Rumah Budaya Keratonan: Nina Tanjung’s new cultural house explains the story of Solo

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The inviting entrance to Nina Tanjung’s cultural house in Solo. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

IO – Nina Tanjung, wife of former Golkar party leader Akbar Tanjung is a woman deeply concerned about truth, “As a people too often we lie to ourselves and this is frequently to be seen in our view of history. All too often we are unaware of the real facts or we refuse to look at them. Either way, without the facts we will not be able to solve problems well or even to plan the future well. We need to know where we really came from. Only then can we begin to know who we are and where we want to go.”

The Rumah Budaya Keratonan tells the story of Solo’s history. (photo: IO/Tamalia Alisjahbana)

With this in mind, Ibu Nina has for the last three years been working on creating a cultural house with displays telling the story of Solo’s history which of course, cannot be separated from Indonesia’s history. Last week she launched her Rumah Budaya Keratonan (it is located in the Keratonan area of Solo) which not only tells the story of Solo’s history but is also a cultural venue where one can learn Javanese dance, Javanese and English language, gamelan, keroncong (a type of bamboo musical instrument) music and yoga. She intends to have cultural performances held here and the Rumah Budaya will also be a place for lectures and discussions on cultural issues, as well as other cultural activities.

“You know, that’s exactly what I and other foreigners are looking for in Solo. A place that tells us about Solo’s history. I have not found a museum in Solo that really does that; I have not even found a book to read about it,” declared an exchange student from Poland at Universitas Sebelas Maret.

In fact, Nina Tanjung’s book “Keratonan” does provide a very informative history of Solo but the book is not readily available to tourists and not that many people are aware of it.

The displays at the Rumah Budaya start Solo’s story with Sultan Agung of Mataram’s attacks on the Dutch East India Company’s stronghold in Batavia and his failure to defeat the VOC (“Vereinigde Oost Indische Compagnie” or Dutch East India Company). It then goes on to show the VOC policy of helping the sultans of Mataram (which later became the kingdom of Kartasura and then Surakarta) against their enemies and also of taking sides in dynastic struggles and always demanding more territory in exchange. Through the centuries this policy slowly reaches the point where all of the former territories of the kingdom including the “keratons” or palaces finally, end up belonging to the Netherlands Indies government. Surakarta was eventually divided into the Kasuhunan of Surakarta and the Sultanate of Jogjakarta which were then further divided into the princedoms of Mangkunegaran and Paku Alaman. Each time a new ruler ascended the throne he would have to sign a new agreement with the Netherlands Indies government to whom he would have to swear allegiance and the government would then allow him to stay in the “keraton” as ruler until his death. His successor would have to go through the whole procedure all over again because the territories and the palaces no longer belonged to the royal families but the Netherlands Indies government.

This piece of history has become a topical issue again in Solo for it seems that the present-day Indonesian government is considering a return to that same system whereby the “keratons” belong to the Indonesian government as the inheritors of all assets of the Netherlands Indies government in 1949. The government would be responsible for all upkeep and maintenance costs of the keratons which not only include the palaces but also the palace compounds that are on the scale of small walled neighborhoods.  Meanwhile, the royal families would be allowed to continue to reside in the palaces and also to continue to carry out their sacred and cultural traditions. Two princes, each from one of the royal houses of Solo (Surakarta and Mangkunegaran) were present at the opening of the Rumah Budaya and each expressed a diverging opinion on the subject.

Dashing Prince Paundrakarna of Mangkunegaran seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself as he sat at a table surrounded by his many admirers. The popular prince stands a good chance of one day stepping into his father’s shoes as the next Prince of Mangkunegaran. Meanwhile, in his day to day life he has shown himself to be a talented actor and musician and is now a member of the regional parliament. When asked about the possible plan to take over the “keraton” the prince reacted in a relaxed and positive fashion, “As long as we are given the freedom to carry out our palace rituals and traditions and free to determine succession to the throne – it may in fact be the solution. The point is, I am a combination of both the palace: my father is the Prince – and the government – my grandfather was Sukarno. If I am ever Prince of Mangkunegaran, there won’t be a problem!” he declared with a flourish and a charming smile.

Prince Hario Dipokusumo, a younger brother of the current Sunan Paku Buwono XIII of the Surakarta palace held a diametrically opposed viewpoint. “That is not possible,” said the Prince firmly. “The Surakarta royal family would not agree to that for there are three principal elements to a kingdom namely: the palace buildings, the sacred heirlooms  or “pusaka” and the activities of the royal family that is the traditions and rituals – many of which are sacred. These three cannot be separated. As far as regards funding for the palaces that is already provided for by Cultural Law number 5 of 2017 which stipulates that the government shall provide funds for the palaces.” The Prince is not only a respected cultural and educational figure in Solo but also deputy head of the Surakarta Chamber of Commerce.

