There aren’t much informations about Jakarta’s outer islands, also known as Kepulauan Seribu (Thousand Islands). The history of those 105 tiny islands are still vague and Indonesians, especially Jakartans, are seemingly to be happily ignorant about it.
It was on a Sunday that I, along with several mates, decided to go along with a tour to 3 little islands in Kepulauan Seribu, which were Kelor, Cipir, and Onrust Isles. To be honest, only few people knew that these tiny, 2 acres wide, isles were the Dutch’s outmost fortresses and the gate to Batavia.
Before we reached the isles, we had to go to Muara Kamal, an area in Cengkareng, West Jakarta, where the tiny port for reaching the isles located. As many other ports cum fish auction places in Indonesia, Muara Kamal was lingered with heavy stench of salt, sweat, trash, pollution, and fish.
The number of people flocking the area was amazing, as well as the hustle and bustle. There were so much energy that woke me up frow drowsiness in an instant, even though it was 6 in the morning and, I have to emphasize it again, smelled really really foul.
As the sun rose, the ray gently showered zinc roofs and wooden boats. For a moment, the scenery looked like an exotic picture perfect tropical harbour. But you looked down and noticed the amount of trash piling in the water. The pile was so thick that chickens and cats could walk on it to scrape for food. Trash have always been Indonesia’s major problem. I hate to admit it, but we are a bunch of filthy people. Perhaps in few years coming, Indonesians will be the first to evolve and chew plastics for new and renewable source of fibres.
Enough of trash talking. There’d be plenty of time to feel queasy since the trip was going to involve a small boat and waves. But I was hungry and craved normal food. Since I didn’t know how to digest plastics, I devoured 3 pieces of crispy fried bananas. For a second or two, the stench faded. It was only me and my fritatas basking under sunlight.
Tummies filled, time to go. Oh, I forgot to mention that this tour was arrange by Komunitas Historia Indonesia (Indonesia’s Historic Community), a group of people who are fighting to preserve Jakarta’s (for now) history and take clueless citizens like me to visit places that’ve been forgotten.
The trip took about 30 minutes under nearly blinding sunlight, passing bamboo cages for breeding green mussels.The first destination was Kelor Isle. This teeny isle first got noticed by Jakartans couples years back when a couple of film stars had their wedding here. The tourism department built a pier to help the guests landed fashionably. Helped me landed fashionably too, although it was quite a pity to put a concrete pier in the middle of a beautiful white sand beach.
Kelor was the only isle that had the ruins of Fort Martello, a round-shaped brick fortress built by the Dutch as the first line of defense against the Brits, French, or whomever wanted to occupy Batavia. During the old days, Martellos could be found in 2 other isles, Cipir and Onrust, but now they crumbled to the ground.
The walls were a metre thick, made it almost impossible to be shattered by cannon balls. On top of it was a cannon that could turn 360°, ready to blow any baddie ships coming. Thanks to our dedications in preserving historical sites, many parts of the walls were corroded. Apparently, local fishermen used Kelor as one of their fishing spots, so there were also nails on the wall to hang clothes. Remains of bonfires also scattered around the isle.
details of Fort Martello. The bricks were produced in Tangerang, Banten Province. Each brick was 30 cm long and 15 cm thick. The fort itself was constructed without neither steel nor iron structures.
During early 20th century, the isle was abandoned as the fort already turned to ruins. Kelor became a graveyard for patients who died of contagious diseases. That tragedy now concealed under golden beach and pristine blue waters, which is a pity since a lot of Indonesians are hydrophobics and refuse to put on swimsuits.
Then we hopped to Cipir, one of Kelor’s sisters. The atmosphere there was a lot more sombre. Perhaps it was because of the trees giving cool shades, or because there were ruins of a hospital used to isolate locals with contagious diseases, only to leave them waiting for death, away from their loved ones.
In 1911, 3.500 patients lived together in this isle, along with several Dutch doctors. They had diseases such as pneumonia as pestilence, therefore must be taken away from society. But it was cheaper to let them pass away in Cipir rather than giving them cures.
The cool thing about Cipir was it used to have a connecting bridge to Onrust Isle, around few hundred metres long. The bridge collapsed already, but the ruins of the pillars still visible to this day.
Similar to Cipir and Kelor, Onrust (means ‘no rest’ in Dutch) was also a former host of a Martello fort. The most famous isle among the triplets functioned as a galley, opened 24 hours for fixing and making ships that came to the archipelago looking for spices. In 1930s century it became a ground for quarantine. The quarantined subjects were Indonesians who were going to Saudi Arabia for hajj pilgrimage.
Before embarking on sea voyages for months, the pilgrims needed to adjust to sea air. Afterward, the hajjs returned to Onrust where the colonial government made sure they didn’t have any bad foreign influences (i.e. religious extremism) and diseases. The quarantine itself took place for several weeks, after that, the hajjs were returned to their families fresh as daisies.
In 1942 Japan entered Dutch East Indies, Onrust was annexed. It became a prison where the most dangerous criminals from Batavia were condemned.
replica of the ring used for holding Mandingo fights between most dangerous prisoners in order to save food supply.
For modern day Indonesians, the controversy of Onrust went around rumours about the isle hosts the grave of Sekarmaji Marijan Kartosuwiryo, leader of the rebellious Darul Islam movement. He finally surrendered in 1962 and soon court martialed. It was said that his execution took place in Orust, but so far, there weren’t enough evidence to prove it.
these graves definitely host Darul Islam leaders. But no evidence suggested that Kartosuwiryo is within any of them
a Dutch graveyard, but it only had the tombstones to commemorate those who died in the Isle. The bodies were taken to Holland immediately after their passings
Despite being quite and only have visitors during weekends, Onrust was an active isle. Locals carry on their day-to-day business such as fishing and making boats
Tourism such as this added income to the locals. But most importantly, it taught them to take care of the place. Having people and government paying attention to historical sites like these isles make locals realized that if they want to get extra income, they’d have to preserve these objects. It’d be mutual wins for everybody.