The Indonesian Heritage Society (IHS) is a non profit organization, established 51 years ago.  It was initiated by an enthusiastic core of 17 local and expat members of the community. The hard work and commitment of its volunteers over the years allows the organisation to grow and thrive until today.  

Primarily, IHS provides support to major cultural institutions, such as Museum Nasional, Museum Seni, Galery Nasional and other educational institutions, in Indonesia and overseas. We offer multi-lingual Museum Tours, translations, promotions, workshops and other ad hoc assistance. For in-house activities, we organize lectures, discussions, research and publications. Pre-pandemic IHS organized heritage tours around Indonesia.

IHS as a cultural hub is also a source of learning. With volunteers coming from different national backgrounds and professions make it a microscopic presentation of a united nations. Our network of nationalities includes more than at least 15 countries of origin together with the host country Indonesia. They contribute to our ability, providing multi lingual publications, tour guiding and widen our scope of resources

Indonesia has a vast wealth of cultural heritage.  Its ancient literature articulates glorious periods of Hinduism and Buddhism to the Islamic Kingdoms. Its architectural style,  the Mandala form of the Borobudur temple, the largest Buddhist temple, and Unesco Heritage Site, to the Astronesian style houses make fascinating subject matters.

The country is also enriched with abundant natural wealth.  Our spices reached the beautiful city of Venice and our islands were important international trading centres, way back to the time of the Sriwijaya Kingdom in the 6th century, possibly earlier.  The value of nutmeg, as good as gold then, precipitated the exchange of the Dutch colony called New Amsterdam, now known as New York, with Banda Island on July 31, 1667.  Banda at that time held the monopoly of this spice.  The story of Indonesia’s colonization and exploitation was in place and lasted 300 years, until the proclamation of the nation’s independence in 1945.

As one of the most ethnically diverse countries, Indonesia is a cultural mosaic. It is enriched with 1300 ethnic groups and about 700 ethnic languages. Each group has developed its own rites of passage and whole hosts of symbolic meanings underlying the design and form of its textiles, treasures, statues, dances and culinary riches. These rites of passage mark the milestones in life, birth and death which bring changes in social status. They also function as a means of connecting, sharing aesthetic experience and joy. This is a crucial cultural and social bonding as Indonesia, the world’s 4th largest archipelago, is spread over 17,000 islands. These rites of passage are akin to a living museum and represent the social archives of the people

IHS Study groups cover expansive heritage points of interests, ranging from early history to the present day.  These include Arthur Wallace, Textile, Hindu and Budhist statue groups and many more. The IHS Library has a wide collection of books and research papers,  accumulated during the last 50 years which facilitate in-house research.

Since the pandemic, IHS moved their discussions and workshops online, as Museums and other cultural institutions are closed. Enjoying a morning tea chat or baking Christmas cakes online would have been unheard of two years ago. Ironically, going virtual has expanded our reach for presenters and audience. Being a borderless community enables us to engage with speakers from far flung countries, which otherwise would not be feasible, presenting their insights and engaging in noteworthy information exchange.

To mark the important occasion of the return of Prince Diponegoro’s Keris, Kyai Nogo Siluman from Holland, IHS hosted a webinar presented by Ibu Nusi Lisabilla Estudiantin, of the Research and Acquisition Dept. of Museum Nasional.  She was joined by Peter Carey, British historian and author who specialises in the modern history of Indonesia, and Tom Quist, Provenance Researcher on the Indonesian collections of the National Museum of World Cultures, Netherland.

IHS Indonesian literature discussions have never been so animated as participants from Australia, Japan, France, Singapore converged in discussions on Indonesian authors and their oeuvres with participants in Jakarta and elsewhere.  Indeed, the book discussions became a feast of discourse and a lively forum for self-expression.

It is amazing that we also learnt that Indonesia used to harvest 7000 different types of rice. This was discussed in one of the Night Study Group virtual events, presented by Mei Batubara of Nusa Gastronomy Foundation and Bibong Widyarti from Slow Food Convivium. From Singapore we had Nonya Belinda Boey, docent guiding of the Peranakan Museum Singapore who traced the fusion of Chinese culture with the local customs and traditions. This fascinating study group is one of the agendas that will be held continuously by IHS.

When friends of IHS return to their home countries, they bring back with them their appreciation of Indonesia’s rich cultural values and acquired local wisdoms. These are intangible assets that will regenerate interests in our cultural heritage.  Recently our Japanese IHS friends in Tokyo were invited to take part in the Machida City event as part of the city’s role in hosting the Indonesia Olympic Paralympic athletes. In collaboration with the Indonesian Embassy in Tokyo, they set up an Indonesia booth showcasing posters and cultural objects. 

In the coming year of 2021-2022, IHS will resume the traditional activities online and add many more.  There will be opportunities for volunteers to do more in-depth research with access to Geographic Information System (GIS).  Volunteers will be trained and mentored on this new high-tech system and can publish their research online.  IHS will have more workshops, one of the new ones will be an Indonesian language coffee chat.

IHS activities are created and executed by the volunteers. For IHS to continue thriving and growing to support Indonesia’s cultural institutions, new ideas are always welcomed, new approaches and topics to keep abreast with changes including technology. More than ever, now is the time to act and stay connected with our heritage.

On the 16th of September, IHS will have their traditional “Selamat Datang” event online to welcome new friends and the beginning of IHS 52nd year.

IHS is looking forward to see you there and for you to stay connected through History, Art and Culture with the Indonesian Heritage Society.

Written by: Anya Robertson, President of Indonesian Heritage Society