Batavia to Buitenzorg, 12 April 1893

The desire to visit the museum of Batavia as well a the other sights of the city made me delay the drive to Buitenzorg, which was intended according to the program for the evening of the day before, to the afternoon of this day in order to make a tour of Batavia and its suburbs to which we departed early in the morning.

The foundation of Batavia can be traced back to 1614. At that time the Dutch governor general Pieter Both erected a fortified factory on a small parcel on the eastern shore of the Tji Liwung, which he had bought in the year 1611 for 3000 Dutch guilders from the chief of Dja-Karta, a vassal of the kingdom of Bantam. This factory was called „Nassau“ and owned by the Dutch East India company, that both commercially and politically powerful trading company,  founded in  1602 and terminated at the end of the former century after many glorious decades. It formed the point of origin of Batavia.

Protected by the Kasteel and inhabited by as hard-working as smart citizens, within a few decades a promising urban community developed under the guidance of a long-term oriented government. Since 1619 officially carrying the name of Batavia, the capital city of Dutch India developed so rapidly that it became without a doubt the most important harbor in South East Asia at the beginning of the 19th century. Since the rise of Singapore, Batavia has experienced a major setback in its commercial activities but it remains even today thanks to the reforms and care of the Dutch government undeniably a very important center of trade for all colonial products. Besides the already mentioned 27.279 Chinese, Batavia counts 8613 Europeans, 2622 Arabs, 104 other Orientals and 76.246 natives.

The harbor Tandjong Priok certainly contains only a much smaller number of trading ships than the other centers of world trade; only the dense population of Java, the intensive cultivation of the very fertile ground that provides valuable products, the developments of the transportation system and especially the financial acumen of the Dutch assure this blooming agricultural colony, the most beautiful of the Malaysian islands, a continued prosperous future.

The traffic and urban life in Batavia are strange. In the European quarters there is a certain somnolence on the exterior. Below the slumbering surface  the goal-oriented, determined and active national character of the Dutch is active. The Europeans live in the southern suburbs Noordwijk and Rijswijk, as well as in Weltevreden to the South-east of those; the higher southern parts of the city are the most healthy, the business districts closest to the sea have to suffer the most from the humid climate of Batavia. The homes of the Europeans are all characterised by their niceness, cleanliness and cosiness. Between the well tended gardens with rich flower decorations rise one story buildings that due to their quasi transparent construction style permit the free circulation of air. On the veranda, without which a house here would be almost unimaginable, almost all the domestic life takes place; here, between the walls ornamented with images and blooming orchids, the family members who are not shackled by their profession to the old town hold their refreshing siesta on chaises longues and fauteuils during the hot hours of the day caused by the climate The men, however, drive early in the morning to the old town, the center of the business world to pursue their affairs up to 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon. At that time they return after their well performed work to their villas fanned by fresh air and spend the evening most of the time with their families as the Dutch appreciate cosy domestic life very much. Then one sees all these cosy verandas clearly illuminated and the many lights are joyfully mirrored in the small canals of the city.

The main squares of Weltevreden are „Waterloo-Plein“ and „Konings-Plein“. On the first one is the government palace, a mighty two story building, the military casino Concordia and the statue of the governor general Jan Pieterszoon Koen. who is wrongly identified as the founder of Batavia.

Konings-Plein is an extended green square of 4 hectares deliminated by Tamarind alleys. On the exterior side of these alleys we could see the new governor general’s palace, then the one of the resident, churches, the museum, the railway station Konings-Plein and other public buildings. As beautiful are the surroundings of the place, the place itself without any trees and poor grass offers little. In the agreeable shadow of the alleys, the whole society of Batavia is mingling towards evening, breathing in the fresh air in the most varied vehicles. There are also large numbers of pedestrians and even individual riders venture around.

During my drive to Weltevreden I met Dutch soldiers on the move, namely an infantry battalion and a squadron of cavalry, the latter one all on very small Javanese ponies. The riders wear a not very fashionable blue-yellow uniform and sit in the saddle with very short set stirrups and carry their carbines in such a way that it has been fastened to the saddle above the right leg — a method I do not deem practical.

While the European quarter is characterised by their relative calm, there is much more activity in the Chinese quarter. There they are continuously negotiating and working. No garden interrupts the long row of houses. There, as everything is set out to be practical and everything is based on profit, a decorative garden would only be a superfluous luxury. The queue carrying people sit in front of their workshops, develop an almost febrile activity and transfer, as soon as they have gained something, part of their profits to the opium dens and gambling houses. My tour led me from the living to the dead Chinese. Their cemeteries lies in the east of the city, mostly in the quarters called Pagansan and Sentiong; there, under palm and banana trees, also rest the sons of the Heavenly Kingdom who became victims of the population’s hate during the earlier century. The graves draw the eye by their strange construction. Very many of them have already decayed and fully covered by climbing plants or have been converted into fields and palm groves.

