WHAT IS MUSEUM TAMAN PRASASTI
Museum Taman Prasasti or Inscription Museum, formerly known as Kebon Jahe Kober, was the first modern public cemetery in the world built in 1795 in Tanah Abang district, Central Jakarta, Indonesia. The land belonged to Halventinus van Riemsdijk, a landlord and a businessman, before he inherited it to the Dutch colonial government.
It provided a new burial site to replace that in Hollandsche Nieuw Kerk (Dutch New Church), now Museum Wayang or Wayang Puppet Museum, since the cemetery was already full. The cemetery area was once 5.5 hectares, but now it’s only 1.5 hectares left due to the city expansion.
Known for the terrible traffic jam and the biggest textile market in Southeast Asia so-called Pasar Tanah Abang (Tanah Abang Market), Museum Taman Prasasti delivers the tranquil side of Tanah Abang district situated just 7 minutes drive from the hectic area, free from honks and overcrowded street vendors.
But nothing eerie and haunted about this place. The cemetery operated until 1974 and closed a year later. Before turning into a museum on July 9, 1977, the remaining bodies were brought back to their families and some others are cremated. In other words, no bodies under the tombstones ever since.
That’s why it’s no longer called a cemetery, but a museum instead. Nowadays, it’s one of the popular places for photography spots and video shooting.
THE BURIED ONES, MEMORIALS AND STATUES
Those days, it was a Protestant cemetery, the last resting place of Dutch government officials and prominent people.
Among others Marius Hulswit (the architect of Cathedral Church in Jakarta), Olivia Marianme Raffles (the first wife of Thomas Stamford Raffles, Lieutenant General of Dutch Indies during the British conquest), HF Roll (the founder of STOVIA, School of Medicine during Dutch colonization era), Van Riemsdijk Family (General Governor of Dutch Indies whose son, Halventinus, inherited one of his lands to build Kebon Jahe Kober cemetery) and many more.
The only Indonesian people buried here were Miss Riboet (famous theater actress in 1930’s) and Soe Hok Gie (student activist movement in 1960’s).
Various shapes of tombstone definitely define the beauty of the open air museum, that also have meaning and purpose behind them. The tombstone of Olivia Mariamne Raffles made of andesite stone was considered luxurious at that time. The broken menhir shaped tomb, like that of Dr. Jan Laurens Andries Brandes (and some others), is the symbol of unfulfilled wishes. The Hindu temple look is a remembrance of his merit as an ancient Javanese literature expert.
The most lavish tombstone is the green cathedral monument of Major General Johan Jacob Perrie, a highly respected war hero who earned the title of nobility from the Dutch Kingdom.
Of all tombs, I personally think that the story behind Kapitein Jas tomb is the most interesting and funny in particular way. Until today, local and international visitors believe that visiting his tomb can make their wishes come true although some say that Kapitein Jas doesn’t exist.
It is said that Kapitein Jas was a name of an extended land next to Jassen Kerk, a Portuguese church outside the Batavia old town, to accommodate the deceased from a malaria outbreak since there was no longer enough space in the cemetery behind Jassen Kerk.
So, I wonder if there was a body buried under the tombstone of Kapitein Jas those days.
Apart from tombstones, Museum Taman Prasasti also houses memorials and statues revealing the situation at the time they were built. The caskets used to bring bodies of Indonesia’s first president and vice president, Soekarno and Hatta, are sheltered by metal-roofed hut decorated with Indonesian flag.
The crying lady statue illustrates a very sad newly wed woman left by her husband who died from malaria when he was abroad. She finally hung herself.
The replica of R. Breveld monument with the skull stabbed by a spear is a memorial of R. Breveld, a Dutch, German and Thai descendant who was a traitor for Dutch Imperialism and sentenced to death because he planned to kill government officials.
A Japanese-inscripted stone in front of AJW. van Delden family funeral home, not far from the president’s caskets, is a memorial of Japanese troops against allied forces.
THE STORY BEHIND THE ANGELS
Somehow, the abundant of angels in the former cemetery triggers a question why the Protestant cemetery looks like the Catholic one.
In fact, the angels didn’t exist until the first public cemetery in the world stop operating and turned into a museum to beautify the environment inside the open air museum. Unintentionally, it shows a lack of understanding the differences between Protestant and Catholic, although they both are Christian and have the same bible.
Most probably, whoever has the idea of adding the angels is inspired by a lavishly decorated church with many statues and paintings, that are more obvious in Catholic churches than the Protestant ones, but he or she doesn’t notice that.
Additionally, even the broken hands were made on purpose to give the impression of old and vintage. They are not that old, though, at least not from the 18th or 19th century. Regardless the accidental mistake, the angel statues are my favorite as they are beautifully carved and accentuate plain graves and cemetery surroundings. I just don’t really care about the reason and the misunderstanding.
By accessing Museum Taman Prasasti for only Rp. 5000 ($ 0.5), it is a great place to relax, refreshing your mind and eyesight with artworks carved on tombstones and memorials, as well as to learn about the important people once buried there, who shape the history, influence the present life and future of the next generation.
It is undoubtedly one of my favorite places to enjoy Jakarta outside shopping malls. Hopefully you’ll feel the same.
Museum Taman Prasasti
Jl. Tanah Abang I No.1, RT.11/RW.8, Petojo Sel., Kecamatan Gambir, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10160
Opening hours: 9 am to 3 pm