Ash House of Tjong Wins Cultural building Award

Steeped in 480 years of history, Jakarta has seen its historic buildings struggle to stay standing beside the ever-growing capital. Many of the city’s historic buildings have lost their struggle with time, their facades and infrastructure deteriorating gradually.

But some have beaten the odds and have outlived their neighbors, bringing to Jakarta’s Old Town (Kota) a unique blend of the old and the new.

Among the historic buildings that have managed to stand the test of time is an old Chinese house bearing the sign “Rumah Abu Marga Tjong” (Ash House of Tjong) on Jl. Jembatan Batu, Central Jakarta.

Its facade stands out against the other somber, aging houses that line the street — one of many features that has seen Ash House recently awarded the best cultural building by Jakarta’s local administration.

While parts of the two-story house’s interior have been renovated with modern touches, its original exterior, marked by a distinctive red roof, has remained almost the same for many years.

The name Ash House might lead people to believe it once housed a crematorium, but that was not the case.

“An ash house was a place where people with the same surname met and did things together,” Baslito, the house’s keeper, told The Jakarta Post recently.

“And today, one of the activities we just held was a traditional ceremony to pay respects to our ancestors,” he said.
Chinese-Indonesians inherit the surnames of their fathers.

Tjong, sometimes spelled Zhang, is just one of more than 100 Chinese surnames.

“There are around 300 members of the Tjong ash house,” Baslito said.

“They come from different religions, but most are followers of Confucianism.

“And we welcome people with the surname Tjong to join us, no matter what religion he or she is.

“We are not a religious but a surname-based organization. We don’t prohibit people from any religion from joining.”

One website, however, claims the Tjong Ash House is a Buddhist temple.

“Ash houses are not temples, although we do hold some prayer ceremonies to pay respect to our ancestors,” Baslito said.

In the house, which dates back more than 100 years, each ancestor’s name is carved in small chocolate boards.

There are also pictures of some of the ancestors, near a large square table where the Tjong put red candles and pots of flowers.
Baslito said the ash house was built between 1893 and 1894 by a wealthy Chinese merchant named Tjong Pik She, who wanted to bring together people with the surname Tjong living in Jakarta.

“Ash houses were commonly built by rich merchants, who played important roles in society,” Baslito said.

While ash houses in modern times may only function as a meeting point for people with the same surname, an ash house during the 19th century served a number of more significant functions.

In the past, ash houses helped protect members from discrimination and gave them political status, as well as helping overseas Chinese maintain trade networks.

In Jakarta, ash houses are concentrated in Kota in Central Jakarta, which for generations has been a center for Chinese residents.