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Glimpses of Colonial Jakarta in Petamburan Cemetery

November 28, 2020, 03.40 PM

The edifice contained the ashes of 60 Japanese senior officers who died during the three-year Japanese occupation of Indonesia in World War II between 1942 to 1945.

"This Columbarium contains the ashes of [fallen] Japanese [servicemen]," the caption over the entrance said in Indonesian. Nearby, the same inscription is written in Japanese kanji letters on stones similar to those used in Japanese gardens.

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“There are an estimated 79 urns [in the columbarium] as of October 2020. About 50 officials from the Japanese Embassy in Jakarta visit the columbarium on February and October every year to pray over the ashes,” said Sandra

“However, they did not visit [the columbarium] this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.” While the officials might view the funerary building with reverence, beliefs that it is haunted reflect the trauma that the Japanese occupation still cast over Indonesia’s collective psyche.

Sandra also highlighted Petamburan’s Jewish graves. “There are six [Jewish] tombstones from the Dutch colonial era. We found they were inscribed with the six-pointed Star of David and inscriptions in Hebrew,” she noted.

“[Jakarta’s] Jewish community used to live near Arab merchants who do business in the Pasar Baru marketplace. We have reason to believe that the latter buried Batavia’s Jewish residents at Petamburan cemetery as they gradually died off.”

Unlike the O.G. Khouw Mausoleum or the Japanese Columbarium, time has not been kind to the Jewish graves. Three of the tombs remained intact, while the rest were ravaged by nature and graffiti by vandals.

Conserving the cemetery

Sandra recalled that the rundown state of the graves used to affect the rest of Petamburan cemetery. “The cemetery did not get a proper renovation until 2017, when I worked with the maintenance crew to clean it up. We managed to clean the place up in three months” she recalled.

“Before it was a den of vice for illegal gambling, drugs and sex, as well as a haunt for vagrants and beggars. The overgrown weeds used to be reach to a person’s thighs and obliterate the Jewish tombstones, along with rubble.”

Her efforts paid off, as people come to sightsee or find the grave of their loved ones. 71 personnel are on standby around the clock to keep criminals out and keep the peace in the cemetery. Sandra is also currently lobbying the government to make Petamburan cemetery a heritage site.

Whether Sandra’s efforts will pay off or not remains to be seen. What is for certain is that her initiative has managed to get Petamburan Cemetery back on Jakarta’s tourist circuit.


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