The theme of plantation doesn’t receive much attention as deserved from the industrial heritage professionals and researchers in Indonesia specifically and in Asia generally. But for Medan, the theme of the plantation is very relevant and urgent. Medan is the capital of North Sumatra Province, Indonesia, a city of about 2, 5 million inhabitants. The city is a multicultural society with influences from India, China, Europe, Java, Malay, Aceh, Batak, and other ethnicities. 

This multiculturalism due to the fact that in the colonial era the Dutch-Indies government has imported labors from outside to open plantations. The local ethnics, Batak and Malays, have refused to cooperate with the colonial government, enforced the authorities to attract the Indians and Chinese overseas especially from the Malacca Straits to come to Medan.

The tobacco was introduced in 1863 by the Dutch and soon it took over the world market together with the Cuban cigars. There were 120 thousand hectares tobacco planted in Medan in the 19th century by 170 plantation companies. The famous commodity was called Deli Tobacco because the Medan area was in the hand of the Deli Sultanate. Deli Tobacco has given a huge impulse for the development of Medan with imposing buildings and gardens.  Besides tobacco, Medan has also produced tea, palm products, and rubber. Tobacco and rubber productions were so successful that they were called the Wonders of Deli.

Most of the plantations were stagnant during the Japanese occupation 1942-1945 and then nationalized after the Independence of Indonesia (1945). Most of the plantation companies are now under the management of the state-owned companies called PTPN (Perusahaan Terbatas Perkebunan Nusantara).

The plantation industry in Medan now focuses more on palm products. Nevertheless, the leftover of the glorious period of Deli Tobacco, rubber and other commodities are still vivid and relatively intact. This legacy that was promoted during the Festival of Plantation Industrial Heritage, 8-11 November 2019 in Medan, by the Indonesian Plantation Museum (Musperin).

Musperin was established about two years ago in the location of the former office of the Association of Rubber Plantations in East Coast of Sumatra. The museum aims as information and public education center about plantations. The Festival was one of the methods to achieve the aims.

The Festival was organized in collaborations with the state-owned companies of PTPN, universities, government agencies, Sumatra Heritage Trust, Urban Sketchers Medan, and many other communities.

During five days, there was an exhibition about plantation commodities (tea, tobacco, rubber, cacao, cane, coffee and palm). For children, there were various competitions such as sketches, coloring, drawing, and storytelling. For adults, there were heritage trails, talk shows, gathering for heritage societies and a national seminar. 

(Adapted from ANIH Newsletter 3rd Edition, December 2019)


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