Tuesday, October 09, 2018


History is never been too far in all places in the world if we look for it but sometimes in same cases,  history comes so close to daily life, even when we do not look for it. 

I biked in Amsterdam on a sunny Saturday last week and couldn't stand to stop in front of buildings with names of places in North Sumatra. Places where Deli Tobacco or Deli Tabak as the Dutch called it, grew and distributed to all over the world. It was a long time ago but in Amsterdam the traces of Deli Tabak is so vivid and present. 

I used to live in North Sumatra, I used to translate a book about History of Deli Tabak and up to now fascinate with industrial heritage so these names are close to my heart. My imagination went to the tobacco plantations and processing places in Medan where I visited few years ago. The tobacco industry of Sumatra now is only a fraction what it used to be in the Dutch Indies period. 

Deli Maatschappij, the tobacco enterprise, started its operation in 1869 with land consession from the Sultanate of Deli after several years of succesful experiements of tobacco plantations. Quality of Deli Tabak was very high and received international recognition in the world. In 1889 in Medan there were 179 tobacco companies. 

This economic achievement was not possible without dark pages of history such as forced labours and colonialism. The forced labours from Java, India and China left their traces until today in the former plantations and  the colonialism left its traces in grand built architecture and city morphology of Medan and surroundings. Reciprocally, in Amsterdam, history speaks for itself from the other side.  

To commemorate Cornelis de Houtman

Translation: the Governor Cornelis de Houtman (1565-1599) was the first Dutch person who sailed along the Cape of Good Hope to Indies on 2 April 1595 on duty of de Amsterdamse Compagnie van Verre. This journey led to the establishment of VOC (de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie) in 1602.   

Tuesday, October 02, 2018


Last weekend, 28-30 September, was a Batak weekend for me. 

I travelled to Germany with Sandra Niessen, a mix of Canadian-Dutch who wrote  "Legacy in Cloth: Batak Textile of Indonesia."  

We visited IFICAH, International Foundation of Indonesian Culture and Asian Heritage in Hollenstedt. They organize an exhibition titled "Ahnenkult und Klingenkunst der Batak auf Nord-Sumatra" (Ancestor Cult and Batak Art of the Batak in North Sumatra).The hosts, Gunther and Daniela Heckmann received both of us with exceptional hospitality in their home-office-museum base. We stayed two evenings in their place and spent hours talking about Bataks. 

On Saturday, Sandra and I went to Hamburg to meet Roberta (forgot to write down her family name), an Italian researcher about Batak manuscripts. You could imagine how much Sandra and Roberta went into discussions about Batak in all facet. It was fascinating to see the two spoken  Bahasa Indonesia and exchanging experiences about Batak. And apparently they atrracted attentions not only from me. We were having lunch in an Indonesian restaurant, all of sudden came the Indonesian Consul General of Hamburg to our table to say hi. He was at the same time in the restaurant and couldn't resist to ask who these two beautiful foreign ladies speak Bahasa Indonesia so fluently.

Well, I had to drive about 6 hours each way (a lot of traffic jams!) back and forward from Amsterdam to Hamburg to have this Batak's weekend but it was worth it. 

Monday, October 01, 2018


A status as world heritage city, site or anything else, both tangible and intangible, becomes prestigious in Indonesia (and Asia in general) now. It is a new trend when many cities slowly realize that their cities are entitled for that status. Jakarta started as the first city to nominate itself. No, UNESCO was not satisfied with the nomination and Jakarta politely withdrawed its nomination. After Jakarta, Sawahlunto followed. We don't know the result yet. Now Semarang is keen to apply.

Nominate a city for the sake of status as world heritage city is not appropriate. A status is a kind of recognition from international world for properly well managed historical cities. Cities that value their characters, cherish them for current life and conserve them for the future.  Characters have to come along with other qualities such as economic, social and environmental elements.

Most old city quarters in Indonesia are dying. When ideas about conservation pop up, the tendency is to create an open air museum to freeze the past by duplicating old life style, literary and physically. Tourism becomes a norm. Indonesian autorities create another Venezia unnecessarily. 

In my opinion, conservation should accomodate current needs without sacrificing characters of a place or values of the past. An old city quarter should transform into living and working spaces with appropriate green, mobility and leisure ammenities. If tourism come to share joys, welcome, it is a positive and potential side effect. 

I don't think cities in Indonesia move towards that direction yet. On paper, yes. Reality? It take time to plan and execute the plan properly. So jump into nomination process without understanding and implementing proper conservation is like putting aside some steps of a good recipe and hoping to have a good result. No, it wouldn't happen, it creates disasters. 

Nevertheless, awareness about city characters and conservation are appreciated and should be accommodated. Conservation authorities in Indonesia needs to have opportunities to learn, to learn and to learn. Hopefully they will squeeze good lessons and apply them in their tasks. 

That was the reason I was involved in a cooperation to learn about nomination process. It is a cooperation between Indonesia and the Netherlands started in 2017 continued this year and hopefully the coming years as well. Case study is the shared past, trading of spices and other commodities during VOC era. The idea is to let authorities in Indonesia who are in charge for cultural heritage conservation to coordinate and to cooperate in nomination process. Those are Ministry of Education and Culture, Ministry of Public Works and Ministry of Agraria and Spatial Planning plus local governments (municipalities and regencies). 

These are pictures taken in various cities in the Netherlands in the period of 17-21 September 2018 during a workshop about nomination process.