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Sensitive objects in museums and university collections: Case studies

A story of entanglement between Indonesian national heroes, museums, and decolonization

Une histoire d’enchevêtrement entre les héros nationaux indonésiens, les musées et la décolonisation
Ajeng Ayu Arainikasih
p. 124-137


Sultan Hasanuddin du Sud de Sulawesi (1631-1670), le Prince javanais Diponegoro (1785-1855) et Teuku Umar d’Aceh (1854-1899) ont tous été reconnus en 1973 par le gouvernement indonésien comme des héros nationaux pour leur résistance contre le pouvoir colonial néerlandais. Cet article aborde la manière dont leurs histoires et leurs biens - exposés dans des musées - s’entrelacent avec la décolonisation des musées. Cet article repose sur une recherche menée dans les musées provinciaux de Makassar, Jakarta et Banda Aceh. Tous ont été établis à l’époque coloniale et sont d’une manière ou d’une autre liés aux trois héros. Ces exemples montrent comment la décolonisation des musées indonésiens est imbriquée avec les régimes politiques et leurs changements.

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Special thank you to Susanne Rodemeier and Rainer Brömer for their help with twith editing this article. Also, thank you to my colleagues Tristan Mostert, Nusi Lisabilla Estudiantin, Adrian Perkasa, Alqiz Lukman, and Louie Buana for their precious information and brainstorming session for this article.

  • 1 Previously spelled Teukoe Oemar

1After its independence, Indonesian historiography was written as the opposite of Dutch colonial historiography. The ones who used to be the villains became the heroes and vice versa (Kumar, 2011). One who resisted colonial power was then inaugurated as a National Hero. In 1973, the Indonesian government acknowledged Teuku Umar,1 Prince Diponegoro, and Sultan Hasanuddin as National Heroes.

2Teuku Umar (1854-1899) was a 19th-century Acehnese noble who fought against the Dutch during the Aceh War from 1873 to his death in 1899. The Aceh War itself lasted from 1873 to 1904. Prince Diponegoro (1785-1855) was a Javanese prince who resisted Dutch colonial power and led the Java War (1825-1830). After his capture in 1830, Diponegoro spent 26 days as a political prisoner in the City Hall of Batavia, currently the building of the Jakarta History Museum. Subsequently, Diponegoro was exiled to North and South Sulawesi. The prince spent the rest of his life inside Fort Rotterdam in Makassar, South Sulawesi. Two centuries before Diponegoro’s exile, Fort Rotterdam was called Fort Ujung Pandang, part of the Sultanate Gowa-Tallo. Sultan Hasanuddin (1631-1670) was a ruler of Gowa-Tallo who fought against the Dutch East India Company (VOC) during the Makassar War in 1666-1669. After the war, Hasanuddin lost his Fort Ujung Pandang to the Dutch who transformed it into Fort Rotterdam. In the present day, the Province Museum of South Sulawesi – the La Galigo Museum – is housed inside the Fort Rotterdam complex.

3This article questions and discusses how stories and objects related to Indonesian National Heroes have been presented in museums. This research shows that the stories and objects of Indonesian National Heroes, particularly of Teuku Umar, Prince Diponegoro, and Sultan Hasanuddin, are intertwined with Indonesian museums’ decolonization practices. It also shows that the changing political regimes influence the museums and the idea of how to decolonize them.

4This research was conducted by examining the Aceh Museum (Banda Aceh), the La Galigo Museum (Makassar), and the Jakarta History Museum (Jakarta), all closely linked to the three National Heroes. All three institutions are museums established during colonial times and transformed into government-run province museums in postcolonial-era Indonesia. To strengthen the argument, museums in the Netherlands are sometimes included in this discussion for comparison.

  • 2 Indonesian museum decolonization is the author’s ongoing PhD research. The PhD project is funded by (...)

5As Indonesia was a Dutch colony, it is relevant to take a closer look at the way the former colonizers “decolonialize” their museum collections. Dutch scholar Mirjam Shatanawi (2022) argued that in the Netherlands decolonization means repatriating colonial collections, rewriting colonial vocabularies on museum labels, and sharing authorities with source communities. In addition to the repatriation of colonial objects, decolonization in the Netherlands also means challenging the colonial point of view. When looking at Indonesia as a former colony, the practice of museum decolonization is somehow different. It is an ongoing process, and it is also entangled with changing political regimes.2

Teuku Umar, the Netherlands, and the Aceh Museum

6Teuku Umar is perhaps the most famous Indonesian hero in the Netherlands. His story, photographs, and objects related to or belonging to him are exhibited in Dutch museums, both in permanent and temporary exhibitions (i.e. Umar’s military jacket and fez in the Wereldmuseum Amsterdam). In comparison, apart from the reproduction of colonial-era photographs and his (new) portrait painting, the Aceh Museum, in Teuku Umar’s home province, has no objects related to or from his possession.

