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Chinatown Rich in Jakarta History: Jakarta

On the main strip of Jl. Gajah Mada and Jl. Hayam Wuruk in Glodok businesses both large and small are never short of customers. It has been a center for urban economic activities since the 18th century.

But there’s a lot more to Glodok than that. This historic neighborhood has seen some of the best and worst of Jakarta’s history, including two of the city’s bloodiest riots. The first was in the early 18th century, while the second followed two centuries later.

As trading activities in old Batavia reached their peak during the Dutch colonial era, migrants from China flocked to the city along with trading ships. Glodok became their first residential option. By the 1720s, the economy started to slow, leaving most of the migrants unemployed, according to historian Adolf Heuken in his book Historical Sites of Jakarta.

Chinese captains appointed by the Dutch failed to overcome the resulting problems.

Some of the unemployed migrants started engaging in petty crime. Then-councilor Gustaaff Willem Baron von Imhoff tried to contain the problem by sending them on ships to Sri Lanka. Rumors spread that he was actually having the Chinese migrants killed at sea.

On Oct. 9, 1740, the situation grew still more tense. Dutch officials raided Chinese houses and shops for weapons after a small group of Chinese rioted in Tanah Abang, Central Jakarta. An accidental house fire sparked what is now known as the Chinese Massacre. Men, women, children were murdered. Their property was taken away and their homes burnt.

Two years later, Dutch governor general A. Valckenier was charged with ordering locals to slay the Chinese.

It’s said that history repeats itself. Two and a half centuries later, in 1998, a similar racially-motivated riot broke out. Glodok, once again, was the scene. Shops were burnt, people were killed and women were assaulted, but this time, Glodok was not the only area targeted.

Furthermore, this time, no one has been charged with the crimes.
Now, Glodok is as lively as it was before the riot. Inside the settlement area behind Gajah Mada, several heritage sites still stand. Locals still flock at least twice a month to four Chinese temples built in the 1700s. An old church and a mosque also add to the local color.

The government decided to allow Chinese festivities in 1999, after decades of suppressing cultural activities. Local residents hold annual traditional events during Chinese New Year, and a hundred days after. The latter festivity is know locally as Peh Cun, a time when Chinese residents in Kali Besar share the joy of the New Year with their neighbors.

Several street names also reflect the area’s historical value.
Pancoran (fountain) used to be a place where people in Batavia fetched water. The name Patekoan derives from the routine of a Chinese leader who served eight pots (teko means teapot) of water in front of his house.

Meanwhile, the Angke river is a somber reminder of the 1740 massacre, when bodies were thrown into the water, turning it red.

Glodok is known as a place for gambling and prostitution, as it was centuries ago. Back then, it was the only area where those two controversial activities were legalized and even taxed.

Now, as it was then, Glodok is unique.

Anissa S. Febrina