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Didier Millet, Indonesian Heritage [a series of ten volumes, with various editors]

Singapore: Éditions Archipelago Press, 1996-1998
Bernard Sellato
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Didier Millet, Indonesian Heritage [a series of ten volumes, with various editors], Singapore: Éditions Archipelago Press, 1996-1998

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1“An encyclopedia on Indonesia in English has been considered necessary for a long time. But it was only in 1992 that the idea [of the present series] was conceived and put into action,” Haryati Soebadio wrote in 1998. This, clearly, was a project meant to promote Indonesia abroad. A first batch of five volumes was released in November 1996, and a second batch of five in October 1998. Although a total of fifteen volumes had been planned, it is unclear whether volumes 11 through 15 will ever appear, due to the economic crisis of recent years. An Indonesian-language edition, being negotiated with Balai Pustaka, the Jakarta-based state publisher, may also suffer a long delay, and for the same reason. A couple of volumes, however, appeared in Dutch translation in 1998.

2Éditions Didier Millet (and its Indonesian counterpart, Buku Antar Bangsa), with the enthusiastic support of the then Minister of Tourism, Post, and Telecommunications, Joop Avé, and assistance from a number of corporations and companies in Indonesia, enlisted an editorial board of several prominent Indonesian scholars, such as Mrs. Haryati Soebadio, Mrs. Edi Sedyawati, Taufik Abdullah, and Soedarmadji Damais, as well as foreign scholars, such as John Miksic. Under senior series editor Sian Jay and editorial consultant Peter Schoppert, and later editorial director Timothy Auger, EDM secured the collaboration of some 200 specialists, part of them Indonesians, many of them leading researchers and academics, to compose what can already be considered the most ­comprehensive overview of Indonesia’s many facets since a series of monumental works were published in the colonial times – from Encyclopaedie van Nederlandsch Indië (1896-1905) to Geschiedenis van N. I. (1938).

3Indonesian Heritage apparently followed a pattern set by a few precursors in the post-Independence period, e.g., the handy Filipino Heritage: The Making of a Nation in ten volumes (1977-78). Evidently, twenty years of technological advances, particularly in iconographic design, make Indonesian Heritage infinitely more attractive visually than its Philippine predecessor. Following the still hot steps of Indonesian Heritage, EDM also launched in 1998 the first five volumes of The Encyclopedia of Malaysia, along very similar policy lines – strong official patronage, powerful corporate backing, a mix of national and foreign editorial staff and scientific contributors (with a growing majority of nationals), and exactly the same editorial guidelines. The recent Kasaysayan. The Story of the Filipino People in ten volumes (Asia Publishing Co. Ltd., 1998) is worth mentioning here, too.

4Indonesian Heritage is lavishly illustrated in full color – an average of 600 illustrations per volume of 140 to 150 pages, most of them photographs. Each volume, under the responsibility of a scientific editor, is divided into several chapters, each ­comprising a number of thematic sections. Each section is no more and no less than a set of two opposite pages. This principle, as can be expected, has its strengths and its weaknesses, especially when it comes to delineating the precise theme of one given double page, but a discerning use of boxes allows for some flexibility and, all in all, the text reads well and the rich iconography is attractive.

5This is not the place to go into the detail of each volume, nor am I expert enough in all the various fields of study covered. It should suffice here to list the volumes and their editors. Volume 1 is “Ancient History” (John Miksic, National University of ­Singapore); 2 is “The Human Environment” (Jonathan Rigg, University of Durham); 3 is “Early Modern History” (Anthony Reid, Australian National University); 4 is “Plants” (Tony Whitten and Jane Whitten); 5 is “Wildlife” (idem); 6 is “Architecture” (Gunawan Tjahjono, University of Indonesia); 7 is “Visual Arts” (Hilda Soemantri, Jakarta Institute of Arts); 8 is “Performing Arts” (Edi Sedyawati, Director General of Culture); 9 is “Religion and Ritual” (James J. Fox, Australian National University); and 10 is “Language and Literature” (John McGlynn, The Lontar Foundation). The last five volumes planned are “Volcanoes”, “Seas”, “Textiles and Adornment”, “The Economy”, and “Contemporary History”. It certainly should be hoped that they eventually get published.

6Specialists will surely point, here and there, at fragmentary data, minor errors, or subjective blanket statements, but this monumental work is not aimed at specialists. The specialist will learn a lot, however, about what lies beyond his or her area of specialty. And the lay person will learn a lot, period. I did. This, definitely, makes Indonesian Heritage a must in any library on Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, because of language and price, it will remain inaccessible to the average educated Indonesian readership.

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Bernard Sellato, « Didier Millet, Indonesian Heritage [a series of ten volumes, with various editors] »Moussons [En ligne], 2 | 2000, mis en ligne le 15 janvier 2020, consulté le 27 septembre 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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