7The Aceh Museum itself was founded in Banda Aceh in 1915 in the form of a traditional Aceh house. The building was intentionally constructed as the Aceh pavilion during the Colonial Exhibition a year earlier in Semarang (Central Java). Because the Aceh Pavilion won numerous awards during the event, Henri N. A. Swart (1868-1946), the governor of Aceh (in office 1908-1918), sent the house back to Aceh and converted it into a museum (Nagelvoort, 2018). Dutch government employee, Friedrich Wilhem Stammeshaus (1881-1957), was appointed as the first curator. Initially, Stammeshaus’ personal collections were on display. Then, from 1915 to 1930, Stammeshaus also received donations and bought collections for the Aceh Museum. When Stammeshaus had to leave Aceh and return to the Netherlands, he sold his personal collections to the Koloniaal Instituut (now the Wereldmuseum Amsterdam) and left behind the other collections that belonged to the Aceh Museum in Banda Aceh (Nagelvoort, 2019).

8In colonial Indonesia, particularly in the 20th century, museum establishments mushroomed. After the French and British interregnum (1806-1816), the Dutch in colonial Indonesia started to establish institutions to learn more about the local culture, customs, language, native law, and beliefs to fully colonize the people in the Indonesian archipelago. As a result, museums were then established by both Indonesians and Europeans – colonial governments, missionaries, and/or learned societies. The purpose was to map further the natural resources and ethnic diversity of the area as well as to safeguard the cultural heritage believed to be about to become extinct (Margana, 2018).

9The Aceh Museum was one example of a colonial-era museum. After the independence of Indonesia, the Aceh Museum was managed by the municipality of Banda Aceh and then by the Aceh branch of the Indonesian army. In the 1970s, during the New Order (1966-1998), the reign of Indonesia’s second president, Suharto, the Aceh Museum received a grant from the Indonesian central government to erect new buildings within the museum complex. Thus, the collections previously exhibited inside the Aceh house were moved to the new, four-story exhibition building. The old Aceh house became part of the collection of the Aceh Museum and presents the exterior and interior of a traditional Aceh house. The Aceh Museum was nationalized and transformed into the Province Museum of Aceh. As part of the changes at the time, the museum was managed centrally from Jakarta under the Directorate of Museums (Petunjuk Singkat Museum Negeri Aceh, 1982).

10In 1979-1980, Moh. Amir Sutaarga (1928-2013), the head of the Directorate of Museums, unified the narrative of provincial museums in all of Indonesia. According to the guidelines for province museums, the storyline of the museum(s) should be as follows: the natural environment, the prehistoric era, the Hindu-Buddhist period, the Islamic kingdoms, the colonial period – including resistance against colonial power – and ethnographic objects of local ethnicities of the province. The museum should illustrate the motto of the Indonesian New Order, “Unity in Diversity,” but also promote the province (Pedoman Pembakuan Museum Umum Tingkat Propinsi, 1979/1980). The Aceh Museum – as a province museum – followed this storyline.

11From the museum’s guidebooks, it is known that the permanent exhibition of the Aceh Museum from the 1980s to the 2010s was slightly changed: the first floor shows Aceh’s natural environment and prehistoric-era Indonesia; the second floor exhibits the Hindu/Buddhist era of Indonesia and the Islamic kingdoms of Aceh and Pasai, both on Sumatra; the third floor represents Aceh’s military expeditions and resistance against colonial power; while the fourth floor displays ethnographic objects of the Aceh, Gayo, Alas, Tamiang, and Aneuk Jamee people – considered as the local inhabitants of the province (Petunjuk Singkat Museum Negeri Aceh, 1982; Yunan et al., 1994/1995).

12During the New Order, under the guidance of Nugroho Notosusanto (1930-1985), a military historian and Indonesian Minister of Education and Culture, the focus of New Order historiography was top-down, following an official military history (McGregor, 2007). The theme of anti-colonial resistance became centralized during New Order rule. It could be said that the New Order decolonized Indonesian historiography in this way. Indeed, during the New Order regime, Aceh was regarded as the place where the anti-colonial spirit and resistance did strongly occur. This attitude featured prominently in history books, films, and other national programs (Reid, 2004).

