My city - Jakarta
26 November 2007
Jakarta is the capital city of Indonesia, and, with almost 10 million inhabitants it is a melting pot where the diverse cultures and civilisations of Indonesia come together.
But the unique Jakarta lifestyle, cuisine and fine arts are more than just a product of the contributions made by Indonesians of various ethnicities, religions and walks of life; it has also been shaped by immigrants of Arab, sub-continental, Chinese and European descent.
During the course of its long history, Jakarta has seen many changes in appellation: from Sunda Kelapa to Jayakarta, Batavia and then Jakarta. As for the indigenous inhabitants of Jakarta, they call themselves Betawi - their spelling of the word Batavia which was long applied to their coastal city in the north of West Java.
Even the birth date of Jakarta is a hot topic of debate and constantly changes as a result of interpretation or politics. At present, the birth of Jakarta is celebrated on 22 June. This date is based on the historical account of Jakarta's temporal origins according to its indigenous people and was reinstated during the early years of independence in the 1950s. Before this, it was a tradition of the Netherlands to celebrate the birth of Jakarta at the end of May, in commemoration of Governor-General Jan Pieterszoon Coen's success in conquering the city. Successive celebrations of the Netherlands' conquest of Jayakarta reached a high point in 1869 when in preparation for the 250th anniversary celebrations, a monument of Coen was built in the centre of the city, at a place now known as Lapangan Banteng.
But then, after the heroic struggle against Japan and at the time of Indonesia's proclamation of independence, history was revised. Firstly, the statue of Coen, by now seen as a symbol of Dutch colonialism, was destroyed during the Japanese occupation (1941-1945). Coen's statue had arrogantly pointed downwards to illustrate the Dutch victory over the indigenous inhabitants.
The first indigenous major, Sudiro, immediately requested the services of a number of nationalist historians like Mohamad Yamin as well as respected journalists like Sudarjo Tjokrosiswoyo to uncover a birth date of Jakarta in keeping with its indigenous history. Eventually, they were able to come up with a date that was satisfactory to all the various stakeholders.
The chosen date, 22 June, was the day on which it is said that Jakarta's hero Fatahillah, a military general of the Central Javanese sultanate of Demak, established his authority upon the ruins of Portuguese colonialism on 22 June, 1527. It is said that this date is also the anniversary of Prophet Muhammad's birth, which provided Fatahillah with the encouragement he needed to oust Portuguese authority from Sunda Kelapa. Fatahillah changed the name of Sunda Kelapa (meaning "island full of coconut trees") to Jayakarta, (meaning "great victory").
During the colonial era Jakarta was known by other names including the nickname, Queen of the East. The name reflected the beauty, charm and uniqueness of this city, which was developed as a centre for trade and culture in the Southeast Asian region. Since independence, Jakarta has continued to be a symbol of the newly established Republic of Indonesia.
Unfortunately the conflicts of the colonial and independence eras resulted in the loss of historic monuments inheritances from the city. However, an alternative culture more nationalist in character has grown out of the rubble of the past. For example, the first president of Indonesia built a monument, the Monas, on what was formerly the Lapangan Banteng of Batavia. At its opening in 1961, president Sukarno proclaimed that the monument "would last a thousand years".
After a long period of neglect, Jakarta has now risen to its feet by forgetting the past and making efforts to preserve both its colonial and indigenous values, which both contribute to the character of the city.
One of the areas that has benefited from this is the region known as ' Kota' or 'Old Batavia'. When visiting Jakarta, a trip to the old city, which is redolent of the Indies period, is a must. It is this place more than anywhere, with its architecture, museums and canals reminiscent of Venice, which can best convey the spirit of Jakarta and evoke its turbulent history.
Contact: Claudia Liu
Phone: 02 9351 3191