Visiting the National Museum

Courtyard area, building A. (photo: IO/Simran)

IO – Many of us have spent our childhood going to the Museum either during school trips or with our parents. Going to the Museum is like time travel taking you back in time. I have only quite recently experienced the wonders of the Museum as a Museum Guide Volunteer at the National Museum (Museum Nasional). The reason I enrolled to become a guide is as much as I love my country but also at the same time enjoy sharing the knowledge and passion with visitors. I am grateful to the Indonesian Heritage Society (IHS) for giving me this valuable opportunity.

Our national Museum in Jakarta are very different and not as advanced as Museums abroad like the ones in London or the Louvre in Paris. But, there is just something unique about our Museum that allows visitors to enjoy spending hours exploring it. Our National Museum (Museum Nasional) which is more commonly known to locals as Museum Gajah (Elephant Museum) has 3(three) buildings (the 3rd building is still being constructed). The reason why we call it Museum Gajah (Elephant Museum) is because the Bronze Elephant in front of the Museum was donated to us by the King of Siam (now Thailand) during his visit to the Museum in 1871. Thus, this became an icon and is known as Museum Gajah.

Sculpture by I Nyoman Nuarta. (photo: IO/Simran)

The Museum is currently, going through some major renovations to improvise the layout and storyline since this has not been done ever since the first collections were laid out. In front of the Museum, there is a beautiful sculpture by I Nyoman Nuarta titled “Ku Yakin Ku Sampai Disana” (I am confident I will reach my destination). The sculpture was built for a number of reasons some say it is relating to Tsunami whilst others say it isn’t. But, in one of my researches it is said that in the sculpture you see people holding hands together which means that when you are together you can achieve anything and reach your destination. This definition striked me the most and also the idea that the sculpture is also like a time machine taking us back in time to relive our history.

The museum is often filled with many school children of all ages coming to explore it. The museum guides are ready to warmly and patiently guide them by telling stories, quizzing them and taking them around. There are even special tours that are done based on requests. We, the IHS guides provide tours in English, Japanese, and Korean. French and other languages are available upon request.

Saturday Dancing classes, building B. (photo: IO/Simran)

The Museum recently, started their digital library in the second building allowing you to read and delve into their books. There are also a number of free activities provided for the public by the Museum. On Thursdays, they offer free gamelan classes in the afternoon. Gamelan is a local musical instrument ensemble that decorates the front area of the second building. On Saturdays, the atmosphere in the Museum is very lively as they have free traditional dance classes. It is a scene worth experiencing as you can hear the music and see the cheerful faces dancing gracefully. All are welcome to join, children and adults likewise. On Sundays, they offer free batik lessons from morning to afternoon. The teacher calmly teaches you how to draw batik tulis designs using a canting (small instrument with wax).

Building A and entrance area. (photo: IO/Simran)

As you can see in the pictures, the first and main entrance building has a Dutch architecture and feel, the second and third buildings are more modern. The artifacts in the Museum are displayed evenly in different areas and floors. The second building has four floors filled with various artifacts based on different themes. We have stones, ethnography, traditional houses, textiles, treasures, and ceramics to name a few. Amongst them my personal favorites would be the stones, traditional houses and textiles. The stones area which is in the first building is very well laid out enhancing the architecture of the building.

Queen Suhita, stones and Rotunda Area, building A. (Sphoto: IO/Simran)

There is much to learn about Indonesia and as a Museum Guide I have felt closer to my country throughout this experience. Even though we may have learnt the history in schools but, the experience when sharing knowledge with visitors is completely different. Whilst doing the course, it literally felt like I was going to back to school but the difference was, I had like minded friends to share stories and information with. The Indonesian Heritage Society prepares us really well during the course with great mentors to guide you through the process. It is an intensive course that happens every year to encourage more guides to help in the Museum.

There is sense of pleasure and joy we feel when we take visitors around the Museum exchanging information and seeing their happy faces at the end of the tour. At times, they ask questions and also share their knowledge about various objects which then adds up to our insights. It is quite interesting that visitors from all over the world may at times know more about our history and culture than us, locals. I find it amazing to hear their stories and their deep interest in Indonesia. Every visitor that has come to the museum is awed by our rich country.

If you haven’t already visited the National Museum, it is a must to come and see the rich artifacts in it. Visiting the Museum is important for all of us even as citizens to learn more about the country we live in. We will also understand the history better to help us in forming a better future for the nation and to keep the motto “Unity in Diversity” alive. You will be impressed with the number of collections the Museum has and if you are lucky you will have a free guided tour to enhance your curiosity. (Simran I. Nanwani)