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Linggarjati Museum: Genesis of Indonesian diplomacy

Rita Widiadana
Rita Widiadana

The Jakarta Post

Kuningan | Wed, November 21, 2018 | 08:53 am
  • House of history: Built on the slopes of Mount Ciremai, the Linggarjati Museum was the venue of a milestone meeting between Indonesian and Dutch delegates that led to the Linggarjati Agreement in November 1946.

    House of history: Built on the slopes of Mount Ciremai, the Linggarjati Museum was the venue of a milestone meeting between Indonesian and Dutch delegates that led to the Linggarjati Agreement in November 1946. OF The Jakarta Post/Rita Widiadana

    House of history: Built on the slopes of Mount Ciremai, the Linggarjati Museum was the venue of a milestone meeting between Indonesian and Dutch delegates that led to the Linggarjati Agreement in November 1946.

  • Impression of the past: A model conference room at the Linggarjati Museum gives visitors an idea of what the meeting may have looked like that led to a heated debate between Indonesian and Dutch delegates prior to the signing of the Linggarjati Agreement.

    Impression of the past: A model conference room at the Linggarjati Museum gives visitors an idea of what the meeting may have looked like that led to a heated debate between Indonesian and Dutch delegates prior to the signing of the Linggarjati Agreement. OF The Jakarta Post/Rita Widiadana

    Impression of the past: A model conference room at the Linggarjati Museum gives visitors an idea of what the meeting may have looked like that led to a heated debate between Indonesian and Dutch delegates prior to the signing of the Linggarjati Agreement.

  • Sketch: A black and white sketch depicts Indonesia's first president, Sukarno (right), and British mediator Lord Killearn. It was created by Hank Ngantung, the first Jakarta governor.

    Sketch: A black and white sketch depicts Indonesia's first president, Sukarno (right), and British mediator Lord Killearn. It was created by Hank Ngantung, the first Jakarta governor. OF The Jakarta Post/Rita Widiadana

    Sketch: A black and white sketch depicts Indonesia's first president, Sukarno (right), and British mediator Lord Killearn. It was created by Hank Ngantung, the first Jakarta governor.

  • Agreement: A plaque on the Linggarjati Agreement is placed in the museum's courtyard.

    Agreement: A plaque on the Linggarjati Agreement is placed in the museum's courtyard. OF The Jakarta Post/Rita Widiadana

    Agreement: A plaque on the Linggarjati Agreement is placed in the museum's courtyard.

  • Living room: The museum shows the living room used by delegates during the Linggarjati conference, complete with the original art deco furniture.

    Living room: The museum shows the living room used by delegates during the Linggarjati conference, complete with the original art deco furniture. OF The Jakarta Post/Rita Widiadana

    Living room: The museum shows the living room used by delegates during the Linggarjati conference, complete with the original art deco furniture.

  • Founding father: A photograph of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, hangs on a wall at the museum.

    Founding father: A photograph of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, hangs on a wall at the museum. OF The Jakarta Post/Rita Widiadana

    Founding father: A photograph of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, hangs on a wall at the museum.

OF

It all began with Ibu Jasitem, a modest woman who built a hut on some spacious hilly land in the village of Linggarjati in Kuningan, West Java, long before Indonesian Independence.

Ibu Jasitem never had the chance to see that her property, now the Linggarjati Museum, hosts artefacts of one of Indonesia’s historical moments — the signing of the Linggarjati Agreement in November 1946 — seen by many historians as a fundamental diplomatic achievement for Indonesia in getting recognition as a sovereign state.

The meeting certainly did not take place in a humble hut but in an elegant colonial-style building transformed by Dutch trader Jacobus Van Os in 1930.

Syamsudin, one of 12 museum officials, gave a glimpse inside through the museum tour. “Visitors are only required to pay Rp 2,500 (57 US cent) for building maintenance,” he says.

The 800-square-meter building still stands strong, but it looks a little dark inside. It has a long history of ownership and utilization, from Ibu Jasitem’s small hut to a Dutch trader’s resort and hotel – Hotel Roostood, Dutch military headquarters, Japanese hotel Hookay Ryokan to a local elementary school.

Syamsudin enthusiastically showed the mock-up rooms, where Indonesia’s founding fathers, Sutan Sjahrir, Ali Budiardjo, Muhammad Roem, A.K. Gani, J.Leimena, Soedarsono, Amir Sjarifuddin and Soesanto Tirtoprojo, had been involved in a heated meeting with delegates from the Netherlands — Willem Schermerhorn, M.J.M. Van Poll, F. De Boer and P. Sanders and with a British mediator, Lord Killearn.

Numerous black and white photographs and sketches of Indonesian and Dutch delegates hang on the white corridor heading to the guest bedrooms, living room, music and study room, kitchen and a big bathroom. “Some of the photographs and archives came from Holland, but the furniture sets here are still original, we just changed the upholstery,” Syamsudin said.

The collections and reading materials available at the museum give visitors an impression of life during that time, but they also reflect on the struggles and experiences of those involved in this important moment.

Veteran diplomat Umar Hadi shared his view in an article saying that: “The Linggarjati Agreement is considered important, because it was the first time that politicians of the young republic were invited to sit down at the same table with politicians from the Kingdom of the Netherlands”.

It was actually a de facto recognition of Indonesia as a new state.

“The agreement should therefore be perceived positively as a strategic diplomatic achievement.”

