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Shifting sands

Published: Jul 05, 2016

Daud Aris Tanudirjo 

Indonesia’s approach to heritage management has been shaped by the perception of the role of archaeology and the history of Dutch colonial rule. The Dutch colonial government justified its rule internationally through its care of Indonesians and Indonesia, in particular iconic heritage sites like Borobudur. The emphasis on expertise in archaeology continued for many years, often leading to heritage sites being separated from the communities near the sites and groups with religious or historical connections. Today a broad set of groups are involved in heritage management and there are a diverse set of heritage management policies emerging. 

The colonial approach

Early interest in Indonesia’s heritage is often associated with foreigners who were fascinated with the monuments, artifacts, and ruins of the past. In the early eighteenth century, European scholars began to produce reports and publications, such as those on the ruins of Prambanan and Borobudur. The growing interest in heritage fueled the establishment of the Royal Batavian Society for Arts and Sciences in 1788 which then founded a museum that later became the National Museum. Although the Society stated that the museum was for the public, it spoke only to and for European communities.

In 1822, the Dutch Administration established the Commission for the Exploration and Conservation of Antiquities. It marked the beginning of official engagement in heritage management in Indonesia. This was restructured to the Commission for Archaeological Research in Java-Madura in 1901 and then the Archaeological Service in the Netherlands-Indie in 1913, charged with research and preservation duties.

The participation of the indigenous Indonesian elite in heritage management, particularly through establishing local museums, created a problem for the Dutch authorities who were accustomed to exclusive access to heritage resources. One response was the first heritage regulation, Monumenten Ordonnantie, of 1931. This ordinance gave the colonial government (and later post-independence governments) full authorisation to claim access to and ownership of any artifacts and monuments with artistic, historic, prehistoric, and palaeoanthropological significance.

Soekmono: the first Indonesian archeologist

Soon after independence was proclaimed in 1945, Indonesians took over the Archaeological Service. But, when the Dutch returned to re-colonise a year later, they set up another Archaeological Service. These institutions then merged in 1950. The new Archaeological Service was led by a Dutch archaeologist and most of its staff were Indonesian apprentices. In 1953, the Service was handed over to Indonesians. The first Indonesian archaeologist, Soekmono, was appointed as its head. Although only limited resources were available to support heritage management, the institution was able to secure the support from political leaders to undertake archaeological research, undertake reconstructions of ancient heritage, and establish archaeological attractions. 

Prambanan Temple - Credit: Georgia Doust

In terms of its policy, however, there were hardly any changes. Monumenten Ordonnantie remained the main regulation until the 1990s. Even the establishment of archaeological departments in several universities in the 1960s did not bring any new approaches to heritage management. The public was almost totally excluded and archeology was perceived to be in service of the state, with almost all Indonesian archaeologists employed as government officials.

Archaeologists played their role as ‘legislators’ who had the authority to determine what should be done with heritage. They dictated the interpretation and the use of heritage. Conflict between residents and archaeologists occurred quite often. Resettlement of the local population around Borobudur and Prambanan temples for archaeological park in 1980 caused a prolonged conflict. Land-owners and the official archaeological bureaucracy incessantly disputed ownership of Majapahit vestiges found in Trowulan or ancient fossils recovered in Sangiran Early Man Site. These are just a few examples of the endless conflicts between the public and archaeologists. 

Public participation in heritage management

Heritage management has improved since the 1980s when a new awareness emerged among academics about the importance of public participation. This awareness was disseminated by a few young archaeologists who realised that the government alone could not effectively manage complicated heritage. Elite groups came to a similar opinion, so they founded non-government organisations (NGOs), such as the Friends of Culture Foundation (Yayasan Mitra Budaya) and the Indonesian Ceramic Network (Himpunan Keramik Indonesia), to assist the government in certain aspects of heritage management. Meanwhile, the government drafted new heritage regulations which were passed in 1992 as the Items of Cultural Property Law. Ironically there were no essential changes in this new law, and public participation in heritage management was not fully accommodated.

By the late 1990s, pressure to change the approach to heritage management increased. Now it came not only from academics but also the wider public and the tourism sector, all of whom were beginning to understand that ‘archaeology in the service of the state’ was no longer relevant and that it was time to move to ‘public archaeology’. Archaeologists began to reposition themselves as ‘stewards’ who do not claim ownership, but work to protect and preserve heritage for the benefit of the public. 

Prambanan Temple - Credit: Georgia Doust

From within civil society, demand for more community-oriented heritage management came not only from elites but also common people. There had been major changes in public attitudes toward heritage. More people started to consider heritage as part of their identity. They realised that they had the right to participate in heritage management and to benefit socially, culturally, or financially from heritage. Surely, they also learned about the inadequate government efforts to manage their heritage. 

New heritage organisations, new regulations 

This new perception is manifest in the establishment of a considerable number of NGOs concerned with heritage management, especially at the local level. In 2000 these NGOs launched Jaringan Pelestarian Pusaka Indonesia (Indonesian Heritage Conservation Network or JPPI). Supported by the international heritage body ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, JPPI declared an Indonesia Charter on Heritage Conservation in 2003 and founded Badan Pelestarian Pusaka Indonesia (Indonesia Heritage Trust or BPPI), as a counterpart for the government in the management of heritage. Surprisingly, only a small number of archaeologists joined this network, signed up the Charter, or became involved in BPPI. This is a sign that the majority of Indonesian archaeologists persist with the conservative view and think community-based heritage management will instigate future conflicts. 

The tourism sector has also applied pressure to change heritage management. On the one hand, heritage is seen as a strategic resource for the development of tourism and therefore the national economy. On the other, the existing heritage policy is regarded as an obstacle to heritage-based tourism. 

All the above pressures have forced Indonesian archaeologists to reconsider their position as heritage managers. The last decade has witnessed an increasing implementation of public archaeology. Now Archaeological Offices all over Indonesia regularly involve communities in their programs. To accommodate greater public participation in heritage and political decentralisation, the government issued a new regulation in 2010, the Cultural Heritage Protection law. This new regulation legalises the use of cultural heritage for religious, social, educational, scientific, technological, cultural, and tourism activities, stipulating bottom-up processes for the registration and nomination of heritage from the district level up to the national level. In addition, every district or province has the right to draft and employ their local heritage regulations. In many districts, heritage policy has been prepared by interdisciplinary scholars as there are not enough archaeologists to assist with all the local heritage policies. Heritage policy, and Indonesian archaeology in particular, is still making the journey from “serving the state” to “serving the public”.  

Daud Aris Tanudirjo ( is an archeologist (PhD. ANU, 2001), and senior lecturer in the Faculty of Humanities, Gajah Mada University. He is a contributor for many Indonesia and international scientific journals, and author of ‘Changing Perspectives on the Relationship Between Heritage, Landscape and Local Communities: A Lesson from Borobudur’ in Transcending the Culture-Nature Divide in Cultural Heritage: Views from Asia Pacific Region (Brockwell, 2013, Terra Australis Series). 

Inside Indonesia 125: Jul-Sep 2016{jcomments on}

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