The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Monday, January 21, 2013


Bankers don’t enjoy a good press.
Along with politicians and used car salesmen, moneymen are often seen as a necessary evil, profit gougers rather than service providers.

Now meet Ridho Hakim (left), former manager of Bank Indonesia’s Malang branch who has used his cash to preserve Indonesian culture, reasoning that when governments are idle individuals must act.
“Democracy comes with responsibilities,” he said.  “We are ignoring our past, our culture.  When people use the adjective bagus (good) they mean something from the West.”
The only thing foreign about Ridho’s project celebrating the traditional Javanese joglo house is that the 120 square meter building came from Kudus in Central Java and is now in Kalisongo in East Java.
He came across the 1881 joglo through friends who knew of his interest in Javanese history that he’d nurtured since childhood, fuelled by a nationalistic soldier father and teachers who said:  ‘You can be anything you want, but you must appreciate our culture.’ 
In the 1990s he studied in Melbourne for a Master’s degree in business and discovered a society where history and heritage were given top priority.
Five generations of one family had lived in the Kudus house, but the last wanted something more modern. Joglo houses with their steep roofs look quaint, but that’s not a characteristic appealing to those seduced by minimalist trends featuring sheet glass and stainless steel.
“If the owners go, then who will care for the building?” Ridho asked, but already knew the answer.
“When I first saw it I fell in love. It was the fasting month.  To understand a house you must have feelings beyond just looking through the eyes.
“A relationship with a house should be like a marriage.  Lovers come and go, but the home remains.  Life cannot be measured just in terms of economic indicators, yet that’s what happened in Indonesia.
“The government was all about development and forgetting our history before 1945.  We understood the price of everything but not the value. We became good at copying.”
A home vendor wouldn’t have a banker buyer as first choice.  They’d likely wrap the sale in a steel net of clauses and conditions, shave margins, add exit penalties and other trade tricks.
Not this time.  The seller wanted Rp 300 million (US $31,000).  Ridho didn’t quibble.  He gave a 50 percent down payment and paid the rest by instalments, all handled by handshakes.  No contract.
“Appreciation is more important than money,” he said.  “It’s true bankers find it difficult to trust anyone, but believe it or not there are supernatural elements here.  This joglo calls people.”
It took about a month to take the house apart, load it onto four trucks and start reassembling in the village of Kalisongo, about 15 kilometers west of Malang. The foundations were laid in 2007 on Ridho’s 50th birthday during the fasting month of Ramadhan.
Several popular television series in Britain and Australia feature families renovating old buildings.  These real life dramas show more emotion than a sinetron (soap opera) when problems erupt, budgets blow and couples tear themselves apart as dreams turn to rubble.
Apparently that didn’t happen with Joglo Kalisongo.  Ridho wasn’t there screaming orders and throwing fits.  His receding hairline came from the board room, not the joglo. 
“I just let the workers get on with it,” he said.  “We have a tradition of no anger in the house.  There’s no stress here.”
But physical stress is part of any building and has to be handled with care.  Beams carry loads. Angles must be precise or walls will bulge under the weight of tiles, timbers will split and the structure will collapse.
There are no nails or screws in Joglo Kalisongo.  The teak timbers are interlocked, some joints secured with wooden pegs, others through mortise and tenon, relying on the skills of carpenters working with basic hand tools. A little weather damage, but otherwise all good.
Some joglo are simple – this one is complex and splendid and probably built for a bupati (regent) an important official and a key link to the Dutch administrators of the 19th century.  There’s been no scrimping on quality.
The size and design reflects the position.  A front veranda for lesser guests, the higher interior for those of standing.
Most beams have been carved with intricate detail.  There are two peaks in the ceiling, like the interiors of Majapahit-era temples.  Ridho claims it includes Hindu and Muslim traditions. The carvings don’t show any living thing but instead give license to the artisans to work imaginatively.
“The more you look, the more you appreciate,” he said. “This is my dream, my second wife.  It is open to everyone, whatever their religion. I believe in pluralism and tolerance.”
Only the roof and floor tiles are new, the latter made in Yogya from ancient designs.  The interior is dark – joglo have no windows.  Light comes in through open doorways.  Water runs in a small moat around the house, then through gardens fringed by cobblestone walkways.
Original joglo are rare – many have been shipped to Holland by the nostalgic Dutch.  The designs are being copied using modern materials.
On one side are paddy and crops of corn and vegetables for Kalisongo is almost 700 meters above sea level, close to Mounts Kawi and Arjuna.  On another flank a private Islamic school is being built using the standard concrete columns with brick infill, functional but unlovely.
Ridho doesn’t live in Joglo Kalisongo, which is used for corporate functions, weddings and other events. His family prefers a modern house in Malang, where he now lectures at a local university having taken early retirement.
“We have only one life and I didn’t want to spend it being a bureaucrat,” he said. “The ideal goal, the ultimate target of life is to achieve balance.  Money is important, but it cannot buy peace and harmony.  I find that here.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 21 January 2013)

No comments: