Henk Ngantung’s legacy,
Jakarta’s iconic landmarks

Former governor Henk Ngantung may have only run Jakarta for a single year back in 1964, but he has left a legacy: Icons that dot the capital.

Henk, who was an artist from People’s Art Foundation (Lekra) affiliated with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), was the city’s first civilian governor and was asked by former president Sukarno to design some of the city’s most perennial landmarks, including the Welcome Statue at Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, the West Irian Liberation Statue in Lapangan Banteng, Central Jakarta, the of the city administration emblem and the the Army’s Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad).

Before Henk’s appointment, people who filled the position of governor had come from military backgrounds, due to Sukarno’s belief that Jakarta needed to be run by the military, who could discipline the newly independent city and overcome various its teething problems.

Henk Ngantung, born Hendrik Joel Hermanus Ngantung in Bogor, March 1, 1921,  originated from Tomohon, Minahasa in North Sulawesi. He served as deputy governor under Sumarno (1960-1964), eventually replacing his superior, who was selected as the home affairs minister.

Unfortunately when Sukarno ended his term in 1967, after the Temporary People’s Assembly rejected his accountability speech because he refused to declare the PKI responsible for the abortive coup attempt on Dec. 30, 1965, Sukarno and his loyalists, including Henk, were accused of being communist sympathizers.

“The communist accusations against Pak Henk never died. As a result, myself and the entire family have never been able to live a quiet life,” Henk’s widow Hetty Evelyne Ngantung Mamesah, 71, told The Jakarta Post here recently.

“Day becomes night and vice versa, because most of the kidnappings [of PKI members and supporters] took place at night, we often had to be on our guard at that time,” recalled the elderly, yet energetic, woman.

Back then, the family lived in a house in Tanah Abang, right across from Kostrad headquarters. They later decided to move to Jl. Dewi Sartika, a place they considered relatively safe from the perceived threats.

“We were able to survive and my husband was not detained because of an honorary Kostrad certificate signed by Soeharto himself, awarded to Pak Henk for designing Kostrad’s coat of arms,” she said.

Despite this apparent leniency, the family still faced discrimination for being painted with the PKI label.

“We have to bring a letter declaring we were not involved in the [coup] everywhere we go”.

To avoid being hassled by the authorities, Henk’s wife and children were forced to live a life of seclusion, avoiding neighbors and spending most of their time at home.

Henk’s widow now lives on the corner of a narrow street called Gang Jambu in Jl. Dewi Sartika, where she spends her days with her 10 dogs.

The mother of four lives with another family, who rent a room at her house. Hetty’s eldest daughter lives abroad in the Netherlands, while her two other children live elsewhere in Jakarta. Her youngest son has passed away.

“[The house and land] were afforded from the sale of my husband’s paintings. None were contributed from the city administration,” Hetty said.

She recalled her husband did not even receive his state pension until the 1980s. Fortunately she was able to redeem her husband’s name and received all pay in arrears as well as Pak Henk’s monthly pension payments of Rp 850,000 (US$91) each month since the 1980s.

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