13However, research conducted by historian Jean Gelman Taylor in 2005 shows that colonial Aceh was not only an abode of war. Upon accessing 1,049 colonial photographs of Aceh in the KITLV (The Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies) during “Rethinking Indonesian Histories Projects,” Taylor recognized that other subjects besides war were perceived. There are pictures of Aceh’s natural scenery, the sultan’s palace, mosques, pictures of the locals and the Dutch people, as well as traditional houses, colonial buildings, and other infrastructures. Nevertheless, Taylor noted that pictures of the Aceh War and military expeditions dominated the representation of Aceh in museum exhibitions and books about Aceh (2013). This continues up to the present day: the story of Teuku Umar (who was considered a traitor by the Dutch as he was once part of Dutch military troops) and Aceh’s resistance is still commonly featured in museums in the Netherlands. Indeed, Aceh was an Islamic kingdom that had political diplomacy with the Ottoman Empire and the British. Therefore, for the Dutch, conquering Aceh was important, particularly as part of their Pax Nederlandica policy – a political expansion to conquer all areas of the Indonesian archipelago as Dutch Empire. Also, the Aceh War was one of the latest colonial wars, yet the longest and most difficult.

14Nevertheless, the emphasis on anti-colonial resistance has slightly receded in present-day Indonesian museum displays, particularly after 1998, when the New Order was no longer in power. In the post-New Order period, Indonesia employed a decentralization policy. As a consequence, the provincial museums that were once managed centrally under the Directorate of Museums are now run individually under each province’s government. Consequently, many museums were neglected (Kreps, 2020). Then, to solve this problem, during the reign of presidents Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (in office 2004-2014) and Joko Widodo (in office 2014-2024), the Indonesian government started a “museum revitalization project” (2010-2019). While not mentioned in the Practical Guide for Museum Revitalization in Indonesia (Knox et al., 2011), the museum narrative of the New Order era could be changed. Though in practice, despite slight changes, this is still difficult.

15In the case of the Aceh Museum, the revised permanent exhibition was installed in 2015 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the institution. The curator of the museum removed the prehistoric Java man and the Buddhist Borobudur temple in Central Java from the exhibition and emphasized the greatness of the Islamic Kingdom of Aceh. In particular, the revised exhibition showed the friendship between the Sultanate of Aceh and the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the 17th century to illustrate that the relationship between Aceh and the Dutch consisted not only of war (Arainikasih & Hafnidar, 2018).

16The curator also removed the photographs of the Aceh War and military expeditions from the permanent exhibition to avoid the image of Aceh being conquered and colonized by the Dutch. Instead, to illustrate colonial Aceh, the curator displays a balanced number of portraits and stories of both Acehnese heroes – including Teuku Umar, and Dutch colonial figures (as the heroes’ enemies) (Arainikasih & Hafnidar, 2018).

17During the New Order, decolonizing means presenting anti-colonial resistance and violence. In my point of view, eliminating the image of Aceh being conquered by the Dutch could also be seen as an act of decolonization of the museum, even if it was a slightly different approach compared to that of the New Order. This is in line with Indonesian historian, Bambang Purwanto, who questions whether the anti-colonial sentiment through the portrayal of violence is still relevant in today’s Indonesia (2006). Besides, presenting the friendship between the Sultanate of Aceh and the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the 17th century is also a decolonial act, to show that both kingdoms were once equal, not the subject of the other.

Where is Sultan Hasanuddin – The rooster of the east?

18Like the Aceh Museum, the La Galigo Museum was the continuation of a colonial-era museum. According to the wall labels at the museum, the La Galigo Museum was once named Celebes Museum. It was established in 1938 inside the Fort Rotterdam Complex (Permanent Exhibition of La Galigo Museum, 2019). As a colonial-era museum, its collection consists of old (Chinese) ceramics, old coins, as well as agricultural tools and kitchen utensils, clothes and jewellery, musical instruments, weapons, and wooden boats of South Sulawesi (Kadir & Data, 1985-1986).