Close to these cemeteries one can find beside the old church of the old town the house of Pieter Erberveld, the traitor of Batavia, who has been executed in the year 1722; a stone plate above which rises a stone skull pierced by a lance which carries the inscription with the description of the events and the order that in this location nothing may be built in all eternity.

The quarter inhabited by the natives of Java covers a large area and has the character of villages that seem to be fully hidden under palm and banana trees. These villages too, called Kampongs or Dessas, are noticeable by their cleanliness and niceness, a welcome difference between the homes of the Javanese and the foul smelling, neglected houses of the Hindus in British India. The individual huts are mostly made out of bamboo. The roof and the side walls consist either out of bamboo or blady grass trellis work or simply out of dried palm leaves which by their size and great resistance provide good and cheap building material. Very often the huts are built on piles. The roof provides shade for small galleries or verandas and often extends both to the front and the back.

The interior design of these huts is very simple as the whole family is living in one large room. Long bamboo banks covered with straw mats serve as beds. Other furniture are a crude table and at best some bamboo stools. But the natives mostly sit squatting on the floor with their legs crossed under their body. The cooking equipment is equally simple and mostly made out of bamboo. Even though the houses are densely occupied given that the natives are very blessed with children,  they display the highest cleanliness and order.

The Javanese possess a special love for animals; therefore in nearly every house hang woven bird cages on walls, usually pigeons. The domestic animals are well kept, the cows and bulls are well nourished and diligently cared for. Out of every hut jump most lovely bleating dwarf goats and outside the doors large chicken are scratching.

Around most houses are small kitchen gardens surrounded by delicately woven bamboo fences in which are planted pisang, pepper, vegetables and fruit. Everywhere one sees coconut palm trees which are providing an important benefit especially close to Batavia as a strong tree will produced an annual revenue of about 10 fl. in Austrian currency. As the resident assured me, the people use specially trained monkeys to collect the coconuts. They climb up the smooth tall trees and throw down the ripe fruits. If the monkey tries to harvest a still unripe fruit, it is jerked by a string which makes it cease that activity and select a ripe fruit. A well trained monkey can be an important source of revenue for its owner as such an animal is often hired out to the owner of coconut tree plantations.

Besides the cleanliness another aspect is appreciated by a traveller coming from British India to Java — the great calm with which the Malays perform everything so that one can often walk past a Kampong hidden by trees and not notice its existence if the eye would not discover the huts between the trees. The ear, especially if it has lost some of its sensitivity for noises by the ear-splitting overpowering noise, the peculiar crying and howls in the land of the Hindus, is unable to perceive anything exceptional even close to the Kampong.

From the Malay quarter where the natural state of affairs is still active in an unclouded way, we figuratively made a big jump, to visit the place where in the fall of 1893 a miniature world exhibition was bound to display its treasures. Thus exhibition fever has even taken hold among the calm inhabitants of Java! Not without pride the resident presented the preparations which were still in an early stage; some scaffolding, however, did not forebode much of the intended future splendor. At least the vast contrast can be be felt. There in the Kampong, the life of the people that expresses itself by a continuity of a thousand years; here the preparations to complete one of those ideas where the cultural life of the peoples are demonstrated in their most modern way!

I then had the opportunity to observe the Javanese ponies, small animals, at the most 12 hands high, that draw the ugly local carriages through the streets at a fast trot. These ponies come mostly from the Sunda islands of Sumbawa and Sumba (Sandelhout). Apart from the products of the local horse breeding among which especially those of the residences of Kedu and Preang are considered excellent, one uses on Java also horses from the Sunda islands too as well as Australian carriage horses.

The then visited museum is owned by a private society  — the society of arts and science — which receives subsidies from the government. Also the government is continuously at work to complete the ethnographic collections of the museums with objects  from the Sunda islands.

A bronze elephant, a present of the king of Siam who visited Java in the year 1870 stands in front of the large building. In the entrance hall lie ancient stone figures as well as multiple cannons and carved wall screens from the time of the East India company. To the left is the e numismatic collection which contains rich material from all the countries of the world, among them also a collection of Austrian paper money and coins; the most valuable Austrian coin must be a Sigismund ducat dating from the year 1388.