To properly maintain this precious historical site, now under the auspices of the cultural and archaeological agency, more funding will be needed aside from the meager entrance fee income.

A museum should not become a thing of a past, but an important education center for younger generations to enrich their understanding about the history of their country in a way that no school textbook can do. However, young people are not keen on visiting such an unattractive place. There must be some ways to lure them to love going to a museum.

It is such a classical and an actually solvable problem with museum management and curatorial efforts in Indonesia, which has only around 428 museums for its 254 million population.

Data from the Ministry of Education and Culture show that only 15 percent of the 428 museums were properly managed and operated.

In the case of Linggarjati Museum, a massive renovation with funding from state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina took place after the late Poppy Sjahrir, wife of Sutan Sjahrir, the late vice president, and Indonesian proclamator Muhammad Hatta visited the dilapidated building in 1975, more than 30 years ago.

The head of the Kuningan tourism agency said the museum had become one of the regency’s cultural attractions, luring thousands of visitors a year. “There were around 8,000 people coming to the museum during the last Idul Fitri holidays,” he said.

During the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Linggarjati Agreement two years ago, the Kuningan administration also held a Tour de Linggarjati, attracting national and international cyclists.

Thousands of visitors are expected to spend the Indonesian Independence Day holiday at the museum. For teenagers like high school students Annie and Hilman this museum is a romantic place with shady trees and a green landscape.

“We can take a lot of beautiful pictures and post them on our Instagram accounts,” said Annie.

A number of foreign visitors, mostly from European countries, were among those entering the museum. “I am here to trace back my great grandfather’s footsteps,” said Marijke from Amsterdam.

To many Dutch citizens, Linggarjati Museum is a nostalgic reminder of family history.

It was touching to read a note written by Joty ter Kulve-Van Os, whose father, Johannes Jacobus van Os, built the house where she grew up there until World War II broke out. She recorded her visit in a documentary entitled My Visiting to Linggarjati, produced by Twan Spierts.

“Many Dutch people have found their way to the Linggarjati Museum. Linggarjati has become a symbol, a spirit of conciliation and good governance. May this spirit be spread throughout the world,” van Oss was quoted as saying.

Kuningan: A journey to the country’s past

Visiting the quiet and cool Kuningan, a small town near Cirebon in West Java, was a thoughtful and soul-enriching experience, at least to take a breather from the current political hustle and bustle of Jakarta and other big cities in Indonesia.

Bordering Cirebon to the north, Majalengka to the west and Brebes in Central Java to the east, Kuningan regency nestles on an elevation of 680 meters above sea level — on the slope of the 3,076 m high Mount Ciremai, an active volcano in West Java.

Dede Sembada, deputy regent of Kuningan who was in charge of the administration at the time of regional election season, said Kuningan was a conservation regency with 40 percent of its area retained as a forest area and the remaining 60 percent designated for residential agricultural and small-scale industrial sites.

“Not many people recognize the importance of Kuningan in the course of Indonesia’s history as a nation. Kuningan has pre-historical sites and historical wealth,” Dede said.

What’s more, Kuningan hosted the country’s first diplomatic gig as a sovereign state during the Linggarjati agreement in l946.

“The Linggarjati museum is evidence of our founding fathers’ diplomatic struggles to establish an independent and sovereign nation — Indonesia. But, very few people, the younger generations in particular, are largely unaware of the historical stage,” he said.

On a three-day trip to this regency, we dropped by the stunning Cipari archaeological park, where remains of the megalithic era – dolmen, menhir, stone altar and coffin graves are scattered all over the 7,000-square-meter site. Scholars said they were the remains of the neolithic and beginning of the bronze era, estimated to date around 1,000 BC.

Kuningan witnessed the country’s stages of history starting from pre-historic, Hindu, Islam and independence periods.

The name Kuningan is believed to have existed since the 14th century when the Hindu Galuh kingdom designated the area as a duchy according to Carita Parahyangan (the Story of Parahyangan — the ancient Sundanese land).

But, local legends spiced up the story of this small place. Kuningan in Sundanese means “yellow”, or a local name for brass. Other stories passed on from one generation to the other were related to prince Arya Kuningan, a son of an Islamic ruler in Cirebon, Syarif Hidayatullah and his queen Ong-thien Nio from the Ming Dynasty in China.

The prince took over the reign from the last Hindu king, Prabu Siliwangi, who escaped Kuningan, while his soldiers were transformed into fish, called ikan dewa (1 to 2 m long fish), which are found in Cibulan fish pond, a guard at the pond told visitors.

Eka Komara, head of the Kuningan Development Planning Agency, explained that Kuningan, with a population of 1.2 million, needs to attract investment.

The majority of young people go to urban cities to find work because the only jobs available here are in agriculture, which are not attractive to the youth, he said.

“We often call these young people bukopin workers. It does not refer to Bukopin (a large bank in Indonesia) — it stands for bubur kacang ijo (green bean porridge), kopi (coffee) and indomie (instant noodle brand), because they ended up working in the informal sector selling these things in big cities like Bandung or Jakarta,” Eka says.

With the new opening of the multi-million dollar Kertajati International Airport in the neighboring town of Majalengka, access to Kuningan might be widely opened for both tourists and investors.

“Kuningan is known as an agropolitan city. New investment must be adjusted to our medium- and long-term development plan. We do not need large-scale investment, which will destroy our natural and historical treasures.”

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