19The fate of the Celebes Museum during the Japanese occupation (1942-1945), the Revolution (1945-1949), and the early years of independent Indonesia is unknown. It took 19 years from the idea, in the 1960s, to re-establish the Celebes Museum until it was promoted to be the province museum of South Sulawesi (UPTD Museum La Galigo, 2008), now with the name La Galigo Museum. Celebes was a colonial-era name of the island of Sulawesi, while La Galigo refers to South Sulawesi’s famous ancestral legendary figure and an ancient manuscript: Surek I La Galigo (written between the 13th and 15th centuries CE). The figure I La Galigo is widely known in South Sulawesi and is believed to be the ancestor of the kings of all South Sulawesi’s kingdoms (Museum La Galigo, 2011). Therefore, even though the changing of the name from Celebes Museum to La Galigo Museum in the 1970s was not considered a “decolonial act,” effectively that is what it was. At that time, the Indonesian government named newly established province museums after pre-colonial figures, such as the Museum Balaputradewa of South Sumatra (named after the king of the Sriwijaya Kingdom), the Mpu Tantular Museum of East Java (named after the poet of the Majapahit Kingdom), and many other museums (Perkasa & Arainikasih, 2023).

20The present-day permanent exhibition of the La Galigo Museum is in buildings D and M of the Fort Rotterdam complex. The two-story Building M exhibits the ethnographic objects (agricultural and maritime culture) of the Makassar, Bugis, and Toraja people who are considered “local inhabitants” of South Sulawesi. Although the La Galigo Museum also mentioned that Makassar was a multicultural city, there were no ethnographic objects or stories of, for example, the Javanese, the Malays, the Bandanese, or the Chinese who have also inhabited the area since the pre-colonial era.

21In the 17th century, the dual kingdom of Gowa and Tallo – with Makassar as its main political centre and international trade port – was a strong maritime power in the area. The kingdom was defended by extensive European-style fortifications. Its diplomatic relations expanded from the Spanish in the Philippines to Mecca, including the Moluccas, the Mataram Kingdom in Java, the Aceh Kingdom in Sumatera, the Portuguese and the Keling in India, the English, the Danish, and later the Dutch (Poelinggomang, 2002; Mostert, 2018). Furthermore, after the 1620s massacre on the Banda Islands conducted by the Dutch VOC, some of the survivors (of the Bandanese) lived in Makassar. Further, according to the Sj’air Perang Makassar, in 1667 during the war between Gowa-Tallo and the Dutch VOC, the kingdom of Gowa-Tallo fired its cannons from the Chinese Kampong (Wirawan, 2013). This is to say that since the 17th century, there were “others” – like the Bandanese and the Chinese, among other local Indonesians and international people – who already dwelled in Makassar / South Sulawesi, raising the question of how many more centuries it will take to acknowledge them as “locals.”

  • 3 The dual kingdom of Gowa-Tallo employed an open-door policy. The kingdom was highly tolerant, allow (...)

22A striking similarity with the Aceh Museum after its renovation in 2010 is that the La Galigo Museum toned down its war narratives, here the Makassar War3 that occurred in 1666-1669 between the Sultanate of Gowa-Tallo and the Dutch VOC. In its permanent exhibition entitled “Symbol of Power and Strength” in Building D, the museum presents a slightly different historical perspective compared to the New Order version of history.

  • 4 One of the points regarding the Bongaya Treaty was the transfer of Gowa-Tallo’s fort of Ujung Panda (...)

23Building D was a former dwelling of Cornelis Janszoon Speelman (1628-1684), a 17th-century VOC Governor General who conquered Gowa-Tallo. Later, Building D was the location of the former Celebes Museum (Sujana & Aswawi, 2021). The first room of present-day Building D exhibits a miniature model of the fort and newly painted scenes depicting episodes of Surek I La Galigo. In the next room, the museum displays portrait paintings of Sultan Hasanuddin of Gowa, Arung Palakka of Bone (1634-1696), the Dutch Cornelis Speelman, and Andi Djemma of the Luwu Kingdom (1901-1965), another historical figure declared an Indonesian National Hero in 2002. Each painting is accompanied by a short description of the figure. There are also Gowa, Bone, and Luwu royal family trees and a replica of the 17th-century Bongaya Treaty.4

  • 5 Translated by the author.

24The object label accompanying Sultan Hasanuddin’s painting describes his biographical information only, including the day, month, and year of his birth as well as his name and royal titles. There is no information on why he was promoted as an Indonesian National Hero. In contrast, the object label of Arung Palakka’s painting states that “during his reign, Arung Palakka succeeded in liberating the Kingdom of Bone from the dominance of the Sultanate of Gowa and made Buginese one of the largest maritime forces in the Indonesian archipelago at the time”5 (Symbol of Power and Strength, 2019).

