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Jakarta Post

Tomb of Tan Malaka, finally

  • Asvi Warman Adam

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, February 17, 2014   /  11:06 am

Tan Malaka was named a national hero by former president Sukarno in 1963. During the New Order era, however, he vanished from history. His status remained, but his name was taken off any history-related subjects at school.

It has been years since the Indonesian reform started, and it is time that the history and struggle of Tan Malaka make it into the national curriculum. Many of his thoughts are relevant by today'€™s standards, for instance retaining the nation'€™s sovereignty when confronting a foreign power.

Teaching a biography of Tan Malaka may lead to a question: Where was he buried? On historic days, people often visit local military cemeteries or burial grounds of famous figures to pay homage to the dead. In the case of Tan Malaka, where can people go to?

Following a study of the national hero, Dutch researcher Harry Poeze came to the conclusion that Tan Malaka disappeared on Feb. 19, 1949, and was shot to death in East Java by Suradi Takebek upon an order from Lt. Soekotjo (Soekotjo'€™s last rank was brigadier general, and he was once appointed the mayor of Surabaya).

In 2009, a grave in Selopanggung in the East Java town of Kediri was dug up. From forensic anthropology analysis, the body found had physical characteristics matching those of Tan Malaka.

Historians involved in the search believed, with 90-percent certainty, that the person buried there was Tan Malaka, and the dug-up spot was his grave.

However, for a completely thorough investigation, a test was run to find a match between the DNA profile of his nephew, Zulfikar, and the profile of the remains found underground.


Teaching a biography of Tan Malaka may lead to a question: Where was he buried?


Unfortunately, due to high acidity of the soil, results of the profiling could not confirm that the genetic code of the sample taken from the scene was Tan Malaka'€™s.

As the test conducted in Indonesia did not give the anticipated results, Djaja Surya Atmadja, a forensics expert, took several grams of the bone and tooth samples to numerous international scientific conferences and events.

In February 2012, Djaja promised to have the result ready by November 2012 at the latest.

But after the deadline had passed, and even a year later, no positive news was heard. So I wrote an article, '€œTan Malaka'€™s Definite Burial Site'€, which appeared in Kompas on Dec. 9, 2013.

The article was quickly responded to by a number of people. A meeting was then held at the residence of Zulfikar on Dec. 15, 2013.

It was agreed that the forensic team and his family wanted to see the burial site search go uninterrupted and finish in the shortest time possible.

Djaja would continue to bring Tan Malaka'€™s bone and tooth samples around the world to regional and international forensic seminars while the family hoped to be able to move his remains from Selopanggung to Kalibata National Heroes Cemetery.

When Harry Poeze came to Indonesia for the launch of his book, volume four of the historical book series on Tan Malaka, which discusses the period leading up to and following his death, a meeting was scheduled on Jan. 27, 2014.

The meeting agenda included discussions on searches for sites where other national heroes had presumably been buried.

In a similar instance, before being awarded national hero status in 1975, there had been an initiative to unearth a body that was believed to be Supriyadi'€™s from a grave in Banten. The body, however, had no physical features matching those given to the team by his family.

Also discussed during the January meeting was the case of Oto Iskandar di Nata who was kidnapped and murdered by a group of youths in December 1949.

Based on the information given by witnesses that the murder took place at the beach of Mauk in Tangerang, and his body was thrown out to the sea, Oto'€™s family symbolically took some sand from the beach, covered it with a shroud and buried it in Lembang, Bandung, in 1952.

After analyzing several cases presented in the meeting, the family of Tan Malaka decided to symbolically take some soil from the burial site in Selopanggung, Kediri, and move it to the Kalibata cemetery.

The plan indicates some sort of recognition from the government and an effort to reinstate Tan Malaka, whom the New Order had for years put out of existence.

The remains of Tan Malaka will be left where they are now. Local people want him there.

Restorative work on the grave will be planned and a monument will be erected at the site in his honor, while Djaja will proceed with his scientific research and DNA profiling to establish the identity of the remains believed to be Tan Malaka'€™s in as much time as needed.


The writer is a historian at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Jakarta.

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