From The Jakarta Globe:
It was a sunny morning and a group of European tourists can be seen walking in front of Malang, East Java’s main Cathedral Church, located near the city’s historic street Jalan Ijen – dotted by centuries-old houses and buildings built during the Dutch colonial period and the early years of Indonesian independence.
One by one, the tourists pulled out their digital cameras, pointing the lenses at the buildings’ unique facades, which have become an important tool in the city’s success to achieve national heritage status.
“There’s 19 of us, all from the Netherlands,” says Paul Vasseur, who hails from the Dutch town Hoofddorp. “We are staying for three nights in Malang. After that, we will continue the tour to Sukamade Beach in Banyuwangi.”
Vasseur, who is in his 50s, said that one of his uncles used to live in Malang in the 1960s. At the time, he used to visit him and go to Malang whenever he traveled to Indonesia as a boy.
“My other friend was also born and raised here. We returned to Malang to reminisce the
old days. One of my friends came to dispose the ashes of his parents who used to work in Jember [a short drive from Malang] and the other wants to see his childhood home in Malang,” he said in Indonesian.
Vasseur then pointed his finger at one of the residential buildings across the street. The colonial-style house has many windows on the front with a high roof typical of old buildings such as this. “That’s my friend’s childhood house. The house was built by his parents,” he said.
The home sits across from the church, built in 1934 to serve as a landmark for Jalan Ijen, at the time Malang’s poshest area that was occupied by wealthy Dutch merchants and government officials.
At the dawn of the 20th century, Malang transformed itself from a small port town into a booming industrial city, and Dutch architect Thomas Karsten was responsible for that change – bringing chaos into order through careful city planning and designing almost all of Malang’s buildings in just 40 years.
But much of Karsten’s legacy failed to survive, giving way to progress and the need for modern shopping centers and housing. Even along Jalan Ijen, some buildings have begun to crumble through years of neglect, while the nearby traditional market was destroyed to make way for offices and business centers.
And just like Karsten a century earlier, one man may hold the key to the heritage’s survival.
“I began to realize it 15 years ago,” said Dwi Cahyono, 49, about the city’s vanishing historic buildings. “It is important to improve and develop the city without destroying history.”
Dwi said that he had spent around Rp 10 billion ($1 million) of his own money to pursue his dream, knocking door after door to convince Malang officials to support an annual event he initiated 10 years ago, Festival Malang Tempo Doeloe.
This year, the festival provided tourists and locals a glimpse of the past by decorating modern buildings to represent what once stood in their place, be it a rice field overrun with chicken and ducks or a long-gone cinema complex.
Dwi, who now heads the East Java tourism promotion agency, also reorganized the city’s street vendors and introduced a curriculum on heritage preservations at local schools. But his biggest achievement, he said, was building the Malang Tempo Doeloe Museum, which opened last year.
To build the museum, he said he had to do 14 years of research to track down and rescue some 72 different artifacts, some as old as 600 years, scattered throughout Malang.
Even the museum itself is a success story at preserving Malang’s history. It occupies an old 1,000-square meter property that he salvaged and renovated to host a collection of artifacts, which tells the history of the city.
To finance his effort to save the city’s history, he opened his own restaurant, Inggil, which is decorated by framed old newspapers that were once published in Malang, as well as traditional dance masks unique to the city. The restaurant also hosts some of the properties and decorations he uses every year for the festival.
Ida Ayu Made Wahyu, Malang’s tourism and culture chief, realized that preserving historical buildings is key to harnessing the city’s tourism potentials and even acknowledged that the government plays a large part in the bid to save the city’s history. But Ida said there is little her office could do about it.
“With [heritage buildings] being more than 50 years old, some are damaged. Ijen area has been named as a heritage area. There should not be any offices or manufacturing industry there. The houses should also not be transformed [into new buildings] but restored [to original shape],” she said.
“We don’t know exactly why those kinds of permit [to rebuild or demolish old buildings] are issued. It is the authority of the Public Works Agency.”
In the early 20th century, Karsten built more than 90 houses along Jalan Ijen but only a few survived or are still in their original colonial-style architecture. The condition threatens Malang’s burgeoning tourism industry with Dutch tourists like Vasseur, who wish to walk down memory lane and expect a well-preserved city that makes up half of the 25,000 foreign tourists who visit each year.
Henry Helios, who runs a backpacker lodging in Malang, said he caters mostly to Dutch tourists, while other nationalities only make up around 30%. Local tourists make up just 20%, he said.
“Visitors love to stroll the Splendid Flower Market and Chinese temple in Chinatown,” he said, adding that Malang should also hold more cultural events.
“Normally, they only stay for one night before heading out to [Mount] Bromo, [Mount] Semeru, or Bali. But if there is an interesting event in the city, they can stay for up to three weeks in Malang,” he added.
Dwi’s many efforts to save the city’s history started to bear fruit in 2011, when he spearheaded the establishment of the Jati Daya Community, a group of volunteers who helped repaint old buildings in Kayutangan, another historical area.
“I sent e-mails to about 500 people I know, containing an invitation to participate in the cause. And that day 1,500 people came,” he said.
The event also attracted the attention of former tourism minister I Gede Ardika, who now runs the Indonesian Heritage Trust. Ardika “came and pushed me to list [Malang] as a heritage city,” he said.
That year, he enrolled Malang to the International National Trust Organization, a global network of National Trusts and similar nongovernmental organizations, to be listed as one of Unesco’s World Heritage Cities, alongside the likes of Singapore and Malaysia’s Penang.
The INTO mandates a city to be listed as a heritage city on the national and regional levels before being considered for World Heritage status.
The group also requires at least 10 years of proven efforts to rescue a city’s historical sites, and Dwi has submitted documents composed mainly of his own work because Malang’s own administration had shown little interest in formulating its own program.
In May, Malang was named as one of two National Heritage Cities in Indonesia, alongside Sawahlunto, West Sumatra.
But to attain World Heritage status, Dwi said everyone must do their part.
“Penang can win the tittle after 18 years of long cooperation between the government, society and investors,” he said. “If we are successful, [Malang] can be like Singapore. [Singapore] is neat, clean and had become the destination for many visitors around the world. Economic growth would definitely also follow.”