Sat, 23 Aug 2003

Museum to revive historic epic of Untung Surapati

Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The 400-year-old Stadhuis or City Hall of old Batavia will invoke its colorful history on Sunday by hosting a play based on the true epic of Untung Surapati who was once imprisoned in the building, now known as the Jakarta Historical Museum or Fatahillah Museum in West Jakarta.

The play Oentoeng: Sebuah Rekonstruksi Sejarah (Oentoeng: An Historical Reconstruction) is another brain wave of museum head Tinia Budiarti to attract more people to visit the site. The museum recently staged a fun bike ride and night tours.

Tinia Budiarti, head of the museum, said that the event was staged to offer something different to the public.

"We are hoping that this could be perceived as an interesting alternative for museum visitors," she said.

Oentoeng will be the second play at the museum after it successfully staged Batavia 1629 last year.

The play will start at 10 a.m. on Sunday and will be staged in several areas of the museum based on four acts. Visitors only need to pay an entrance fee of Rp 2,000 (24 U.S. cents) each to enjoy the play.

Untung Surapati was known for his heroism in fighting the Dutch colonialist rulers. The son of a Balinese nobleman, he was kidnapped and sold as a slave at the age of eight to a Dutch family. The family treated him well, and he eventually fell in love with the daughter Suzanna. His master, Captain Pieter Knoll, was enraged and sent Untung to jail. Meanwhile, Suzanna was sent to the Netherlands, with Untung's child in her womb.

In jail, Untung learnt of the cruelty of Dutch colonialists toward his fellow countrymen, which inspired him to fight against the Dutch after breaking out of prison.

Actually, the museum related the romantic epic, albeit in a different way, in a night tour earlier this month, which was quite solemn as it was told by Father Adolf Heuken, a prominent Jakarta historian.

In the tour some 60 journalists listened to every word that flowed from the clergyman, who told the tales behind the historical spots and collections in the museum, in particular stories of public executions using swords, the guillotine and the gallows that were held in the town square.

During the night tour, the museum switched off most of the lights to create the appropriate atmosphere. No flash was allowed in taking pictures.

Heuken also straightened out history by showing the crowd the water prison under the front steps, and said that it was actually used to imprison student activists in the mid 1960s.

Upstairs, still in darkness, the crowd was escorted to see three panels of 17th century paintings of the Three Judgments and a collection of portraits of the former colonial rulers.

In the next room the sword of justice that was used for public executions was on display. Although it was sealed and seemed quite old, the sword somehow brought a chill to the spectator's necks.

Despite the success of the fun bike ride and night tours and a another possible success through theatrical performances, Tinia was not sure when the museum would hold another major event.

Nevertheless, the museum is considering holding a play based on the heroic epic of Prince Diponegoro.

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