Searching History behind Tombstones with Indonesia Graveyard
For most of Indonesians, the cemetery is addressed as a spooky place for it is associated with a ghost. On the other side, Indonesia Graveyard is a whole different thing from common Indonesian citizens. They are a group of history enthusiasts who have a great interest in visiting cemeteries to gain more acknowledgement about the past. The group was established in January 2017 and routinely visit cemeteries around Jakarta. During their visit to cemeteries around Jakarta which count about 26,100 graveyards, the members look at each grave and tombstone to learn about it—from designs to backstories of the people who are buried there. The members often take photos of those tombs which have fascinating architecture. Besides, they also talk to the attendants and people living nearby.
People may see these graveyard enthusiasts as a bunch of weird people, but it doesn’t make them stop their dedication. Diella Dachlan, one of the members of Indonesia Graveyard stated that graveyard is a door to figure out the story of people behind the tombstones. There are various kinds of Indonesia cemeteries which serve different architecture based on certain religions or ethnics. The differences also reflect the economic gap of the country, from the luxurious “high class” graveyards like one in San Diego Hills Memorial Park to the cheap “low class” graveyards which have poor maintenance. The co-founder of Indonesia Graveyard, Ruri Hargiyono said that may be a reminder that one day all of us will end up under the earth.
The other co-founder Deni Priya Prasetia died of illness in August. The loss of her co-founder makes it difficult for Ruri to discuss the things they learned together. The two met in September 2016 in a WhatsApp group called Ngopi Jakarta, a coffee-drinking group mostly consists of history enthusiasts. Their first appointment together was on Chinese New Year’s day in January 2017 visiting Tanah Cepe graveyard, the resting place of many Chinese-Indonesians. Shortly after, Ruri and Deni grew a friendship based on attraction to history. Deni taught Ruri about Chinese culture and how to read tombstones at Chinese Cemeteries since he studied Chinese literature.
From 2017 until 2019, the members visited many cemeteries in Jakarta and surrounding cities. They usually visited in a small group at a time. Even though the intensity of visiting pandemic decreases following the pandemic of Covid-19 along 2020, Hargiyono sometimes still go on solo visits to cemeteries.
As the reputation of Indonesia Graveyard has increased, it’s not unusual that sometimes people ask for the group to help to look for certain graves. There once was a New Zealander once sent a photo of a relative’s graveyard showing a street sign in West Jakarta in the back. Hargiyono explained that the group couldn’t find it since the photo was taken on the 1960s or 1970s. It was too old to be found because an old grave is often stacked with a new grave.
Several cemeteries stayed in the members’ memories. For Hargiyono herself, the memorable graveyard for Hargiyono herself is the Mausoleum Oen Giok (OG) Khouw cemetery. There lied Khow, a Chinese-Indonesian (successful) businessman during in 19th and early 20th centuries. The sepulchral monument was built with imported Italian marble. The mausoleum was made as a symbol of love of his wife who died 30 years after his departure.
Some cemeteries stand out in members’ memories. For Hargiyono, it is the Mausoleum Oen Giok (OG) Khouw cemetery, where Khouw, a Chinese-Indonesian businessman successful in the 19th and early 20th centuries during the Dutch colonisation of the country, is buried. The monument is massive and built with imported Italian marble. Unfortunately, it is poorly maintained because they have no descendants to take care of it.
The other favourite site is Museum Taman Prasasti (Museum of Memorial Stone Park). It was built in 1795 as the resting place for the Netherlands. It is the oldest graveyard in Indonesia which has European architecture.
For Dachlan, the most memorable visit was to the grave of Abah Rosidi, one of the survivors of Indonesian tragedy of 1965 as he was regarded to be the member of the communist party, Partai Komunis Indonesia. Following the hoax during presidential election back then in 1965 saying that the communist party was coming back, Abah Rosidi and many others were wrongfully arrested without trial.
Dachlan also shared her experience of visiting Jewish cemetery in North Jakarta and Megamendung cemetery in Bogor where 10 German soldiers who died during World War II were buried. The deaths of some soldiers were natural and some others were related to the war.
Besides, she admires the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery, a resting place for many Indonesian heroes. Dachlan said, “There is always a sense of pride and emotion every time I visit and read the names of the heroes and remember their stories.”
It is common to spot a living community strolling around the graveyard, from houses few metres from graveyards, to stalls selling kinds of stuff to earn money, and people taking naps on graves. Dachlan told the story an elderly (couple) who moved near Tanah Kusir cemetery after their only child fell as the victim of 1998 tragedy. They decided to move for about 10 metres from their child’s grave and sell daily goods in a small stall to live.
Back in the days, Hargiyono and Prasetia used to post the photos of graves they visited on personal Instagram account before they decided to create the official account of Indonesia Graveyard. Hargiyono recalled when the members escorted Prasetia to his resting place, they wandered around the cemetery and discovered a lot of old artefacts as if he was there with them. Prasetia’s wife then followed her husband’s way and became the part of Indonesia Graveyard.