25The information on Arung Palakka’s painting is considered “different” from the version of the New Order historiography. An Indonesian national history book published during and on behalf of the New Order states that in the 17th century the Kingdom of Gowa-Tallo defeated the Kingdom of Bone. Prince Arung Palakka of Bone fled to Batavia (present-day Jakarta) to ask the VOC for help. At that time, Gowa-Tallo was also in conflict with the Dutch VOC. Because the VOC was befriended by Bone, the Makassar War occurred. To avoid a high number of local casualties, Sultan Hasanuddin then signed the Bongaya Treaty (Poesponegoro & Notosusanto, 1993).

26In other words, during the New Order, Arung Palakka was usually considered a “traitor” while Sultan Hasanuddin – nicknamed the rooster of the east because of his bravery in fighting the Dutch – was the hero. For some people (of Bugis / Bone), however, Arung Palakka was their hero (Raditya, 2019). Therefore, this “different version” of the present-day museum label shows the attempt of the curatorial team of the La Galigo Museum to tell local history from the perspective no longer of the New Order.

27Dutch historian Henk Schulte Nordholt argues that during the New Order regime, regional histories and perspectives were marginalized. If regional histories were presented at all, they had to fit into the larger narratives of national Indonesian history (Schulte Nordholt, 2004). Presenting different points of view and/or presenting formerly marginalized local history is a feature of the post-New Order period. It can be said that the La Galigo Museum has challenged the New Order perspective without naming it, but the museum has not yet fully addressed the colonial perspectives; particularly when it comes to its ethnographic collections and displays, much more could be done.

28However, unlike Teuku Umar, the representation of Sultan Hasanuddin is somehow absent in the Dutch museums. Perhaps this was the case because he was a 17th-century figure, making objects that were related to him hard to trace. Besides, according to the historical timeline, the Makassar War (which occurred in 1666-1669) was one of the earliest VOC wars in the Indonesian archipelago. The Makassar War was to monopolize the spice trade, while the Aceh War (1873-1904) was one of the latest wars conducted to conquer the Indonesian archipelago as a Dutch Empire. Besides, Teuku Umar was indeed a traitor to the Dutch, while Sultan Hasanuddin signed the treaty to submit. Perhaps, the difference matters.

  • 6 For instance, the story of Karaeng Pattingaloang, the prime minister of Sultan Malikussaid (1595-16 (...)

29However, in general, Hasanuddin and/or the grandeur of his kingdom were also underrepresented in Indonesian museums. Perhaps, one reason is that there were no objects that related to him. Another reason is that, as a result of New Order anti-colonial military history, stories of Sultan Hasanuddin are only about the Makassar War. The grandeur of his kingdom, his family, and royal council is somehow unknown to the Indonesian public, untold in history books and museums.6

30In my point of view, one way to decolonizing the colonial history and museums in postcolonial-era Indonesia could also be done by representing an equal power between past Indonesian kingdoms and the Netherlands, as the Aceh Museum did. In the case of South Sulawesi, instead of only presenting Sultan Hasanuddin’s short biography, the La Galigo Museum could tell stories that Hasanuddin and his royal council were well educated, equal to their European counterparts in the knowledge of foreign languages, world politics, military tactics, science, and trading.

The Javanese Prince Diponegoro, his heirlooms, and the exhibitions dedicated to him

  • 7 During the New Order regime, Indonesian National Heroes were predominantly male, Java-born, and fro (...)

31Perhaps, Javanese Prince Diponegoro is the most famous National Hero in Indonesia. However, even though Prince Diponegoro spent 22 years inside Fort Rotterdam as a political prisoner from 1833 to 1855 (Forts in Indonesia, 2012), his story is absent from the permanent exhibition of the La Galigo Museum. Although Prince Diponegoro was a male, a Javanese royal, and an Indonesian National Hero,7 his story did not suit the New Order historiography regarding South Sulawesi’s resistance against colonial power. Instead, it shows his defeat. It was also not in line with the storyline of a New Order province museum.

32Indeed, inside Fort Rotterdam there is a sign saying “Ruang Tahanan Pangeran Diponegoro” (the Prison Room of Prince Diponegoro). However, the room has not been open to the public since the 2020 pandemic. A reason might be that the room is under the responsibility of the Cultural Preservation Office of South Sulawesi and is not part of the La Galigo Museum (A. Purnamasari, personal communication, August 8, 2023).

