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Jakarta Post

The treasure hunters of the Brantas river

Wed, February 12, 2020   /   12:38 pm
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    Another day: A treasure hunter walks to the riverbank after searching for valuables in its depths. JP/ Sigit Pamungkas

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    Sifting: Treasure hunters pick out valuables before selling them to collectors. JP/ Sigit Pamungkas

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    Blast from the past: Antique coins are held up by a treasure hunter. They are believed to have belonged to Chinese merchants and to have originated in Holland. JP/ Sigit Pamungkas

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    Battles of old: Ancient iron weapons form part of a treasure hunter’s haul. JP/ Sigit Pamungkas

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    Gram by gram: A trader weighs gold fragments found by a treasure hunter. JP/ Sigit Pamungkas

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    Good business: A trader pays a treasure hunter for valuable artifacts found on the riverbed. JP/ Sigit Pamungkas

Sigit Pamungkas

The Brantas is the largest river in East Java. From the time of the Kediri and Majapahit kingdoms to the end of the Dutch East Indies, the river was a busy and bustling passage for both merchants and warships. 

As a central economic hub of East Java during those eras, the river’s banks were lined with ports called Naditirapradesa (berthing terminals). These Brantas ports were maintained and managed by the kingdoms with their respective rules and laws, including those governing tax collection.

The Canggu inscription of Hayam Wuruk, King of Majapahit, describes royal awards granted to all the Naditirapradesa along the Bengawan Wulayu, or Solo River, and the Bengawan Sigarada, or Brantas River. 

In 1293, the Brantas River was the location of an attack by Mongolian and Majapahit troops on Daha City under the ruling Jayakatwang. Many vessels owned by both warring fleets were destroyed in the river.

A similarly catastrophic encounter occurred when the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) and the Mataram Kingdom invaded the palace of Trunojoyo in Kediri, with many ships drowned in the Brantas river.

The sunken ships of past battles have left many treasures for modern explorers. Treasure hunters have discovered gold and antique coins as well as vintage krises and jugs.

Such valuable objects can be found behind Fort Van den Bosch, Ngawi, East Java, which is the meeting point of the Brantas river and a tributary of the Solo River. 

Treasure hunters from various regions in Java work from morning to dusk. Their hauls, sold directly to traders around the riverbanks, range from useless articles to those worth tens of millions of rupiah, if they are lucky enough.