Palatial playground: The ruins of the Kraton Surosawan, the palace of ancient sultanate of Banten, has become a playground for local children. Historians are planning to build a replica of the palace on the site. (JP/Multa Fidrus)
Historians have floated the idea for the government to revive the ancient Banten sultanate as a legacy for the younger generation of the rich culture and values of the ancient Islamic kingdom.
Mufti Ali, head of Bantenology Foundation at the Maulana Hasanudin Islamic Institute (IAIN) in Serang, Banten, said that bringing around the sultanate should be seen as an effort to uphold the identity of Banten.
“The sultanate would be a symbol of culture and religion, not the political leadership in Banten, so no need to worry about dualism in the regional administration,” he told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview.
He said the legacy of the Banten Sultanate could still be seen in the architecture of the buildings, sacred tombs and antiques, as well as the internal ideology in the Banten people’s traditions.
“We continue to pursue and collect data as well as historical evidence of the sultanate in whatever ways we can,” Mufti said.
As symbols of the sultanate’s past glory, he said, there was a need to build replicas of the Kraton Surosawan and Kraton Kaibon palaces on the original site in Banten Lama.
Banten Lama is located on the northern coastline of Banten province in Kasemen district, Serang municipality. The only remaining structure of the Islamic kingdom is the Banten Lama Grand Mosque with a solid looking minaret standing next to the Surosawan ruins.
All that remains of the palace are hints of the original buildings and of rooms that must once have stood within its heavily fortified walls.
There are stairways and floor tiles along with low walls that indicate the shapes of the spaces that were once, hinting at the extent of a large residential space within the palace as it is a very large area. Now, only a few people come inside the powerful walls that surround it and the ruins have become a playground for locals.
Yadi Ahyadi, a Banten historian, said that the reconstruction of the sultanate could prove how Banten between the 16th and 18th centuries had become a melting pot with high tolerance in religious issues but posing strong resistance against the Dutch colonial government.
“The character of the Banten sultanate was much different from other regions that still maintain their sultanate as of today. Banten never bowed to the Dutch colonial government so that governor H W Deandles began to destroy the Sultanate from 1808 and then burned down the Surosawan and the Kaibon royal palaces,” he said.
Sultan Muhamad Safiudin, who led the Islamic kingdom between 1808 and 1813, was then exiled by the Dutch government to Surabaya and it appointed his son Sultan Rafiudin to replace him. Rafiudin was then also exiled to Surabaya in 1832. They never returned as the Dutch colonial government prohibited it.
“The sultanate was never defeated despite the absence of the sultans,” Yadi said.
Tubagus Ismetullah Al Abbas, a sultan descendant, said that the initiative to reconstruct the sultanate and build the palace replica near the Surosawan ruins came up in the 1990s from local public figures.
“We the descendants leave the project up to the Bantenology Institute to avoid conflict within ourselves,” he told the Post.
This year, he said, they would form a team to collect documents on the original architectural design of the palaces, which are believed to be stored in a museum in the Netherlands.
Ismetullah also called on all parties that are concerned about cultural heritage to help in the palace reconstruction, which is estimated to cost more than Rp 5 billion (US$513,508).
“This is just like building a mosque, we will prepare and distribute proposals to get funding and sponsorship for the much-dreamed project,” he said.