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A night at Jakarta’s Maritime Museum

Ni Nyoman Wira
Ni Nyoman Wira

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sun, May 12, 2019  /  09:00 pm
A night at Jakarta’s Maritime Museum

Built by the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) as a storage facility for spices, Jakarta's Maritime Museum features collections on Indonesia’s maritime history, including ancient boats, preserved sea creatures like sea turtles and squid, statues of famous explorers and photos of Indonesian maritime heroes. (JP/P.J.Leo)

It may be common to visit a museum in daytime, but what if you had the chance to explore history in the middle of the night?

The Historia Indonesia Community invited the public to roam Jakarta's Maritime Museum in North Jakarta from just before midnight on April 27 to 2 a.m. the next morning. Built by the Dutch in three phases from 1652 to 1771, the museum is the oldest building still standing in Jakarta.

Erected to store spices and commodities like steel and textiles by the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC), the museum features artefacts of Indonesia’s maritime history, including ancient boats, preserved sea turtles and squid, statues of famous seafarers and photos of Indonesian maritime heroes.

On Jan. 16, 2018, fire engulfed parts of the museum. The museum was reopened for the public a week later, but several parts were still heavily damaged by the fire.

The Menginap di Museum (Sleepover at the Museum) event drew 100 participants from Jakarta and Bandung. The community said around 1,000 people had signed up, but only 100 were selected because of the limited space.

Museums are sometimes considered places where spirits reside. According to Historia Indonesia Community founder Asep Kambali, some people are intrigued to prove that there is something more than artifacts. During the event, he said, “With regard to any sensation [participants experience during the event], each is on their own. Everyone has a different ability to sense [spirits]. The main theme that we offer here is historical objects.”

Participants listen to some introductory words before roaming around the Maritime Museum in North Jakarta in the middle of the night.Participants listen to some introductory words before roaming around the Maritime Museum in North Jakarta in the middle of the night. (JP/Ni Nyoman Wira)

To open the event, participants were briefed on the museum’s history dating back to the Dutch colonial era. Asep shared stories on the importance of spices at the time. Minutes before 11:30 p.m., the participants were divided into four groups, each accompanied by a guide to explore the museum. Almost all of the lights inside the building were turned off and the participants, who had been asked to wear black clothes, could only rely on their flashlights.

Asep, who is also a historian, said he aimed to offer a different experience. “It was held at midnight with [almost all of the] lights off, because I wanted to attract people first,” he said in a phone interview on May 1. “It’s a way for them to learn to love Indonesia, learn about history and find out about national heroes.”

Asep Kambali, founder of Historia Indonesia Community, briefs visitors on the museum's background and the spice business before the guests explore the building on April 27, at the Maritime Museum in North Jakarta. Asep Kambali, founder of Historia Indonesia Community, briefs visitors on the museum's background and the spice business before the guests explore the building on April 27, at the Maritime Museum in North Jakarta. (JP/Ni Nyoman Wira)

Read also: Seven interesting facts about Maritime Museum in Jakarta 

Visitors look at a painting of Admiral Malahayati from Aceh, who defeated Dutch explorer Cornelis de Houtman. Visitors look at a painting of Admiral Malahayati from Aceh, who defeated Dutch explorer Cornelis de Houtman. (JP/Ni Nyoman Wira)

The visitors were then escorted to different parts of the building and the guides shared lots of information on the lengthy process of handling spices before they were shipped to Europe, on the building’s construction and on Admiral Malahayati from Aceh, who managed to defeat Dutch explorer Cornelis de Houtman.

Exploring the museum at night certainly felt special. With the noise of the day having died down, the guide's stories easily seeped into our minds and left a lasting impression. 

Into the darkness: Participants and guides explore Jakarta's Maritime Museum in the early hours of April 28.Into the darkness: Participants and guides explore Jakarta's Maritime Museum in the early hours of April 28. (JP/Ni Nyoman Wira)

Emil, one of the participants from the West Jakarta subdistrict of Grogol Petamburan, said she felt pleased to join the tour, as she gained knowledge and new friends. “Usually students come here for school trips, but the sensation at night is different,” said Emil at the end of the activity. “Some rooms [in the museum] appealed to me because they’re so dark, but it’s hard to take photos.”

Levin, a participant from Kelapa Gading in North Jakarta, said she loved antique buildings. “The event was fun, but I think the museum’s collections are somewhat lacking in variety,” Levin explained through an instant message on May 1. “But those who like vintage buildings will enjoy the night's ambiance there.”

With Menginap di Museum, Asep wished to make people aware that the Maritime Museum was also part of the city’s Kota Tua area. “I suggest [the government] build a path that connects the Jakarta History Museum with the Maritime Museum, allowing people to walk along the Kali Besar to get here,” he said.

A guide shows visitors an ancient boat displayed at the Maritime Museum in North Jakarta.A guide shows visitors an ancient boat displayed at the Maritime Museum in North Jakarta. (JP/Ni Nyoman Wira)

The Menginap di Museum tour has been offered since 2009 as an extension of the community’s Jelajah Malam (Nightly Adventure), where participants visit historical places at night. The initial Menginap di Museum took place at the Bank Mandiri Museum in West Jakarta.

In connection with the fasting month this year, the community plans to travel to various mosques of Indonesia, including the Al Alam Marunda mosque in Cilincing, North Jakarta, which was built in the 1500s, and Istiqlal Grand Mosque in Sawah Besar, Central Jakarta, built in 1961. (wng)