Taking a strikingly international stance in supporting unity in diversity, during her opening speech Nina Tanjung reminded the audience that the Dutch had participated in building Solo and making it what it is today. This is very much visible in such things as the many historic buildings (from houses to palaces and public buildings in Solo) which are a mixture of Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles with the architectural layout of traditional Javanese buildings dating back to the Majapahit period. It is even evident in such things as the traditional food served at the palaces which show heavy European influence. “Because of this it is absurd to think that we can just like that rid ourselves of all vestiges of Dutch influence. We need to remember that that Dutch influence has become a part of Solo’s culture and history..” declared Ibu Nina courageously.

Her view is certainly not the popular nationalist view which inclines towards doing away with everything Dutch but it is part of Ibu Nina’s steadfast loyalty to “the truth” and it is clearly reflected in her history of Solo exhibition at the Rumah Budaya Keratonan. In the exhibition “the end of colonialism” is marked by the appearance of Eduard Douwes Dekker’s book Max Havelaar which described the abuses resulting from the forced cultivation system and the system of ruling that the Dutch created via the Javanese aristocracy. The book led other idealistic Dutchman such as Baron van Hoevell who organized demonstrations demanding education for Indonesians and an end to forced cultivation, Pieter Brooshoft who travelled up and down Java describing the plight of the farmers in Java’s first newspaper De Lokomotif and Conrad Theodor van Deventer who wrote “Een Eereschuld” or “A Debt of Honour” and said that the Netherlands owed Indonesia a debt of honour for all the wealth that it had obtained from the Indies. At Queen Wilhelmina’s coronation in 1901 she announced the creation of the Ethical Policy in Netherland Indies and with this began education for Indonesians. From that education arose a national awakening and the “Sumpah Pemuda” or Youth Pledge of 1928 and later the creation of Indonesian political parties and an Indonesian language and culture and ultimate the Proclamation of Independence in 1945. Ibu Nina’s Rumah Budaya also shows the effect that all this had on the fate of Solo in an imaginative and attractive manner.

Hilmar Farid, the Director General of Culture who helped launch the Rumah Budaya and is himself a historian praised Ibu Nina for the depth of research she had done in order to tell Solo’s story as objectively and appealingly as possible. He also praised her efforts at preserving Solo cultural traditions with the language dance, gamelan and keroncong lessons and performances available at the Rumah Budaya. He spoke of the importance of Indonesia’s cultural traditions and mentioned how the Director of UNESCO had told him that Indonesia’s wealth and vibrancy of culture made Indonesia a cultural super power.

Akbar Tanjung watches the opening dance with two lovely ladies at his side: Titik Suharto and Nina Tanjung. (photo: IO/Krisandari Yuningrum)

The exhibition was opened by the throwing of clay pots bedecked in jasmine blossoms by Himar Farid, Solo’s deputy mayor, Achmad Purnomo and the children of several presidents including, Titik Suharto, Prince Paundrakarna  and Inayah Wulandri. The deputy mayor of Solo expressed the city’s appreciation for the Rumah Budaya Keratonan by saying, “I feel that Solo’s future lies in Solo’s past as it is being expressed and developed here by Ibu Nina Tanjung. She is helping to make Solo a town that people long to be in. “Maternuwen”. Thank you Ibu Nina!”

Inayah Wulandari who is the daughter of former President Abdurrachman Wahid popularly known as Gus Dur commented, “Too many Indonesians do not know themselves. They do not know their own culture. I hope that this place can inspire us to understand what sort of future we want.”

Meanwhile, Titik Suharto whose mother Ibu Tien Suharto came originally from Solo and who had a house there which remains in the Suharto family till today, congratulated Ibu Nina on all her efforts in opening the Rumah Budaya Keratonan and promoting Solo arts and culture. On an entirely different note when asked whether she thought presidential candidate, Prabowo Dojohadikusumo would win in the forth coming elections next year Titik Suharto answered softly, “God willing”.

And her advice to the Gerindra party?

“My advice?” she said slightly flustered, flushing sweetly. Then she gathered herself, “I say to the Gerindra Party: Uphold your faith and continue to pray for God is with us! And He will help us…”

(Tamalia Alisjahbana)