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Indonesian Heritage Society: 50 Years Old and Counting!

Culture | 20 February 2020

Indonesian Heritage Society: 50 Years Old And Counting!

The half-century mark is an important milestone, golden for marriages, a sometimes dreaded middle-age birthday and the mark of extraordinary success for organizations, especially those that are volunteer.

On 29 February 2020, the Indonesian Heritage Society (IHS) will celebrate 50 years of volunteerism in support of Jakarta’s museums. The mission has always been to assist the Museum Nasional and city museums by providing volunteer manpower and to promote the preservation and appreciation of Indonesian art and cultural heritage.

How did such an organisation evolve? In the late 1960s Indonesia was emerging from a period of turmoil and economic hardship. Government budgets were limited and dedicated to survival and development. Funding for museums was extremely limited, even for pressing maintenance. In 1967, a fortuitous meeting occurred. An Indonesian couple who understood the importance of preserving the valuable material heritage of Indonesia’s rich cultures and were privately assisting the Museum Pusat happened to meet a group of ambassadors’ wives who had voluntarily translated a book on an important ceramics collection donated to the museum. From that initial meeting grew the Ganesha Volunteers, and in 1994, the Indonesian Heritage Society was born. Ibu and Bapak Zainal Abidin of the Ganesha Society and Ganesha Volunteers, Bapak Anak Agung Gde Agung, Bapak Wiwoho Basuki, Ibu Kartini Basuki, Dr. Nafsiah Mboi, Ibu Hilde Ardie and Ibu Juliana Roe, all past and present patrons of IHS, have been essential to the success and longevity of the organization and its cooperative relationship with museums and institutions in Jakarta.

The understanding from the beginning was that the volunteers were guests and the museum staff would determine priorities and supervise projects performed by volunteers. That mutually respectful relationship has endured through 50 years of dynamic change in Indonesia.

Thousands of volunteers from Indonesia and all over the world have been active members contributing their time, knowledge and talents to the activities of the organization. The original membership of 17 volunteers has grown to over 540 hailing from Indonesia and 46 other countries. Historically, members were international women eager to learn about Indonesia while contributing their time and often professional talents while residing in the country. Today, the membership include many Indonesians as well as a number of retired men who have found new direction in learning deeper about the history and cultures of Indonesia while contributing to various aspects of the organization from tour guiding, to research and management.

The original membership of 17 volunteers has grown to over 540 hailing from Indonesia and 46 other countries.

So, what does IHS do to promote preservation and appreciation of Indonesian art and cultural heritage? Have you been on a tour of the Museum National? If not, you are welcome to join regular IHS tours in English, French, Japanese, Korean and other languages upon request. After you experience a tour and want to learn more, IHS offers an in-depth tour guide training program for our volunteer guides.

Have you attended an IHS Evening Lecture at Erasmus Huis? Held once a month from September until June, lectures are available to the public on a variety of subjects related to Indonesian history, cultural, environment, etc. There are a variety of other lecture opportunities for members, including an Evening Study Group, Rumahku and Coffee Mornings.

Have you explored Jakarta and beyond yet? Our Jakarta Explorers groups research and explore the fascinating corners of Jakarta together. Our School Programs group works with international school children to explore Indonesian art and culture including topics such as wayang and rice cultivation.

Have an interest in studying an aspect of Indonesian culture with friends? We have Study Groups on varied subjects such as Indonesian textiles, architecture, flora and fauna, history and volcanoes. There is also Study Travel, which is a great way to learn directly from people throughout this vast archipelago.

If you are interested in volunteering time assisting with IHS projects in the museums of Jakarta, you are most welcome as there are many ways to contribute. Our volunteers experience satisfaction from serving where needed. They gain an appreciation for and knowledge of many aspects of Indonesian art and culture. Indonesian volunteers are stimulated by what they learn about their home and share their enthusiasm with their friends and families. Expatriate volunteers become unofficial ‘ambassadors’ for Indonesia when they pulang kampung or move to other international posts. Many former volunteers have completed advanced degrees in museum related fields while others have written books and articles based on interests simulated through study groups, travels and work in the museums.

While thinking about this article, I considered the many years I have been a member and asked myself ‘why’? Firstly, there is always something more to learn about Indonesia and oddly, one learns how little one knows the longer one lives here. Additionally, while working together, the relationships made with our patrons, museum staff and volunteers over the years have enriched my life in Indonesia immeasurably.

You are welcome to visit the IHS home and Library to learn more. Please see our website heritagejkt.org for details.

Wishing the Indonesian Heritage Society a very happy 50th Anniversary and the brightest of futures!


Text: Isabelle Barbara Johson​. This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine Febuary 2020 issue “Love and Romance". Available at selected bookstores or SUBSCRIBE here.