For those interested in the diaspora of the Chinese and how and when they settled in Indonesia should visit the small Benteng Heritage Museum in Tangerang, on the outskirts west of Jakarta.
The Benteng Chinese communities by the Cisadane River belong to one of the first Chinese settlers in Indonesia, who intermarried and integrated with the local people, whose descendents of these mixed marriages are now known as Chinese Peranakan.
According to history, in the 15th century when the famous Muslim Admiral Zheng He (in Indonesia known as Cheng Ho) came to the Indonesian islands with a large fleet of ships. One of his officers, named Chen Chi Lung sailed up the Cisadane River and settled in the area around Teluk Naga, or the Dragon Bay. The area where they settled was later called:”Benteng” or Fortress where the Dutch colonial government built a fortress to protect the capital, then called Batavia, from invasion by the Banten Sultanate. Subsequent waves of migrants came and also settled here. The first wave was farmer’s traders and labourers. These are the original settlers of Benteng, but many have remained in poor circumstances until today. The second wave followed in the 18th century who came by Dutch vessels, were better off and worked with the colonial authorities. Today their descendents are traders and landowners of large tracts of land in the suburb now known as BSD (Bukit Serpong Damai) an upmarket housing and commercial estate.
They married women from Java and the Sunda lands of West Java since at that time Chinese women were forbidden from leaving their country. These were Hokkiens who spoke a different language from other Chinese ethnic groups, through the ages; their descendents built their own community fusing the Chinese with the indigenous Betawi and Sunda culture and traditions.
One of their present day descendents called Udaya Halim, originally named Lim Thin Pheng, decided to preserve their unique history and traditions for the next generations to see. In 2009 he bought a typical grand Peranakan house, which was by then quite dilapidated, located by the Pasar Lama, or the Old Market, He restored the house to its original style and made this into the “Benteng Heritage Museum”
The now beautifully restored two-storey house in rich Chinesse-style architecture has a typical first floor terrace overlooking the street, and has now become the Benteng Heritage Museum that was officially opened on 11 November 2011.
Walk through this 17th century style building and you will be taken back to olden days when Chinese women had those tiny bound feet and walked on tiny shoes. See these tiny embroidered shoes. Here is also an ivory mahjong table, opium scale, reminder of heady opium days. There are costumes of the Qing Dynasty dating to the 18ith and 19th century. A large relief of General Kwan Kong of the 17th century will greet you and an array of typical Chinese Peranakan hand-drawn batik cloths, and photographs of days gone by.
See traditional dresses including wedding costumes that are a mixture of traditional Chinese Hokkien heritage with Betawi costumes. The groom wears a black shirt with long pants and a traditional conical shaped hat, while the bride wears a “Hwa Kun” blouse with headdress and veil, while attending women wear the kebaya encim blouse and a matching batik sarong.
Yet Udaya Halim has built the Museum not only as storage of old artifcats, but as a Living Museum, where today’s Benteng Chinese can gather, understands and reinvigorates their unique cultural traditions. Therefore, the large hall is now often used for community gatherings, weddings and fashion shows. Peranakan Culinary Festivals are also often held here presenting choice Baba Nyonya food. All these are to preserve and sustain the typical Chinese Peranakan cultural traditions.
Visitors to the Museum may also dine here at the great hall, and served typical Baba food. With the large interest of visitors to this Museum, Udaya Halim now plans to open a cafe and restaurant nearby to cater to diners.
The Benteng Heritage Museum located in Pasar Lama, Tangerang is open 6 days a week, but is closed on Mondays. Entry is Rp. 20,000 per person with Indonesian guide, but there is additional Rp 50,000 when you wish to be guided in English or Mandarin. Students pay Rp. 10,000. Tour groups consist of a maximum 20 persons. The tour takes around 45 minutes.
For information contact the Museum:
If you wish to walk around beyond the Museum, visit the Old Marketplace: Pasar Lama, a typical traditional market, abuzz with people buying and selling goods. Or see the Boen Tek Nio temple and monastery right next to the Museum.