IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 20 | Regions | Southeast Asia


Sumatra Heritage Trust

The Sumatra Heritage Trust aims at preserving, enhancing, and promoting the natural, cultural, and built heritage of the island of Sumatra. Run mainly by young graduates of universities in Medan, the Trust engages in projects ranging from the restoration of Chinese courtyard mansions to the recording of Mandailing indigenous knowledge.


In spite of the current political and economic uncertainties, the heritage conservation movement in Indonesia is picking up some momentum, with Bandung and Yogyakarta being the most active centres. The causes of this surge of interest are several. The government is placing more emphasis on cultural tourism as a foreign exchange-earner, fresh graduates from various fields are joining the conservation movement, and most important of all, the facility of Internet has helped Indonesians to overcome their age-old communciations problem to take part in international networking as well as reaching out to their colleagues across the far-flung archipelago.

A promising newcomer to the field is the Sumatra Heritage Trust, established in early 1998, with the objectives of preserving, conserving, enhancing, and promoting the natural, cultural, and built heritage of the island of Sumatra. Based in Medan, the Trust has already formed chapters in Aceh, Nias, Pekanbaru, Bengkulu, Jambi, and Lampung. It is currently compiling the 'Sumatra Heritage Directory' and organizing a meeting of the Pan-Sumatra Network which includes existing local heritage organizations.

Initiated by local businessmen, professionals, academicians, and activists, the Trust is now run by a few staff members and volunteers consisting mainly of young graduates from the public and private universities in Medan. It is one of the few cultural organizations in Indonesia in which diverse ethnic groups, including members of Medan's Chinese and Indian communties, participate.

The Trust's projects also reflect its broad cultural orientation. It is working to restore the Town Hall designed in 1909 by C. Boon, an architect who worked with the Deli Maatschappij Company for 13 years. It was originally intended for the Javasche Bank, but was rejected by the central board of bank directors and subsequently sold to the Afdeelingstraat van Deli. The local government has promised the Trust the use of the Town Hall, which stands strategically placed on the edge of Medan's central historic open space.

Another conservation project undertaken by the Trust is to restore the Tjong A Fie Mansion, located in the historic core of Medan. The double-storey residence completed in 1900, is laid out in the style of a Chinese courtyard mansion with a gate house. It has European and Art Nouveau design elements such as concrete columns with ornamental capitals, and chandeliers suspended from a decorated ceiling. These elements are juxtaposed with a traditional Chinese ancestral altar, carved and gilded timber screen doors, and colourful cut-and-paste porcelain shard work. The Hakka entrepreneur Tjong A Fie (1860-1921) was a planter, banker, and industrialist and one of the great philantrophists of early Medan. He and his elder brother, Tjong Yong Hian, were business partners and relations of the even greater tycoon Cheong Fatt Tze, who had a Chinese courtyard mansion built in a similar style in Penang.

The Trust seeks to collaborate with international as well as Indonesian scholars studying the diverse ethnic groups in Sumatra. Its advisor on Malay matters is Tengku Lukman Sinar, a prolific writer on Malay history and culture. Its Mandailing advisor is Drs Z. Pangaduan Lubis, an anthropologist who has helped revived the Gordang Sambilan (the nine great drums), and travelled through the countryside collecting Mandailing folklore and indigenous knowledge on customary governance. Recently, the Trust's Mandailing Information Centre was awarded a small grant by the World Bank to conduct a survey of built heritage in three habitats in Mandailing, in co-operation with the Architecture Department of North Sumatra University (USU) and a vernacular architecture group called SEMAI.

Following an extensive write-up about the Trust in the Dutch newspaper the 'Volkskrant' in January 1999, the Friends of Sumatra Heritage Trust was established in the Netherlands. The Trust sent a delegation to the 2nd International Seminar on 'European Architecture Outside Europe: Conservation & Development of Heritage Tourism', which was held in Malacca, Malaysia, in November, 1998, and now one of its staff members is being sponsored by the Dutch Government for a inner city renewal course in Rotterdam. The Trust has been given rights to undertake the translation of 'Medan, Beeld van en Stad' by M.A. Loderichs E.A, a coffee-table book about the city of Medan, into Bahasa Indonesia and is seeking collaborator's for this project.

The Trust has a close relationship and internship programme with the Bandung Heritage Society, AusHeritage in Australia, the Penang Heritage Trust and the Asia & West Pacific Network for Urban Conservation (AWPNUC) both based in Penang, Malaysia. Co-operation between the Sumatra Heritage Trust and the Penang Heritage Trust is forming a people-to-people cultural component of the strategic economic block called the Indonesia-Malaysia-Triangle Growth Triangle (IMT-GT). *

For further information:
HASTI TAREKAT, Executive Director
Sumatra Heritage Trust
Jl. Sei Padang 56
Medan 20154
Tel./Fax: +62-61-821 3534
E-mail: hastitar@indosat.net.id.

Abdur-Razzaq Lubis is the Malaysian Representative of the Sumatra Heritage Trust and is currently undertaking a project funded by The Toyota Foundation researching the migration of the Mandailing people from Sumatra to Malaya in the nineteenth century. The author's wife, Khoo Salma Nasution, the editor of the Asia & West Pacific Network for Urban Conservation (AWPNUC) newsletter, is a co-researcher in The Toyota Foundation funded project. E-mail: lubisksn@tm.net.my

   IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 20 | Regions | Southeast Asia