Indonesia Expat
History/Culture Info for Expats Outreach

Indonesian Heritage Society

Museum Fatahillah

Museum Fatahillah

Located on the 17th floor of Sentral Senayan 1, a square office tower next to the Sogo side of Plaza Senayan, this rather dull and uninteresting building does not do justice to the exciting activities taking place inside.

The three words of the title will mostly be read as Indonesian Heritage society, that is, the society which is involved in preservation and dissemination of knowledge and understanding of the Indonesian heritage. In other words, the society which assists in taking care of the valued things passed down from previous generations. And that is exactly what the society aims at.

The society was started in 1970 as the Ganesha Volunteers, and in 1995 was renamed the Indo-nesian Heritage Society (IHS). Its purpose is to help preserve Indonesia’s culture in an interactive way, that is, preservation combined with spreading knowledge and understanding of this unique and varied culture.

For this purpose IHS organises museum tours and training courses for museum tour guides (National Museum, Jakarta History Museum and Textile Museum), study groups covering a range of interesting topics, from Indonesian art, sanctuaries of the gods and ceramics to plants for life and Indonesian history, and many more in between. Then there are the explorers who visit and learn about places and artefacts that those who stay anchored to Jakarta, Puncak, Pelabuhan Ratu and Bali haven’t even heard of. Did you know, for instance, about the megaliths of the Bada, Besoa and Napa valleys in Central Sulawesi? I certainly did not, I didn’t even know that there is an annual Dragon Boat Festival in Tangerang and I’ve been a Jakarta resident for quite a number of years. Absolutely fascinating those explorers!

And the evening lectures – starting at 7pm every Thursday. A variety of topics has been dealt with and is planned for the future. And then there is Rumahku (My House), conversations on Indonesia’s culture, history and current affairs held in the home of IHS members or a diplomatic residence. This actually is a unique way, especially for new residents of Jakarta, to socialise over morning coffee and make friends. New to this season is film screening. The best of Indonesian cinema will be screened, typically taking place on Saturdays, which means that working IHS members can also participate.

Participation seems to pose a bit of a problem. While the society’s activities are of interest to both working and non-working members, in most cases their timing is totally unsuitable for the ones engaged in a 9-to-5++ occupation. This can clearly be observed from the members’ registry. Of the 600 or so members, less than 10% are male. Many of the male, working members do, however, compensate for their lacking activities by becoming corporate sponsors.

Another interesting feature is that the members are largely expatriate—representing some 50 nationalities—which means of course that Indonesian members are a rare commodity. This is rather unfortunate. It is the Indonesian heritage that the society wants to preserve. But it is foreigners, stationed in the country for a number of years, who actively care. This caring has, of course, been restricted to an advisory voice only. And those readers who have experienced the Indonesian bureaucracy, will know that to get advice implemented is not easy. I am not talking here about unsound advice, or a wrongly packaged one, or one worded in the wrong language—I once heard an expat advisor address the Head of a provincial branch of Bank Indonesia as saudara, needless to say that his proposals were never even looked at. I’m talking about the slow and indirect way of promoting advice, of selling it, and the personal approach needed for success. This is where Indonesian members are direly needed. They might be the brother, uncle, cousin, boyhood friend, university chum, of the person who decides on the delivered advice, or even from the same region. With such back-up wouldn’t it be possible to have the cards in the display cases of the National Museum made in a larger font, and maybe to move them towards the front a bit, to ensure legibility by less than hawk-eyed visitors?

Stadhuis - early 1900 and 2012
Stadhuis – early 1900 and 2012

And what about Kota, the Old Town? Fatahillah square has its fair share of privately initiated—so I presume—albeit a tad disordered, entertainment. The old Stadhuis (Jakarta Historical Museum) should, however, be completely overhauled. With almost nothing displayed and floorboards that wobble when stepped on, it is hardly worth a visit. Compare it to the privately owned and run Café Batavia across the square and it becomes clear what could be done with old buildings.

If it were only a matter of funds, the problem would be fairly easy to solve. It does appear to be a lack of vision, or drive, or daring that holds improvements back.

And furthermore it is not only the publicly owned buildings that need more attention and maintenance to prevent them from deteriorating beyond the point of no return. Many private owners view their structures as nothing but a plot of—very valuable—land, and are thus not interested in any preservation of the heritage. Here also, non-foreign members could have a serious impact as a small core of concerned citizens does exist, but needs strengthening.

Increasing the number of Indonesian members would be beneficial for both the valued things that have been passed down from previous generations, and for IHS itself. May this article incite some out there to join IHS.

IHS website:

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