Celebrating Reflective Modernity: Semarang’s Indische Parade

Joseph Army Sadhyoko, historian

Since the Dutch Colonial era, the city of Semarang  has been prepared to become an all-in metropolitan city. Starting from the construction of the fort, until becoming an independent area characterized by exclusivity and distinctive architecture; it becomes a general description of the Semarang Old Town Area that we can witness today. This area was built in a period of three centuries (17-20), with the aim of completing the functions of trade, offices and Dutch colonial government. Cultural style that encompasses the architectural style of the building and the life patterns of its inhabitants, is known as the Indische Culture.

Indische is absorbed from Dutch’s “Nederlandsch Indië” which refers to a colony of the Dutch Colonial Government in Southeast Asia, or more fully known as “Nederlandsch Oost Indië”. Indies culture according to Djoko Soekiman in his book Indies Culture: From the Colonial Age to the Revolution, is a historical phenomenon that is a creative evidence of groups of people during the Dutch East Indies rule, both in facing the challenges of traditional Javanese life and Dutch style in their native countries. Indies culture is also an aesthetic monument, results of acculturation&fostered culture, thathas experienced collective imagination by its owners, to be able to adapt to a new place.

These adaptive efforts can be seen from adjustment to the Indies tropical climate, the surrounding environment, power, and the demands of life in buildings, living equipment, fashion styles, even to food. This adjustment became the entrance to maintain the establishment of Dutch Colonial power and to make economic interests more effective.

Reflective Modernity

Back to the situation of Semarang Old City, which was greatly influenced by Indist culture; this culture brought the direction of regional development to adjust to the development of the modernity of the city in accordance with the soul of its era. In addition, the development that took place over a period of three centuries, helped support the economic progress and the lives of colonialists in the Dutch East Indies.

Those who built this area have been well-equipped with plans, related to development and change that occur as a modern urban area. Meanwhile, behind this development, several challenges emerged, including changes in architecture, cleanliness and health of the environment, as well as the density of residents who filled spaces in the Semarang Old City.

The Dutch colonialist government put attention to all these challenges in developing the city, and in the spirit of Indis cultural framework. All issues and challenges are reacted quickly, while still keeping to all the functions to run in accordance with the planning.

All the buildings and their facilities are viewed as a precious asset. The physical building is important to keep the sustainability of governmental, economic and city development aspects. From this point, we’re all invited to reflect on the importance of preserving Indis cultural heritage in Semarang.

Not all those left behind by the colonial parties in this region are things that are useless and deserve to be destroyed with an emblem of nationalism and patriotism, or overhauled following market needs. Changes that intentionally or unintentionally occur within this region, are tantamount to removing one of the legacies, or even eliminating the identity and historical values of the Indonesian people.

A Parade of Celebrating Collective Memories

To remind us on the value of this noble cultural heritage, the Old City needs to hold a shared celebration of memory in the form of a parade. This parade is an important part of the active involvement of all elements of society and government, in order to support the plan to determine the Old City as one of the World’s Cultural Heritages. This determination becomes the starting point of development in the tourism sector and creative industries in Indonesia.

Semarang City views the Indies Parade not as a form of support to Western culture that is very exploitative and imperialistic, but to give a new meaning as a form of celebration of shared memories to help maintain the cultural heritage of Indonesia and the world.

Parades can be manifested into smaller acts as part of tourism promotion and creative industries. Moreover, the parade is also a symbol of the people’s concern to maintain the continuity of a functional but forgotten national narrative, due to the lack of understanding and indifference in the community.

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