Thu, 29 May 2003

Candra Naya, test of commitment to preservation

Tantri Yuliandini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Even now, straddled by a monstrous, unfinished, concrete and steel structure and stripped of all its splendor, the Candra Naya Chinese mansion on Jl. Gajah Mada, West Jakarta, still looks majestic.

Two buildings, one in front of the other, with their distinctive "swallow's tail" roof are what remain of the once extensive and imposing mansion. There wasn't even the excuse of war, but like most other traces of early culture in Indonesia, this may also disappear from the place it has stood for the last two centuries.

"Items of cultural property are important resources of the national culture, related to the understanding and promotion of history, science, and culture that require protection, preservation and conservation for the fulfilling of an understanding of national identity and the national interest," Law No. 5/1992 concerning Items of Cultural Property stipulates. Yet in many cases the national interest is defined in economic terms and national identity is forced to take a backseat.

So where do we draw the line between progress and the preservation of our cultural past? The question has been pestering experts for years, torn between economic necessity and national pride.

"If it was the only one in existence. If it is rare, unique, and special," senior archaeologist from the University of Indonesia, Mundardjito, said when asked what historical buildings should be preserved.

If those are the requirements then Candra Naya perfectly fits the bill.

Constructed sometime in the 19th century by the affluent and influential Khouw family, Candra Naya is considered the city's biggest and most complete building in the Chinese architectural style. It is also the only one, as two other mansions -- built by the same family -- were demolished long ago.

According to research by Irma Hastuti from the University of Indonesia's School of Archaeology, the earlier inhabitant of the mansion was businessman Khouw Tjeng Tjoan, who lived in the 100- room mansion with his 14 wives and 24 children.

Candra Naya then was an extensive 67-meter by 43-meter building with a courtyard in the middle, all standing on 1.5 hectares of land. Following the traditional Chinese architectural style, the back building was where the head of the family lived, the buildings on each side of the courtyard housed the children.

The mansion's most famous resident was Khouw Kim An (1897- 1945) -- a prominent businessman and banker -- who became a majoor (major), or the highest ranking Chinese leader in the Dutch East Indies.

The book The Chinese Captain of Batavia 1837-1942 said that Batavia had only five majors, of which Khouw Kim An was one between 1910 and 1918, and reappointed between 1927 and 1942.

After Khouw's death in 1945, the mansion became headquarters for the Sin Ming Hui (New Light Foundation), a Chinese social organization that provided health care and education, as well as supported sports and photography clubs. The foundation was later renamed Candra Naya, and the headquarters became Candra Naya Building.

During the war for independence, the mansion became witness to the establishment of the Pao An Tui, an organization to ensure the protection and safety of the Chinese in Indonesia during the war.

Cultural expert, Wastu Pragantha Zhong, in an earlier interview said that Candra Naya founded the Sumber Waras Hospital in West Jakarta and Tarumanagara University.

"The university's school of architecture, law, economics, and English were initially located at the mansion," he said.

Candra Naya Building also played an important part in grooming the glory of Indonesian badminton history as it housed the first tournament ever organized by the Badminton Association of Indonesia (PBSI) in 1955.

Among the shuttlers were Ferry Sonneville, Eddy Yusuf, and Tan Joe Hok, who all went on to win the first Thomas Cup team's championship for Indonesia in 1957.

Irma said the building became the headquarters for the Indonesian Student Action Front (KAMI) during the upheaval following the aborted coup in 1965, blamed by most Indonesians on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), and became the site for raising money for financing the city's development during the governorship of Ali Sadikin (1966-1977).

Architecturally, Candra Naya is also special. Blending traditional Chinese values in architecture with the practicality of the Indisch style of architecture, a reflection of the melting pot of Batavia society.

"It has many non-Chinese touches not found in pure Chinese architecture," heritage observer David Kwa said, citing the window shutters and window bars, marble floor, glass skylight, ironwork ornamentation, which are obviously Indisch-style architecture.

The uniqueness of Candra Naya earned it protected building and cultural property status from the Dutch in its Monumenten Ordonantie Stb. 238/1931, the Republic of Indonesia's Minister of Education and Culture edict no. 0128/M/1988, and Jakarta Governor's decree no. Cb.11/1/12/1972 and no. 475/1993.

It was further protected under Law no. 5/1992 concerning Items of Cultural Property and Government Regulation no. 10/1993 on implementation of law no. 5/1992.

So why is Candra Naya's existence still questioned? The laws protecting it should ensure the building is preserved and utilized for the advancement of the national culture of Indonesia.

However, Law no. 5/1992 also stipulates that "without permission from the Government, each and every person is prohibited from taking away or removing items of cultural property either in part or whole, except in case of emergency". Well, the government could be persuaded could it not?

The government had already allowed the current owner -- the Modern Group, owned by business tycoon Hartono Samadikun who bought the property in 1992 -- to build a hotel and apartment block on the property to generate income for the maintenance of Candra Naya.

According to Wisnu Murti Ardjo, Chairman of the Jakarta Administration's Advisory Team for Cultural Heritage, the government has also given in to demands that the back building be torn down to make way for a 24-floor apartment, and the side buildings be dismantled temporarily to construct the foundations of a walkway connecting the apartment and the hotel which was to be constructed in front of Candra Naya.

And so what was left of the historic Candra Naya building would stand inside a "cave" of glass, steel, and concrete. Wisnu said this was acceptable at the time because of Soeharto's regulations against the preservation of Chinese culture in Indonesia.

"That in itself was all wrong," Mundardjito said. "In principle, a cultural property should never be changed out of its context, its authenticity in space, and neither could its workmanship be modified."

The economic crisis in 1998, however, halted all construction and the Modern Group fell into the hands of the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency (IBRA).

New investors for the property refused to have Candra Naya as part of its business development, and hence Modern Group's proposal -- together with the Indonesian Chinese Social Organization (PSMTI) - to move the building to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII).

Strong protests ensued from the architectural, archaeological, and heritage communities, as well as from the people living around Candra Naya.

"On behalf of the Chinese community living around Candra Naya, we reject the proposal that the building be moved to TMII. As who will maintain the upkeep of the building? We will campaign for it," Virja Surja Tonowidjaja, a community leader, said.

They, together with the city administration's advisory team and other relevant government institutions, have submitted their rejection of the proposal together with recommendations to Governor Sutiyoso.

"One is for the governor to appeal to IBRA to give special priority for the maintenance of Candra Naya while the process of the Modern Group's assets goes on," Wisnu said.

Candra Naya's future hangs on how much importance the government is willing to put on the preservation of its cultural history.