor House a regional heritage building. That will all of course take more time. Then the Indonesian International Islamic University will have to make a request for funds to the central government this year for next year and it will need to start fund raising as well for according to Komaruddin Hidayat, the central government funds will apparently not be sufficient for a good quality restoration. A professional and capable team of heritage architects, heritage archaeologists, heritage historians and a heritage contractor will need to be put together to then make and carry out the plans for restoration of Cimanggis Manor.

Cimanggis Manor House seen from the side and from the air. (Photo: Prive. Doc)

All this will all take time and that is just what the Cimanggis Manor does not have. It is already now in a very dilapidated condition. Its roof has collapsed as have its terracotta floor tiles. Valuable teak beams and rafters lie scattered about on the floor. Its white pillars are also starting to crumble. One of its side walls has already caved in. What remains still intact are most of the rest of its thick walls, its wooden door and window frames, its ornately carved Baroque fanlights and surprisingly enough the old glass in its windows panes. Komaruddin Hidayat the rector of the Universitas Islam Internasional Indonesia complains that only 15 percent of the building remains intact.

That may be a somewhat of an exaggeration as there is more than 15 percent of the house still remaining intact. In the Banda Islands many old plantation houses in far worse condition than the Cimanggis Manor House were restored by the Orang Kaya (chieftain or king) of the Banda Islands, Des Alwi. Lutfi Yondri, who heads the Regional Heritage Team of West Java remains optimistic about restoring the manor house in Cimanggis. “It is still very possible to restore the Cimanggis Manor House and it would not be that difficult to do so.”

Nevertheless, Komaruddin Hidayat’s frustration is understandable. The restoration of the building will be an enormous work: the fund raising, the physical restoration as well as the legal and bureaucratic hurdles that need to be dealt with in order to do so – whereas in fact, restoring a heritage building is not his main task. His main task is to see to it that the university is physically built and then established as a well-functioning institution. That in itself is already a tremendous job. It is possible for the Ministry of Education and Culture or the Ministry of Public Works to undertake and oversee the restoration of heritage buildings. Amongst others they have in the past restored other both publicly owned as well as privately owned buildings including some of the keratons in Central Java as well as Paseban Manor House in Cigugur, West Java. When asked Hilmar Farid, the Director General for Culture advised “In the case of the Cimanggis Manor, it would be best for the University to approach the Ministry of Public Works because the restoration of the manor house needs to be synchronized with the building of the university.”

That may however take time and right now the most important thing now for the Cimanggis Manor House is to place its priceless old teak beams, wooden door and window frames, doors, windows (taking care not to break the old glass in the panes) and fanlights in a safe, clean and dry storage space. To these should be added as many old roof and floor tiles and fallen bricks as are not broken. For the first principle of good restoration work is “minimal intervention” which means using as much of the original material as possible. So for the present time these materials need to be securely locked up away from thieves, damp and wet. All plants growing in and around the building with the potential to damage the building further should be carefully removed under the guidance of experts. This will of course require funds which need to be used immediately. So, fund raising from the private sector may need to be carried out first. Happily, these preliminary funds will not be that large.

A further problem facing the university is that a portion of the land that the central government has allocated for the campus is currently in the hands of squatters. Komaruddin Hidayat commented, “If the university tries to pay the squatters to leave the land as a state institution we may be open to charges of corruption by the State Audit or the Anti-Corruption Commission. If however, we call in the police or the military to try to physically remove the squatters we will be criticized by civil society.”

Meanwhile, the city of Depok is looking for a place to establish a Depok cultural centre. They are also concerned that the land to be used for the university does not have too many buildings on it as it is part of the watershed area for Depok and Depok is part of the watershed area for Jakarta. Increased construction on the land could also increase flooding in Jakarta. Perhaps the university could offer the use of the Cimanggis Manor for Depok cultural activities and reach an agreement with the city about retaining the land as a watershed for Depok and Jakarta by not building too many buildings. The City of Depok may then be inclined to work together with the university with regard to the squatter problem.

It is a challenge but if the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Indonesian International Islamic University carry out a good restoration of Cimanggis Manor and can build a good working relationship with the citizens of Depok through the city government, they will be fulfilling the primary reason for which the university was created namely to promote and develop moderate Islam and to promote tolerance and diversity. The situation in Depok is a test case for the university which is expected to play an advisory role to the government in the future. If it passes this test the university will have proven that it is indeed competent to advise the government of Indonesia. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)