Sat, 03 Jun 2000

Once prestigious Stovia building revisited

By Ida Indawati Khouw

In commemoration with the recent May 21 National Awakening Day, the following 41st article of a weekly series on historical protected sites in the capital focuses on the Stovia building, a key component in the creation of Awakening Day.

JAKARTA (JP): In the old days, it was a big and prestigious name.

Dubbed as the first vocational school built by the Dutch colonial government 101 years ago, the School tot Opleiding van Inlandsche Artsen (Vocational School of Medicine for Indigenous Doctors) building was the ambition of so many youths at the time.

It was no surprise that its graduates always boasted of being a member of the Stovia alumni.

One of its graduates is Dr. Soetomo, the founder of the Boedi Oetomo (utmost endeavor) movement, which has been called a pioneer of the national movement in the country.

Most of today's medical students, of course, recognize the well-known name of Stovia and the monumental history of the Boedi Oetomo movement, founded on May 28, 1908, at the Stovia building.

But there are many who have no idea of the location of the medical school.

Medical students of the University of Indonesia, for example, might realize that Stovia was the origin of their current school, but most will not know the exact whereabouts of the old school, which is not far from their Salemba campus.

"Some students only acknowledge that the school was a part of history as it was widely known as the birthplace of the Boedi Oetomo movement," said Firman Lubis, the lecturer of the UI's school of medicine.

Citizens honor the Stovia building simply because it was repeatedly used as the place to plan the national struggle against Dutch colonialism.

After being neglected for so many years, the vast fort-like building has received massive restoration by the Indonesian government since 1974.

Since then, the building on Jl. Abdul Rahman Saleh in Central Jakarta has been used as the National Awakening Museum, displaying a collection of portraits of the movement and its figures during the period of struggle.

Interestingly, the former Stovia medical school complex which stood near the former Hospitaalweg street in the city's prestigious area of Weltevreden, surrounding the Lapangan Banteng and Gambir areas, has received no significant changes thus far.

At the front of the huge white building complex is a long row of high windows with a sole rounded entrance corridor.

It occupies most of the area along Jl. Abdul Rahman Saleh just next to the Gatot Subroto Hospital.

Standing on a 15,742-square-meter plot of land, the complex is made up of classrooms built around a courtyard, which has a teachers' room and an area for playing sports.

Initially, the place was built for students of the School for Javanese (medical) Doctors, which at that time occupied a place at the Weltevreden Military Hospital, now the Gatot Subroto Hospital located on the same street.

Sources said the colonial authorities built Stovia in a bid to meet the growing needs of medical experts following a report of outbreaks of various dangerous diseases in the Central Java town of Banyumas in 1847.

According to a book titled Gedung Stovia Sebagai Cagar Sejarah (Stovia Building as Historical Heritage), the Dutch government recruited youths, who were at least 16 years old, to be trained as vaccinators to meet the growing need for medical clerks.

"Thirty (recruited) Javanese youths were trained at the military hospital for free ... The youths were selected from good and courteous families and fluent in the Malay language," the book said.

Beginning January 1851, the selected students started taking a two-year course at the military school under the name of Sekolah Dokter Java (School for Javanese Doctors).

The quality of the education at the school was constantly being upgraded. In the end, the material was not only related to "clerical" technics, but contained more knowledge on medical science, while the length of study was later lengthened to six years.

"In 1900, its name was changed to Stovia at the time when it had reached full academical status," said Savitri Prastiti Scherer in her book titled Keselarasan dan Kejanggalan Pemikiran-Pemikiran Priayi Nationalis Jawa Awal Abad XX.

The school was later moved to the new complex, the Stovia building, built by the military. The cost of construction totaled 178,000 gilders in 1902.

The Stovia complex reached popularity after the students initiated the establishment of the Boedi Oetomo movement on May 20, 1908.

The movement's pioneer, Soetomo, was even named as a national hero for his outstanding role in the movement.

But why was such a movement, which had the main goal of supporting a significant improvement in Java and Madura, pioneered by medical school students who mostly studied sciences?

According to Savitri, the Stovia students at the time belonged to subordinate priyayi (nonaristocratic Javanese upper class).

There is also a similar opinion at the time that Stovia, a free school, was aimed mostly for the underprivileged.

The status of the school's students and graduates was never established within the prominent Javanese social structure but, unlike other professions at the time, they were economically independent from Dutch colonial offices because they could earn money for themselves.

"So it was natural for the students to have social reform," Savitri said.

The former vice president, the late Mohammad Hatta, wrote in his paper Pergerakan Nasional 50 tahun (50th Anniversary of the National Movement), Boedi Oetomo did not actually meet the requirements to be regarded as a national movement because of its regionalism.

"But the feeling of nationalism was seen in him (Soetomo), the Javanese nationalism ... (the movement) initiating the national movement which appeared in 1912 and 1913," said the paper which was published at the (then) Star Weekly magazine in 1958.

But other sources hinted that the students were initially influenced by the thought of (national hero) Wahidin Soedirohoesodo, the school's alumnus who had a desire to improve Javanese life through raising funds for students known as studiefonds.

The Boedi Oetomo movement was initiated during a secret meeting in a classroom at Stovia chaired by Soetomo on May 20, 1908.

The new organization immediately received strong support from students in other areas in Java, such as Bogor, Bandung, Semarang, Magelang and Yogyakarta, sources said.

Stovia occupied the complex until 1920 before being moved to the present site of the Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital.

Since then, the building's function has been changed many times, including serving as a Dutch senior high school, a jail for military prisoners during the Japanese occupation and as a detention center for illegal transmigrants.