The archaeological collection that follows has been developed only in recent times as there was not much interest earlier in Java for the ancient times. Some researchers have earned much merit by researching the old monuments of the island which revealed that the style of the Javanese temples, despite some deviations, resembles vividly those of continental India. This revelation can be explained naturally by the fact that in ancient times Brahminism was very common in the Malasian archipelago until it was almost completely displaced in the 13th century by the expansion of Islam. Some exceptions apart, all Javanese are of the Muslim faith while the religion of the mountain peoples continues to culminate in their ancestral gods and ghost rites.

The correctness of this dating which leads to the conclusion to speak of a Java-Hindu style is made apparent by a number of photographies of temples from middle Java. These temples surpass in terms of richness of the architectural and ornamental motives and especially in the artistic execution of the statues and the reliefs the continental Indian buildings. Among the statues and the reliefs we found many illustrations that were well known to us from India such as Shiva, the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the holy bull Nandi, those of the goddesses Lakshmi and Käli as well as the elephant god Ganesha in all possible positions. Furthermore there were to be seen multiple Ungams, urns in various sizes,  pedestals of pillars etc.

A collection of found or excavated metal objects is very remarkable. Here too one meets the various gods of the Brahmin theogony, designed in bronze, silver or gold — some of these representations are artistic master works — furthermore there are various temple instruments, especially bells, gongs, sacrificial cauldrons, as well as small lamps and jewellery.

The main attraction and at the same time the most valuable part of the museum are the ethnographic collections presented in long large halls, which represents not only Java, but also the complete islands of the Asiatic and Australian archipelago and is characterised by it uncommon richness. The close examination of all objects which the different cultural levels of the Malay peoples, from the cannibals up to the rather highly developed Javanese would take days even weeks.

Thus one can see first models of different dwellings, cave-like bamboo huts from Borneo and beautiful woven houses from Java, furthermore all instruments used by different tribes for hunting and fishing. Countless strange weapons are installed on the walls. Not for all tribes whose creations here speak for or against them have replaced the stone age for the iron age. Thus there are various spear and lance heads as well as axes made out of very hard stone or wood. Some of the weapons have been impregnated with fast.-acting poison. From the lands of the Dajaks on Borneo come blow pipes with poison darts.

With great perseverance all kinds of clothes have been assembled that are used by the island peoples. The presentation of the wardrobe of some of these tribes did not offer much effort or difficulties. The costume is sometimes rather scanty and has been most exactly handed down from that of our original ancestors in paradise. On the other hand one finds from Java dancing costumes, bridal gowns and samples of Kains, woven clothes that represent a considerable value. At their side stand Pajungs (screen of distinction) and masks in large numbers for the Topeng dance, as well as Wajang figures and musical instruments in adventurous forms for the  Gamelang, the Javanese orchestra, among them huge gongs, cymbal-like instruments and a very strangely designed instrument called Anklont, consisting of tuned bamboo tubes which are made to sound by shaking them.

The most original part of the treasures assembled here is the large number of fetishes and idols as well as the cannibal’s jewellery of the Papuas, the Dajaks and the Battas. These fetishes and idols represent themselves as very realistically imagined hideous faces. Some are painted and decorated with hair or covered with shells.

The jewellery is in fantastic way constructed out of bird feathers, shells and animal bones or teeth. sometimes even out of the remains of human bodies. Thus one could see here skulls, some bones or bushels of hair similar to the Indian scalps and as a neck ornament  colliers made of human teeth on a string. This material, if I may be permitted to call it so,  was supplied for the production of the jewellery by the bodies of the slain enemies of the cannibals. On Borneo, Sumatra etc. there exists the horrible custom that a young man is only declared a grown man by the elders of the tribe after he has been able to present a certain number of skulls of slain humans — a requirement which is demanded from the youth in choosing a bride, at certain feasts or the death of a chief. The crudeness with which this custom deeply violates our sentiments may hint at the fact that those head hunts were collected not only in fights but also by assassination.

A special room, the gold chamber which is protected against theft by armor plates contains the most valuable objects, so weapons and jewellery inlaid with gold and silver, the imperial regalia of the inheritance of sultan Bandjermasing and valuable objects from the Netherlands that date back to the era of the East India company.

Many hours I spent visiting the museum and then I gave some orders and did some shopping until the departure to Buitenzorg, set for 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

The way from Batavia to Buitenzorg, which we covered in a one and a half hour drive, leads through mostly cultivated land, especially rice paddies. It offers many scenic attractions as it presents without interruption a beautiful view of the Northern slope of the mountains in the distance of this city and of the tropical nature of the outland.

