(2012 Winter Holidays in Indonesia, Mark C. Eades and Nick Carruthers)
Old Dutch town hall, Batavia old town:
For five weeks I and my friend and colleague from Shanghai, Nick Carruthers, have been traveling in Indonesia. Arriving in the capital city of Jakarta from Shanghai five weeks ago, we first traveled to Bali, then to the tiny island of Gili Trawangan off Lombok, finally returning via Bali and Yogyakarta to Jakarta. Nearing the end of our time in Indonesia, we now await our return flight to Shanghai. Among the sites we have visited in our final days in Jakarta have been the the colonial Dutch old town once known as Batavia (now the Jakarta district of Kota) and the school attended by a very young Barack Obama when he lived with his mother in Jakarta in the late 1960s and early '70s.
From the 7th century the area of modern Jakarta was an important trading port, first of the Hindu kingdom of Sunda, then of the Muslim sultanate of Banten. In the 16th century under the Sultanate of Banten the port was named Jayakarta, from which its modern name is derived. The first Europeans to arrive in the area were the Portuguese, who arrived in 1513 and briefly established a port. The Portuguese were followed by the English and Dutch, the latter of whom won control of Indonesia early in the 17th century. Batavia was established as a Dutch colonial city in 1619, and remained in Dutch hands until occupied by the Japanese during World War II. Following the war and a brief attempt by the Dutch to re-assert control over Indonesia, Jakarta became the capital of the newly-independent Republic of Indonesia in 1949.
Historic sites in old Batavia include the old Dutch town hall (Dutch: Stadhuis / Indonesian: Taman Fatahillah), pictured above, built in 1707 and now the Jakarta History Museum; the last remaining Dutch drawbridge, the Chicken Market Bridge, pictured below, dating from the 17th century; and the harbor area, pictured below, including a number of Dutch East Indies Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC) warehouses dating from the 17th century.
Chicken Market Bridge, Batavia old town:
Jakarta harbor area, with 17th-century Dutch East India Company warehouses in foreground, modern harbor area and twin minarets of Luar Batang Mosque in background:
Nick at Jakarta harbor:
Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country - the world's largest -with a secular state and a reputation for religious moderation. There is a fundamentalist minority in Indonesia, most notably the al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which seeks to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the southern Philippines. JI is responsible for the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 which claimed more than 200 lives, and for three hotel bombings in Jakarta in 2003 and 2009 killing 21. Indonesia has also seen sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians as well as between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Nonetheless, a relaxed, tolerant atmosphere prevails in Indonesia, whose citizens enjoy religious freedom and suffer no theocratic interference in their private lives (except in Sharia-governed Aceh Province on the island of Sumatra).
From the minarets of Jakarta's numerous mosques the Muslim call to prayer (adhan) sounds five times each day in Arabic just as throughout the Islamic world. Jakarta's mosques include large central mosques such as the Istiqlal Mosque (Masjid Istiqlal, "Independence Mosque," pictured below), small neighborhood mosques, and mosques located on the grounds of large public institutions such as universities despite Indonesia's standing as a moderate, secular state. Among the latter is Masjid Al-Makhamah ("Court Mosque," pictured below), located on the grounds of Indonesia's Supreme Court (Makhamah Agung) in central Jakarta.
From 1969 to 1971 while living in Jakarta with his mother, a young Barack Obama attended State Elementary School Menteng 1 (Sekolah Dasar Negeri Menteng 1, or SDN Menteng 1) in Jakarta's Menteng District. The school was founded in 1934 as Carpentier Alting Stichting Nassau School by the Dutch colonial administration and was reserved for the children of Dutch colonial residents and the Indonesian nobility. Obama's attendance at the school is commemorated today by a plaque at the school gate and a statue of the young Obama in the courtyard, pictured below.
Obama's period of residence in Indonesia, like his ties through his immigrant father to Kenya, has been bandied about by his right-wing political opponents in the United States as "evidence" that he is somehow less than a "real American" and possibly even a secret Muslim (all nonsense, of course). Right-wingers likewise pounced on Obama's visit with first lady Michelle Obama to Jakarta's Istiqlal Mosque in 2010, pictured below, during which Ms. Obama donned a hijab (Islamic headscarf for women) as required of all female visitors. Heaven forbid the first couple show respect to Islamic customs while visiting a national shrine in the world's largest Muslim country!
As a former Jakarta resident Obama's presidential campaign received enthusiastic support in Indonesia; and though his star has faded somewhat since the giddy days of 2008, admiration for him remains strong in the country (particularly when contrasted with the intense global unpopularity of his pugnacious Republican predecessor). Many Indonesians smiled and said simply "Obama!" when I told them I was from the United States, and those with whom I spoke about the 2012 election expressed the hope that he would be re-elected. For those of us from the United States who live abroad, it is quite nice to have a popular president, again particularly given the unpopularity of his immediate predecessor. On the other hand, many right-wingers in the US would surely see his popularity in Indonesia as futher evidence of some evil purpose behind his presidency. Heaven forbid the citizens of a Muslim country might like rather than fear an American president!
Obama's popularity in Indonesia is unfortunately not universal, as evident in the visible scratches inflicted by some unhappy passer-by on the Obama plaque at SDN Menteng 1 (perhaps due to his continued support for Israel, a sore spot throughout the Muslim world). Having voted and campaigned for Obama in 2008, I must nonetheless confess a certain measure of pride at seeing my president's image so prominently and positively displayed so far from home.
Sign at gate of Sekolah Dasar Negeri (SDN) Menteng 1:
Me with plaque at school gate of SDN Menteng 1: "Barack Hussein Obama II, the 44th President of the United States of America, attended this school from 1969-1971":
Statue of young Barack Obama at SDN Menteng 1. Inscription on base of statue reads: "A young boy named Barry played with his mother Ann in Menteng area. He grew up to be the 44th President of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Barack Obama.... The future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams." (A bit sentimental and overstated, perhaps, but a lovely gesture nonetheless):
Masjid Istiqlal ("Independence Mosque"):
File photos of young Barack Obama with classmates at SDN Menteng 1, students at SDN Menteng 1 cheering Obama's election as President of the United States in 2008, Barack and Michelle Obama visiting Istiqlal Mosque in 2010:
(click on photos for larger images)