Indonesia is one of the biggest countries in the world, in terms of size as well as in terms of population. The history of the country, which was influenced by Asian and European streams alike, is rich and interesting. The National Museum in Jakarta gives a good insight on the history and the culture of the country that is not only big, but also very heterogeneous.
More than 17.000 islands, more than 100.000 different languages. Indonesia is a state like none other. The biggest state in South-East-Asia has approximately 240 million inhabitants spread among 1.9 million square kilometers.
Not surprisingly, the history and the culture of the country are very rich. Both are highlighted by the National Museum in Jakarta that is a hot spot for tourists and locals as well.
Even though culture plays the most important role in the National Museum, a historic classification of events important for Indonesia is useful to understand the country.
Close to 900 years reign of the Srivijaya
The early history of Indonesia plays an important role in the National Museum Jakarta. It was shaped by the reign of the Buddhist Srivijaya that was the deciding power in many parts of the state today known as Indonesia.
By 1400, they lost their power to the Majapahit who reigned the country for another 100 years. After the end of the reign of the Majapahit, no group was able to take over power in the country, so the early “state Indonesia” broke apart.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Indonesia in the 16th century. Even though they conquered some cities and parts of the country, they neither reigned Indonesia as a whole nor did they reunion the islands.
Focus on early history in the National Museum Jakarta
Interesting enough, the National Museum of Indonesia is not focusing on Indonesia in the last years like the one in Malaysia does (see our review here). The big museum in Jakarta is a reservoir of rare goods that played an important role in the early history of the country.
May it be tools or arms, everything that was of importance before the Europeans came to Indonesia plays a crucial role in the National Museum in Jakarta. The difference to the place in Malaysia could not be bigger as latter one focuses on all periods of time, but especially the ear of Colonialism and the 20th century.
British and Dutch struggle for power
Anyway, the National Museum in Jakarta also focuses on the time of Colonialism in some degree. In the early 17th century, the Netherlands established themselves as one of the most important European colonial powers in the South-East-Asian region. In 1602, they took over control in many parts of Indonesia and banished the Portuguese. The British did try their best to gain control over some parts of Indonesia as well, but failed in the power struggle with the Dutch.
Due to that, the Netherlands were able to keep control over Indonesia for more than 200 years. In 1811, they lost control over some islands to the British, but gained back control in 1816. Also, most islands of Indonesia were conquered by the Japanese.
A museum full of national pride
Another interesting point concerning the National Museum is the little focus on the importance of the Europeans for some developments in Indonesia. Even though the cruel rule of the Netherlands was nothing positive at all, many important steps in the development of industry and agriculture were made with the help of the colonial power.
While the Malay National Museum did recognize the positive influence of the British colonial power, European countries do not play an important role in the National Museum in Jakarta – the focus definitely is on the culture of the Indonesian people.
National Museum for everyone interested in culture
So, should you visit the National Museum in Jakarta? Definitely! The museum gives a nice overview about the Indonesian culture and helps to understand the heterogeneity of this huge country. Anyway, I am of the opinion that the National Museum Jakarta falls short in history.
While the National Museum of Malaysia gives a good overview about the country in the 19th and 20th century, the National Museum Jakarta does only focus on earlier times. All historic items in the museum are fascinating nevertheless, but be aware that you won’t learn too much about history – the museum is a cultural one.