In Buitenzorg, which is at a much higher altitude than Batavia, an agreeable air cooled down by one of the daily storms was waving. The Sanssouci of Batavia — Buitenzorg means „without trouble“ — is the healthcare resort of the Javanese capital and the favorite spot for the villas of the richer classes of Batavia. The first impression of it that we received was very agreeable and we soon understood how attractive a longer stay in this lovely resort at the foot of a mountain and surrounded by an evergreen luxurious vegetation must be.

Like in Batavia we find here too a European quarter of villas as well as Malay and Chinese Kampongs,  with the only difference that the Europeans are even more predominant here than there. Also one experiences here the same cleanliness and niceness, the same jovial air, the same customs and habits. I arrived towards the evening when the inhabitants of Buitenzorg were strolling around under the large trees of the main road to the sound of a military band and had the opportunity to admire the many especially pretty Dutch women. Eurasians who are a mixed breed of Europeans and natives who dress like Europeans but whose face color and type still have predominant Malay features were present in large numbers.

The life and activity in the streets of Buitenzorg is very colorful from the morning to the evening as the city lies on the main road to Preang. Besides heavy carts drawn by oxen, there are lighter carriages drawn by small fast ponies that constitute the wagon traffic. Whole caravans of half-naked coolies who carry local products on their shoulders march along. There one sees coolies that are burdened heavily with rice stalks, with packets of palm sugar, with other  food products or with fresh grass for the livestock. All this is very skilfully and cleanly packaged. The package may be in the form of staffs, fibers or baskets, all made out of bamboo, because this plant plays in Java the role of a universal material that the natives simply use for everything. Even water is carried in hollowed out bamboo sticks.

The largest and most impressive building is the residence of the governor general which is located in a large park that is notable for its beautiful tree groves, its ponds and meadows. Here stands a whole herd of semi-tamed chitals that does not shy away at all from the driving carriage or even pedestrians. The soldiers guarding the park kill their long monotonous time in attracting and feeding these animals with bread.

At Mr. and Mrs. Pynacker’s the dinner lasted for quite some time in the evening. After this there was a very interesting production, a Wajang. The Wajang may be called as the true Javanese theater. Four kinds of Wajang exist: Wajang Wong, in which masked actors appear; Wajang Kulit (Koelit), in which leather puppets are used. Wajang Karutjil (Karoetjil),  in which the puppets performing the action carry costumes and finally Wajang Beber, in which the role of the puppets is replaced by long painted paper scrolls with various pictorial scenes which are unscrolled and scrolled up to present the flow of the theatrical action by the appropriate scene.  The musical part of the Wajang Beber is accompanied by a violin, while in the other Wajangs the Javanese orchestra called Gamelang is used; all these performances are of a choreographic-dramatic nature. The actors in a Wajang Wong do not talk but only perform the prescribed gestures of their roles. The words that explain the pantomimes, mostly presented in verses, are spoken by a master actor called Dalang hidden from the audience. Both actor and puppet walk in timed or dancing steps called Tandak, as this augments the festive aspect of the action for the Javanese audience. The content of these around 200 plays called „Lelakon“ for the Wajangs are taken partly out of Indian poems from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, of which the Javanese literature possesses a few highly cut translations, partly out of old Javanese romantic stories.

The story of these Lelakons uses almost always the same themes adapted from various cases: a king wants to offer the hand of his daughter under the condition to a prince that he will undertake an especially difficult and audacious deed; the prince fails to do; now an audacious and fortunate prince of a hostile dynasty appears. In the mean time, the princess is kidnapped by a giant but immediately rescued by the rival. The first candidate then challenges the rival to a duel but is defeated and the fortunate hero marries the princess with the father’s blessing.  This romantic plot is varied according to the demands of the case and elaborated. The performances take up more than half an evening. At the court of Wajang Wong in Soerakarta they may often go on for multiple days.

The Lelakon performed in our honor and written about five years ago for Wajang Wong apparently is a modernised product that only resembles in its Indian name to the old tales. The actors wear colorful fantastic costumes with masks. The kings were followed by dancing slaves. The presentation deemed us, especially as we could not understand the words, quite comical but still captivating by its strangeness. In the movements and namely the steps of the actors one could not mistake a certain grace; especially the female dancers made up the missing physical attractiveness by their graceful movements.

Links

  • Location: Buitezorg (Bogor), Indonesia
  • ANNO – on 12.04.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing „Gönnerschaften“, while the k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing the ballet „Die goldene Märchenwelt“.

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