In October 2020 we sent letters to Mrs Gonçalves – Ho Kang You (Council for Culture) and Drs. van Engelshoven (Minsiter for Education, Culture and Science of The Netherlands) regarding the proposal of the Council of Culture to return cultural heritage to Indonesia from state to state.
Last Friday the caretaker cabinet of The Netherlands promised to return looted cultural objects from former colonial areas that are in the National Art Collection if a country so requests. The cabinet also recognizes that the indigenous population of the former colonial areas has been wronged by taking possession of cultural objects against their will. We are despaired to find out this decision has been made without even responding to our concerns. Our letter was accompanied by a letter from the King of Klungkung HRH Ir. Ida Dalem Semaraputra.
Dance vest Klungkung, collection Museum voor Wereldculturen
The report states that:
- Objects are purely seen is objects that belong in a museum. The report does not consider objects to be part of living material culture, objects that should join ceremonies, objects that would be used in their original form upon return.
- The report advises that return of cultural heritage should be done within states / on state level. The report does not consider that Indonesia was not a state when the Dutch conquered Indonesia.
- Objects have been taken away from families who were reigning over an area then, and are still reigning over the same area nowadays, despite their regalia are within the Museum Nasional in Jakarta or within collections of Dutch museums.
Returning heritage on a state level only does not make sense and does not do justice. Justice is one of the spearpoints of the report. An object being returned to a museum on another island, thousands of kilometers away does not do justice.
In the report of the Council of Culture a good representation of the sensitivities concerning the sovereignty between states is described. It is indicated that the Council advises the Minister to make explicit agreements with regard to colonial cultural objects that belong to a particular community. However, the state of Indonesia (1945 or 1949) did not exist when the Klungkung objects (1908) were seized.
The report falls seriously short on this point. There is a lack of awareness of the fact that with regard to the Klungkung collection we are not talking about a community, but about a Kingdom, which fell in 1908 by Dutch intervention and which was reinstalled in 1929 by Dutch intervention. In the report you the recognition of injustice is discussed. We would like to point out this injustice.We believe that the report should have been more forceful in the advice regarding returning items to what is called "communities."
Siswanto, director of the Museum Nasional in Jakarta, already responded to NOS on October 11, 2020: "The Museum Nasional is the only place where pieces can be preserved and protected well enough".
When objects are returned at state level, there is a good chance that objects will end up in Jakarta. This is not desirable! What good is it for the King of Klungkung to see his own cultural heritage in Jakarta instead of in the Netherlands?
Another important fact is ignored here. The Netherlands classifies these objects as museum objects, based on the fact that the objects are part of a museum collection. But are these museum objects? What are museum objects? This is not described in the report. Bali is seen as a "living culture", a culture in which objects, even if they would return to Klungkung after 112 years, are part of a culture and will be used in rituals and ceremonies. It is not up to us, as the Netherlands, to judge this. In our opinion, the decision whether or not an item concerns a museum object lies in the hands of the rightful owner, in the case of the Klungkung collection with the King and the Royal family.