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Museum trips reveal Indonesia's classified history

Satrio Dwicahyo
Satrio Dwicahyo

Graduate student at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies

Singapore | Fri, September 29, 2017 | 11:23 am
Museum trips reveal Indonesia's classified history

Tugu Yogyakarta, an iconic landmark of the city. (Shutterstock/File)

My late grandfather, a veteran of the Indonesian revolutionary war, once shared his belief that unseen power brought Indonesian independence into reality. As a child, I chose not to believe it because I couldn’t reconcile my excitement of listening to all the patriotic battle tales with such belief. However, after I took a module on intelligence studies at graduate school, I found that my grandfather was not wrong at all. The unseen power he meant, my best guess was: intelligence.

As my childhood experience tells me, Indonesian revolutionary history is full of heroic physical battles, leaving Indonesians with little knowledge about the history of intelligence during this period. The Indonesian National Intelligence Agency (BIN) has yet to establish a museum (like the UK and US) to enlighten the public about the role played by the intelligence service in the state’s security.

Despite the lack of these sites, Yogyakarta still offers at least three places where people can take a peek at the unseen side of Indonesian history.

Indonesian Cryptographic Museum

This destination is located in Kotabaru, an Old Dutch habitation near Malioboro Street and the famous white obelisk of Tugu Jogja. Museum Persandian is the official site of the Indonesian National Cryptographic Agency (Lembaga Sandi Negara) that recounts the historical role of signal intelligence to protect state secrets while decoding the enemy’s.

In one of the collection rooms, visitors can see a bust of a Roman slave who had codes tattooed on his bald head. In the same room, visitors can try the Caesar Code, a substitution code where one letter is replaced by another letter in the alphabet. This museum also recounts the story of the founding father and a legend of Indonesian Cryptographic Agency, Roebiono Kertopati. Roebiono, who was also a military doctor, invented code machines that Indonesian embassied used to encrypt diplomatic wires. Apart from the electronic machines, this museum also exhibits traditional tools of signal intelligence, namely a modified bicycle in which the courier could hide rolls of code without the enemy knowing.     


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This museum is free and employs young and interactive guides. It also has an introduction room that plays brief videos on the history of cryptography, computer room for interactive learning and a library that preserves numerous books on cryptography and signal intelligence in at least three languages: Bahasa Indonesia, English and Dutch.

Do not worry; this museum will not jam your mobile signals so you can still update your trip through social media.

“Yogya Kembali” Monument

Locals call it “Monjali” for short. It’s a cone-shaped monument to commemorate the return of Yogyakarta to the Republic after the Dutch left. The museum inside the monument exhibits a number of regalia from the Indonesian revolutionary war. One of the most unique collections is a stuffed pigeon that was used to courier messages between guerrillas during the revolutionary war. This collection also tells of how the birds were deployed to deliver messages. Another interesting collection is kentongan, a wooden slit drum to alarm villagers about either natural disasters or criminal activities. During the Indonesian revolution, Republican militias used this tool as a substitute of radio to disseminate secret orders and commands.   


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Located on the northern ring-road, this monument is certainly easy to find. However, the displays and audio-visual technology are outdated. A few years back, a lantern park occupied the front yard of the complex and attracted more visitors than the monument. So, don’t be surprised if your local buddies are aware of the lantern park but not the monument.


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Indonesian Central Air Force Museum “Dirgantara Mandala”

This museum is basically the Indonesian version of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Similar to Museum Sandi, this museum is an official gallery of the Indonesian Air Force and is located inside Adi Sucipto Air Force Base in the same locality of the airport. The main collection of the museum is airplanes and a brief history of the Indonesian Air Force (TNI AU) which was established a year earlier than the United States Air Force.

TNI AU greatly contributed to the use of signal intelligence to protect the nation through the deployment of radar and spy planes. One of the most historical exhibits is the UF-2 Albatross, a maritime surveillance aircraft operated by TNI AU in the 1950s. The museum also exhibits electronic instruments operated by TNI AU communications and electronic command that recounts the story of how this unit ensured the republic’s air superiority during the revolution.

What makes this museum special is that real airmen/airwomen are used as tour guides. Their explanations about the history of their service and how aircraft or weapon systems are operated are presented in great detail. Compared to other military museums, Museum Dirgantara has well-preserved collections supported by sufficient lightning and a clean area.

What makes it better than the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum? Visitors have a chance to spot real planes since the museum, which located next to the runway. (asw)


Satrio Dwicahyo is an alumnus of the History Department Universitas Gadjah Mada Yogyakarta and is currently pursuing graduate studies at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) Nanyang Technological University Singapore. 

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