Museum Taman Prasasti: A Little Known Historical Pearl

Museum Taman Prasasti: A Little Known Historical Pearl

A few weeks ago I decided to go to the Museum Taman Prasasti on a whim. Little did I know that this turned out to become one of my favorite museums in Jakarta. Prior to this visit, I had no expectations of this museum, but afterwards I found it very fascinating.

The Museum Taman Prasasti is located in the center of Jakarta and a few hundred meters away from the Monas (Monumen Nasional). In fact, it is situated behind the Museum Nasional or Museum Gajah, a museum that I had visited a few months ago. The entrance price at Taman Prasasti was very modest, maybe IDR 5,000 or 10,000.

What sets the Museum Taman Prasasti apart from many others in Jakarta is its outdoor and open-air location. There is a reason for this, because for the most part this is an old cemetery. This museum houses many cultural heritage relics dating from hundreds of years ago when the Dutch colonized parts of the country what we now know as Indonesia. Many objects and relics of this museum are in fact related to the afterlife: tombstones, gravestones, angels, statues, and all kinds of tomb related objects could be found here. There is also an old hearse on the premises.

The cemetery at which Museum Taman Prasasti is located was built in 1795 as a replacement of another cemetery at the Nieuw Hollandsche Kerk, which was located in Kota Tua next to the building where the Museum Wayang is now housed. The older cemetery was full so a new place was needed.

The Museum Taman Prasasti is the final resting place of many people including several important historical figures, among which are: A.V. Michiels (a Dutch general-major that played a role during the Dutch-Bali wars), Olivia Marianne Raffles (who was the wife of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles), and Soe Hok Gie (an important activist during the student movement of the 1960s in Indonesia).

I think a lot of my enjoyment and fascination of this museum had to do with the fact that I could read the Dutch inscriptions on the tombstones. I understand the experience of the Museum Taman Prasasti would be a little bit different if you had no idea what the tombstones described. I was surprised how humorous and funny some of the texts on these graves were. People from the 18th century definitely had a sense of humor!

Here are several of the tombstones found in the cemetery. I’ve tried my hand at translating them in English where needed.

While exploring the museum, I stumbled upon the tomb of a certain indivual named Dr. John Casper Leyden M.D. and I was very impressed by the description of the man on his tomb. Afterwards I researched him and it turned out this was one fascinating man although so little was known of him. He was a doctor, minister, judge, poet, and expert linguist known to have mastered at least 21 languages, while being familiar with 34. He was a friend of Sir Walter Scott (author of several classic novels such as Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, and The Lady of the Lake), and Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore and the Lieutenant-Governor of British Java. Leyden had travelled through Asia, documenting the culture, customs, and languages of the people, until he unfortunately passed away due to a fever shortly after arriving in Batavia. When Raffles’ wife Olivia passed away she was buried next to Leyden in a cemetery in Jakarta. Raffles was good friends with him and mentioned him in his introduction to his own book The History of Java, a book from the early 19th century:

“Most sincerely and deeply do I regret, that this task did not fall into hands more able to do it justice. There was one (Dr. J. C. Leyden, the bard of Tiviotdale, who accompanied the expedition to Batavia in 1811, and expired in my arms a few days after the landing of the troops), dear to me in private friendship and esteem, who, had he lived, was of all men best calculated to have supplied those deficiencies which will be apparent in the very imperfect work now presented to the Public. From his profound acquaintance with eastern languages and Indian history, from the unceasing activity of his great talents, his other prodigious acquirements, his extensive views, and his confident hope of illustrating national migrations from the scenes which he was approaching, much might have been expected; but just as he reached those shores on which he hoped to slake his ardent thirst for knowledge, he fell a victim to excessive exertion, deeply deplored by all, and by none more truly than myself.”

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles F.R.S., The History of Java (1817), Page 8

The park was very quiet when I was there. There were only a handful of other people and they were more pre-occupied with a photo shoot than the old objects. So, there was a lot of time and quietness to absorb the historical atmosphere.

While I very much enjoyed the Museum Taman Prasasti, I do think there is some room for improvement. The management could, for example, create a map with all the tombs’ locations and mark them. This makes it easier for visitors to look for certain tombs or people. Also, I think there could be more context about the tombs in the park, perhaps little signs describing burial related information (if there is any). Finally, I think the park could use more supervision and maintenance, as there was trash scattered about in particular places and several tombs were vandalized with scratches and graffiti. I really think this museum has a lot of potential, but until now nobody really takes advantage of this.

Generally, I think history fans might quite enjoy the Museum Taman Prasasti. It has some interesting objects and it’s cheap and quite quiet for most of the time. If you visit the Museum Nasional, you might as well make a stop at this one, as it is so close by.

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