Jakarta’s National Museum is a fascinating place to learn about Indonesia and if the nation’s capital is your first port of call in the archipelago, you should consider it a must see.
Often referred to as “Gedung Gajah” (elephant building) thanks to the statuary out front, Indonesia’s National Museum was officially opened in its current form in 1868. The museum, like the country, has changed over the years including a new wing added in 2007, also, somewhat like the country, it has had a number of priceless artefacts stolen, most recently when four items “went missing”. Nevertheless plenty remains on site with the total collection exceeding 140,000 items, making this one of the largest museums in Southeast Asia.
The museum displays exhibits from right across the archipelago and includes items from Indonesia’s pre-history through to pieces from the Dutch colonial period. The selection of religious statues on display are particularly interesting and provide some background to the history of many other locations that tourists may find themselves in during the course of their visit to Indonesia.
As you wander through the ground floor, the main displays are regional, so Bali is but a stroll from Tana Toraja or Java. A lawn courtyard area displays some impressive Hindu-Buddhist sculptures with a magnificent four-metre specimen from West Sumatra stealing the show. We also liked the large map that depicts many of Indonesia’s ethnic groups which was prepared for an exhibition in Europe to better explain to European onlookers the cultural make-up of the country.
Another highlight is the treasure room (unfortunately closed for maintenance on our most recent pass through the museum). Much sourced from Java, the display includes the famous Wonoboyo hoard — one of Indonesia’s most significant archaeological finds. In 1990, farmers in Wonoboyo, Central Java were digging an irrigation drain when they unearthed a collection of ceramic jars holding more than 15 kilograms of loot believed to date back to the 10th century. Happy days!