33Since the late colonial era, to preserve the once-decayed Fort Rotterdam, government offices and museums were housed inside the fort complex (Het fort Rotterdam en de Matthes Stichting, 1936). This practice continued during the Japanese occupation in 1942-1945 (Forts in Indonesia, 2012) and up to the present day. From the 1970s onwards, the Indonesian government also placed offices inside the Fort Rotterdam complex alongside the La Galigo Museum, including the office of the Cultural Preservation Office of South Sulawesi (Ramli, 2021).

34In contrast, the story about Prince Diponegoro is displayed in the permanent exhibition of the Jakarta History Museum. According to historian Peter Carey, who acted as the guest curator, the idea to exhibit the story of Prince Diponegoro at the Jakarta History Museum occurred during public readings of Diponegoro’s autobiography Babad Diponegoro and Carey’s book about Diponegoro, Kuasa Ramalan. The readings were held in Jakarta, Magelang (Central Java), and Makassar in 2014-2015. At that time, the Jakarta History Museum was about to be redesigned. Therefore, the new Kamar Diponegoro (Diponegoro’s Room) was added to the museum’s mezzanine floor in 2016. The Kamar Diponegoro is located where Diponegoro was temporarily imprisoned for 26 days in 1830 inside the City Hall of Batavia – currently the building of the Jakarta History Museum – before his exile to Sulawesi. As the guest curator, Carey was responsible for developing the storyline and selecting the objects and replicas to be exhibited (P. Carey, personal communication, November 8, 2021). The room tells the life story of Prince Diponegoro through the timeline, replicas of furniture, letters, archives, paintings, a portrait sketch of the prince, and a piece of batik that depicts the Diponegoro War.

35The sketch depicting Diponegoro is a replica of the original in the Rijksmuseum collection, made by Adrianus Johannes (Jan) Bik (1790-1872) during Diponegoro’s capture in Batavia. Bik was a Dutch government official artist stationed in the Dutch East Indies. However, the sketch was not a government document. Perhaps it was made on Bik’s initiative. The sketch of Diponegoro (inside Bik’s sketch album) was presented to the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam in 1898 by Bik’s cousin. The sketch album was then kept in the Rijksmuseum drawing archive (Stevens, 2015).

36Although the sketch is not on display, the Rijksmuseum displays the painting of Diponegoro by Nicolaas Pieneman (1809-1860) in its permanent exhibition. The painting, originally titled “Den onderwerping van den Hoofd-Muiteling / Diepo Negoro aan den Luitenant Generaal De Kock / Einde van den oorlog op Java. 1825-1830” (The submission of the Rebel Leader Diepo Negoro to Lieutenant General De Kock) was commissioned by Dutch East Indies Governor General Hendrik Merkus De Kock (1779-1845) himself. The painting illustrates the capture of Diponegoro in 1830 by De Kock (in office 1826-1830) during a “peace negotiation” in Magelang, Central Java. The present-day label of the painting states “Prince Diepo Negoro was the most important Javanese leader in the Java War (1825-1830). Although the Dutch promised him safe conduct, he was arrested during the peace negotiations.” That is, the new label tried to show the betrayal and the ignoble and unjust treatment of Diponegoro by De Kock under the Dutch flag (Stevens, 2015). This label may be seen as one attempt of the present-day Dutch museum’s decolonization practice – to tell its negative self-history regarding colonialism.    

37Besides Pieneman, Raden Saleh Sjarif Boestaman (1811-1880), Indonesia’s most prominent modern art maestro from the colonial era, also painted a slightly different version – a hidden criticism – of Pieneman’s painting of the capture of Diponegoro. Saleh’s painting (“Gevangenname van Prins DiponegoroThe Arrest of Prince Diponegoro) was created in 1857. It was first a personal gift from Saleh to King Willem III of the Netherlands (reigned 1849-1890). Then, in 1977-1978, the painting was donated by the Museum Bronbeek Arnhem (on behalf of the Dutch royal family) to the government of Indonesia. The painting is now in the collection of the Republic of Indonesia’s Presidential Palace Museum (Supangkat, 2015; van Beurden, 2017).

38In 1977-1978, the Bronbeek Museum also repatriated Diponegoro’s horse saddle and another heirloom, the Kiai Rondhan (pike), to the government of Indonesia. The saddle and his heirloom pike were seized in 1829 when Diponegoro was cornered by Major Andreas Victor Michiels (1797-1849) and forced to leap off his horse to hide. Both heirlooms were then sent to the Dutch King Willem I (reigned 1813-1840) as war booty. Upon their return to Indonesia, the heirlooms were given to the collections of the National Museum of Indonesia (Carey, 2015; van Beurden, 2017). Prince Diponegoro seems to be the only one of the Indonesian National Heroes whose personal objects/heirlooms were returned/repatriated from the Netherlands to Indonesia, in 1977-1978, 2015, and 2020, respectively. 

