Monarchies in the Republic of Indonesia

Darul Aqsha

Indonesia is the largest archipelagic country in the world located in the equator of the Southeast Asia region, situated between Asia and Australia continent and between the Pacific and Indian Ocean.

With an area of 1,904,569 sq km wide with 17,508 islands and population of 237,641,326 (2010), the country is also known for its vast cultural and religious diversity with around 485 ethnic groups bearing their own 583 languages. But they speak Bahasa Indonesia as linguafranca, have six official religions (and tens of local beliefs) and more than 200 monarchies as well.

An ancient inscription during the era of Hindu Kingdom of Kutai Martadipura

Monarchies in the country can be traced back to the 4th century where some artifacts and historical sites indicated the existence of the Hindu kingdoms: Kutai Martadipura (350-400) in East Kalimantan (Borneo) and Tarumanegara (358-669) in West Java. It was then followed by the emergence of the Buddhist kingdom, the Hindu-Buddhist kingdom and the Islamic sultanates. Some of the monarchies still survive in the country up until today but mostly only as a symbol of culture and traditions.

A Hindu temple in the ancient kingdom compound of Kutai Martadipura

Last June, residents of the Indonesian city of Bandung in West Java witnessed some monarchs with their families walking along Jalan Asia-Afrika from Savoy Hotmann Hotel to Gedung Merdeka. They marched following in the foot steps of Asian and African leaders who convened at the historical building during the First Asia-Africa Conference 56 years ago. A cultural exhibition was also held in the building which is now used as a museum. Both of the programmes were highlights of the second national friendship meeting of the monarchs. The first national meeting was held at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta, 2009.

A number of 220 sultans and kings from all over the country from Aceh on the western tip of Sumatra island to Papua on the eastern tip of the country met at the six-day meeting. They came to the city with their consorts and 80 crown princes. The dignitaries from neighbourhood countries also attended as the observers at the meeting such as Sultan Sulu of the Philippines, Sultan Kebantenan of Sri Lanka and Dutch royalties.

Opening the meeting, Indonesia’s Vice President Boediono said that kings and sultans in the archipelago are the guardians of the country’s cultures and customs and traditions, hoping that they are able to unify the plural cultures and customs in the present democratic system in Indonesia. “As a cultural and plural country, the diversity will keep together with us and becomes our characteristic, blessing and strength,” he said.

Finally, the monarchs issued seven recommendations.

Among those were that they hoped that the recommendations could be a foundation for the partnership between the kingdoms and sultanates and the Indonesian government. They also wanted to keep the national motto “Unity in Diversity”, bearing mutual respect among different ethnic groups, cultures and religions as well as to keep friendship among the kings and sultans.

In addition, they asked the government to protect all of the citizens and motherland, including their customs and traditions as the nation’s characteristic. As a part of the nation, they also pledged to improve their cultures. “Palaces as the cultural centres will be driven to be the regional economic centres, by managing them as the tourism destinations and traditional handicraft industries,” Sultan Sepuh IV PRA Arief Natadiningat of the Sultanate of Kasepuhan Cirebon said, representing the monarchs.

According to Minister of Culture Jero Wacik, so far only 20 per cent of 220 kingdoms and sultanates in Indonesia have become tourist destinations, including the Palaces of Surakarta and Yogyakarta, while “the rest are neglected and lack of attention from the government”. He urged travel agencies and regional authorities to give attention to their historical sites in order to lure the tourists’ interest.

Mudaffar Sjah, Sultan of Ternate Sultanate

Mudaffar Sjah, the 48th Sultan of Ternate Sultanate, justified the minister’s statement. During his research to the Netherlands’s Leiden University in 1980, he found that there were more than 200 sultanates. But, “their conditions today were sorrowful, only 50 of them still exist, meaning that they still have ifkeratonsnf (palaces), but powerless,” Mudaffar told Indopos daily.

Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa of Banten Sultanate

Since the country’s independence 66 years ago, many sultanates and kingdoms in the country were resolved to support and to give their loyalties to the Republic of Indonesia. One of the monarchs who gave their services and contributions was Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX of the Yogyakarta Sultanate in Java.

Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, 1937

Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX was known for his readiness to make his territory as the republic’s capital when Jakarta fell to the Dutch troops’s hand during the period of revolutionary war. The Sultan also was the second Indonesian Vice President (1973-1978) after Mohammad Hatta (1945-1956). On September 5, 1945, Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX and Sri Paku Alam VIII simultaneously declared their stance for the territory of Ngayogyakarto Hadiningrat Sultanate to be integrated into the Republic of Indonesia as a special province.

Another monarch was Sultan Hamid II of the Pontianak Sultanate in West Kalimantan. Despite being sympathetic to the returning Dutch to Indonesia, Sultan Hamid II was known as the designer of the country’s emblem, the `Garuda Pancasila’. It was then adopted as the national coat of arms on February 1, 1950. Meanwhile, Sultan Mudaffar Sjah is known as a veteran politician and legislator.

Mohammad Natsir

Indonesia proclaimed its independence on August 17, 1945, but the Dutch recognised Indonesia’s independence on December 29, 1949 by transferring sovereignty to the United States of the Republic of Indonesia (RIS) as a result of the Round Table Conference in the Hague (August 23 – November 2, 1949). But a year later, the country regained its independence in the form of the Unitary State of Republic Indonesia (NKRI) after Prime Minister Mohammad Natsir of the Islamic party Masyumi issued a `Note of Integration’ on August 17, 1950, thus returned to `Pancasila’ as its state philosophy and the country’s capital returned to Jakarta.

However, some of the monarchies in this democratic country still survive up until today as mentioned by the Minister of Culture and Sultan Ternate, their monarchs live peacefully in their palaces (keratons). Thus, foreign and domestic tourists may be able to visit the palaces both in their intact forms (Surakarta, Yogyakarta, Cirebon, Buton, Pontianak, Ternate, Kutai Kartanegara, Siak, for instance) or their ruined ones (Surosowan and Kaibon, Banten).


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