29 September 2013
They couldn’t stay inexpressive for very long. After a short while and sometimes upon my gentle insistence, a smile would almost always inevitably start appearing on the corner of their lips. “They” are a few of the one thousand residents of the palace compound currently employed by the sultan of Yogyakarta.
The 250-year old buildings of the palace, called Kraton, were indeed not the most exciting part of this visit, although there were a few interesting shots to be taken in the pavilions and spacious courtyards, from dragon snakes to colourful lotus-shaped ornaments – as well as the inevitable pictures locals wanted to take with me. The most interesting to me was the combination of those historic halls with the relics of the past, those barefoot employees dressed in traditional Javanese attire (did you notice the dagger attached in their backs?), the most elderly ones helping schoolchildren with their work.
Yet the importance of the sultan shouldn’t be underestimated. When the various Indonesian regions struggled for independence against the Dutch at the end of the 1940s, Yogyakarta became the temporary capital and when the Dutch eventually occupied the city, the sultan locked himself up in his palace, allowing rebels to use the 25,000-resident compound as their headquarters. The Dutch never dared to move against the sultan who was almost considered as a god to the Javanese people. Because of the sultan’s active and essential support to Indonesia’s independence, Yogyakarta remains to this day the only region in the country, in fact granted special administrative status, headed by a monarchy.
While much of the Kraton is now a peaceful, tranquil place, the home of its own batik (traditional cloth) industries and other mosques, the sultan’s power can still be felt, for instance on his decision to displace the settlement of the Water Castle. In an upcoming post, I’ll share with you pictures of the dance performance that is held daily at the Kraton (each day showcases a different style), a real bargain for the $1 entrance ticket to the Kraton.