  • 8 Kanjeng Kyai Tjokro itself was Diponegoro’s spiritual heirloom. Diponegoro always took his spiritua (...)

39In 2015, during the opening of the temporary exhibition “Aku Diponegoro: Sang Pangeran dalam Ingatan Bangsa, dari Raden Saleh hingga Kini” (“A Prince for All Seasons: Diponegoro in the Memory of the Nation, from Raden Saleh to the Present) held at the National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta, Diponegoro’s heirloom, the Kanjeng Kyai Tjokro8 (a spiritual stick), was returned by the descendants of Dutch Governor General Jean Chrétien Baud (1789-1859) to the government of Indonesia (Kraus and Carey, 2015). During the opening of the exhibition, Michiel Baud, a descendant of J. C. Baud, who returned Diponegoro’s heirloom, mentioned his family’s understanding of the importance of the object for Indonesia. Therefore, he hoped that the act of returning the heirloom would forge a new era of mutual respect, friendship, and equality between the Netherlands and Indonesia (Baud, 2015).

40In 2020, another Diponegoro heirloom, the Kris Kyai Naga Siluman, was repatriated. The kris, kept in the Netherlands after the Diponegoro War, was symbolically returned by Dutch King Willem Alexander (reigning 2013-present) to Indonesian President Joko Widodo (in office 2014-2024) (Triyana, 2020). Later that year, the kris was exhibited to the public during a temporary exhibition titled “Pamor Sang Pangeran” (“The Heirlooms of the Prince”) held at the National Museum of Indonesia from October to November 2020. The exhibition told the life story of Prince Diponegoro and his spirit of resistance against colonial power through his heirlooms, his autobiography Babad Diponegoro, and paintings, presented with new media and digital technology (Mulyadi, 2020).

  • 9 Indonesië Vrij! was written by Mohammad Hatta (1902-1980) when he was a student and imprisoned beca (...)

41It seems that Diponegoro became Indonesia’s most renowned National Hero symbolizing the resistance against colonial power. In 1928, Mohammad Hatta (Indonesia’s first vice president, in office 1945-1956) mentioned Diponegoro (along with Teuku Umar and Tuanku Imam Bonjol of West Sumatra) in his book Indonesië Vrij! (Free Indonesia!)9 (Stevens, 2015). During the Indonesian Revolution in 1945-1949, Diponegoro became a popular symbol of Indonesian resistance. Besides Saleh, other Indonesia’s leading visual artists – Sudjojono, Hendra Gunawan, and Basuki Abdullah among others – have painted Diponegoro in their works, both before and after the independence of Indonesia (Supangkat, 2015). The location where Diponegoro was captured by De Kock in 1830 in Magelang, Central Java, was also turned into a museum named Museum Kamar Pengabdian Pangeran Diponegoro (the Museum Room in the Memory of Prince Diponegoro). The museum shows furniture (a table, chairs, and a glass cabinet) used during the “peace negotiation,” along with Diponegoro’s cloak (Rusmiyati et al. 2018).

42Indeed, repatriations of Diponegoro’s heirlooms are considered a decolonization act. However, Diponegoro’s “absence” in the La Galigo Museum Makassar and current temporary exhibitions about him show that the New Order’s legacy of Java-centrism is hard to alter. Pemberton (1994) argued that the New Order regime branded Javanese (the people, the culture, and the tradition) as the “truly high culture” of Indonesia. The absence of Diponegoro from the Province Museum of South Sulawesi (whose story does not suit the New Order historiography), his existence at the Jakarta History Museum, and some temporary exhibitions about him held within the national scope – by national institutions (of the National Museum of Indonesia and the National Gallery of Indonesia) – is evidence of this argument.


43Indeed, it can be said that the New Order regime decolonized museums even though, at that time, the attempts were not considered decolonization. The New Order approaches to decolonizing museums were to nationalize the existing colonial-era museums into province museums, change their colonial-era names to those of pre-colonial figures, unify the storyline to suit Indonesia’s nation-building program of “Unity in Diversity”, and insert anti-colonial narratives.

44However, after the New Order regime was no longer in power, it seems that the focus of the province museums (during the revitalization project and under the guidance of each provincial government) is to rectify the New Order narratives by, for example, toning down the anti-colonial narratives and presenting the local history that used to be suppressed and untold during the New Order regime.

45Object repatriation seems to have reached its peak during the post-New Order period as an act of decolonization. Although (requests for) the repatriation of objects from the Netherlands to Indonesia were already made as early as the 1950s and continued to the 1970s (Drieënhuizen, 2018), in the post-2010s, hundreds of museum collections were repatriated to Indonesia from the Netherlands.

46However, the repatriation of Prince Diponegoro’s heirlooms and temporary exhibitions held about him within the national scope, show that New Order Java-centrism is still embedded in the perspectives of present-day Indonesians and hard to alter. It seems that the underrepresented of Teuku Umar and Sultan Hasanuddin in the Indonesia museum context is somehow also related to the legacy of New Order Java-centrism. Perhaps, to address Java-centrism, Teuku Umar’s belongings in the Wereldmuseum Amsterdam could be requested by the Indonesian government for future objects to be repatriated from the Netherlands.

47Besides, as this research shows that objects, stories, and representations of national heroes are entangled with museum decolonization, perhaps a similar study could be conducted within different places, both in former colonizer countries and formerly colonized countries.

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1 Previously spelled Teukoe Oemar

2 Indonesian museum decolonization is the author’s ongoing PhD research. The PhD project is funded by the Indonesia Endowment Fund (LPDP).

3 The dual kingdom of Gowa-Tallo employed an open-door policy. The kingdom was highly tolerant, allowing and protecting everyone, irrespective of their places of origin, ethnicity, and religion, to trade within Gowa-Tallo. However, the Dutch VOC intended to monopolize the spice trade. Therefore, conflicts between the Dutch and Gowa-Tallo occurred as early as 1615 and reached its peak during the Makassar War in 1666-1669, leading to the treaty of Bongaya, very disadvantageous for Gowa-Tallo, signed by Sultan Hasanuddin, the ruler of Gowa (Poelinggomang, 2002; Mostert, 2018).

4 One of the points regarding the Bongaya Treaty was the transfer of Gowa-Tallo’s fort of Ujung Pandang to the VOC. The turtle-shaped Fort Ujung Pandang was then redesigned as a European-style fort and renamed Fort Rotterdam. It became the centre of the VOC’s administrative and economic power in the Eastern Indonesian archipelago for two centuries. In 1908, the structure was no longer used as a fortification, and in 1940 it was registered by the Dutch as a protected historical monument (Forts in Indonesia, 2012).

5 Translated by the author.

6 For instance, the story of Karaeng Pattingaloang, the prime minister of Sultan Malikussaid (1595-1639) – the father of Hasanuddin. Pattingaloang mastered both Spanish and Portuguese languages, he also had a library in his palace with European books and maps as its collections (Navarrette, 2012). Pattingaloang used to order “modern scientific” objects from the VOC (dictionary, hourglass, compass, magnifying glass, telescope) and he once ordered 1.3 meters in diameter globe, twice the size of the largest globe available in the Netherlands at that time. His order of the globe inspired the VOC to hand smaller-sized globes to Asian rulers as gifts (Mostert, 2017).

7 During the New Order regime, Indonesian National Heroes were predominantly male, Java-born, and from an elite background (Schulte Nordholt, 2004).

8 Kanjeng Kyai Tjokro itself was Diponegoro’s spiritual heirloom. Diponegoro always took his spiritual stick on various pilgrimages to the South coast of Java and other spiritual sites in the Yogyakarta area. In 1834, after the Diponegoro War, Kanjeng Kyai Tjokro was handed over as a gift to J. C. Baud, the new governor-general (in office 1833-1834), by a Javanese member of the elite, Prince Notoprojo. Notoprojo himself surrendered to the Dutch in 1827. He then became a key political ally for the Dutch (Kraus & Carey, 2015).

9 Indonesië Vrij! was written by Mohammad Hatta (1902-1980) when he was a student and imprisoned because of his nationalistic student organization in the Netherlands, Perhimpoenan Indonesia (Indonesian Association). The writing criticized the Dutch historiography of Indonesia (Dutch East Indies) that commemorated Dutch glory and exploitation of Indonesia and labelled Indonesians who resisted the oppressions as rebels and rogues (Stevens, 2015).

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Ajeng Ayu Arainikasih

Universitas Indonesia – Depok, Indonesia
Universiteit Leiden – Leiden, the Netherlands
Email: arainikasih[at]

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