The Umbrella Dance of West Sumatra: Is it Really the Dance of Love?

The Umbrella Dance or “Tari Payung” is a traditional dance from Minangkabau, West Sumatra, Indonesia. It is popularly known to symbolize love and courtship. However, there are different traditional interpretations of what the dance originally symbolizes. Moreover, its true origins have been questioned, is it really a dance from Minangkabau, West Sumatra?

Tari Payung for blog upload
                                                   Courtesy of Sigit, Sawahlunto

Payung in Indonesian means umbrella. In the dance, typically, the male dancers swing the umbrellas they are holding around their female partners. The opened umbrella in Tari Payung is said to be a symbol of protection and affection from a husband to his wife so that the family will always be happy and spared from negative things. The female dancers typically wears a selendang or a scarf that symbolizes union, true love, and loyalty.

Tari Payung is usually accompanied by the song “Babendi-bendi ke Sungai Tanang” in the background which tells a story of a couple on their honeymoon. The song starts with a slow tempo which gradually increases throughout the song until it hits a quick tempo, where the dancers shift to dynamic moves, reflecting the journey the couple will take throughout life. Traditionally, you can watch a Tari Payung dance in wedding ceremonies or other traditional rituals.

It is interesting that according to a number of sources, the rural areas of Minangkabau do not perceive the Tari Payung dance as part of the Minangkabau culture. This dance is said to have originated in the cities or the rantau areas, where there is a fusion of Melayu and Minangkabau people. Thus, this dance is considered to be a Melayu Minangkabau dance. The slower movements reflect its Melayu origins and its fast-dynamic movements reflect the influence of Minangkabau martial arts. Here, there is also a slightly different interpretation of the dance, a more urban and modern one. The dance is said to be about the tale of romance between a young city girl and boy on a rendezvous at Tanang River.

In contrast, in some parts of West Sumatera, the Tari Payung dance was originally performed as part of a ritual of when a baby is taken out of the house for the first time and is bathed in the river, adding to a completely different interpretation of the dance.

It is also interesting to know that in 1920s, the dance was performed by a group of all female dancers as there was a time when women and men were not allowed to dance together, in fact once women were barred from participating in public performances.

Over time, the dance is performed by women and men and on other occasions aside from ritual events, such as in cultural festivals and community festivities, as well as to honor guests.

Today the dance tends to have a different function. It has shifted from a dance which had a ritual purpose to a dance with commercial entertainment objectives. For artistic or commercial reasons, the dance moves have been altered over time by dance choreographers. The meaning of the movements is now subject to the interpretation of dance professionals and may have lost some of its traditional elements.

While these dance innovations may be viewed as a progressive way to maintain the existence of a traditional dance through the generation, it does not sit well with those who believe that tradition should not be altered for the sake of art or entertainment. What do you think?

Sources:

Tari Payung https://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tari_Payung.

Tari Payung Kesenian Tradisional http://www.negerikuindonesia.com/2015/03/tari-payung-kesenian-tradisional.html

Syafrayuda, Diah Rosari (2015) Eksistensi Tari Payung sebagai Tari Melayu Minangkabau di Sumatera Barat Ekspresi Seni, Jurnal Ilmu Pengetahuan dan Karya Seni Vol. 1 No. 2.

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Wandering Around Batusangkar, West Sumatra: Chicken Song for the Soul

In Batusangkar, West Sumatra, while stopping for lunch at Pondok Flora restaurant, a band was playing a number of traditional songs. For Jakartans like my family, being entertained by a group of musicians playing traditional instruments live is not something that happens every day. So it was an experience to enjoy. Like tourists, my cousin and aunt even took a clip of the band playing.

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This man is playing the “saluang”, a traditional instrument from West Sumatra.

The band played a couple of old numbers which your brain would slowly recollect as a tune you have heard somewhere some time ago, even if you are a Jakartan who have never been to West Sumatra. Some of the music are from songs that you learned in elementary school; for the older generation, these songs were once popular on the radio and on TV.

One of the songs is the all-time legendary West Sumatran hit, Ayam Den Lapeh. Although the song may ring a bell to many Indonesians (and Malaysians), but who really knows what the song is all about?  Ayam Den Lapeh, literally means “my chicken got away”. So I bet that is what most people think this uptempo song is all about—a chicken that went loose. This was what I thought too all through grade school. In fact, I thought den was short for raden (a Javanese title for royalty). So I figured it was about this spoilt raden who is complaining about some royal chicken he lost. Being older now, I knew it had to be more complicated than that. So I decided it was time I consulted good old Google and what I found was pretty much to my surprise.

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These girls are playing the “talempong”, another traditional instrument from West Sumatra.

Ayam Den Lapeh was a song written by Nurseha and Abdul Hamid which in the song he used chicken as a metaphor. In the old days in West Sumatra, chicken was an expensive livestock. In the song, chicken was used to symbolize something precious. So the song tells a story of someone regretting that he/she has lost something or maybe someone—which makes more sense, I think—very special or precious to him/her, letting it get away right under his/her eyes.

Although the song is actually talking about a dark moment, it is sang in a cheerful way and the music has an upbeat tempo. Some interpretations say that the song is about lessons learned and looking at things from a positive perspective, even if you have lost something valuable to your heart. Hence, the cheerful sound.

So to understand the song, you have to look at the context and culture of the Sumatran society.

Sources
http://merahputih.com/post/read/senandung-pilu-di-balik-lagu-minang-ayam-den-lapeh
http://rumahsenifkunand.blogspot.co.id/2015/08/mengenal-makna-lagu-ayam-den-lapeh.html
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West Sumatran Coffee: A Dark Past and a New Beginning

For travelers and coffee lovers, tasting local coffee would definitely be on the “To Do” list. So for those traveling to West Sumatra, you should not miss out on local coffee and the coffee shops that offer the best quality beans. Here, in this post, I will share names of a number of coffee venues to visit.

Coffee is known to perk you up and put a smile on your face. But if you think about coffee in West Sumatra, I mean really think about it, you realize that coffee in this region has a dark past that won’t make you smile.

 

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Enjoying coffee and fried tofu at the Sage II Vacation Home, Sawahlunto

 

Looking Back

The golden coffee age in West Sumatra was during the Dutch occupation where plantations were established in the inlands, such as Bukittinggi. But for the Indonesian people, especially during the 1840s, coffee plantations meant forced labor and coolies.

However, the coffee trade created a lot of changes in West Sumatra. When adat leaders turned to the Dutch during the Padri War, the Dutch took this opportunity to build infrastructure, schools, and coffee warehouses—training the Minangkabau locals to assist coffee businesses.

In fact, there was one famous—shall we say—coffee tycoon, noted in history, that is, Kota Gadang native, Abdul Gani Rajo Mangkuto (1817–1907). He became so successful that he even got to travel to the Netherlands. Nevertheless, continued tax disputes between the Minangkabau people and colonialists, among other things, affected the coffee business in the inlands.

Furthermore, local people were also recruited into administrative positions in the local government. A new class of Dutch-speaking locals, civil servants, and intellectuals emerged, which ultimately gave way to resistance against the Dutch and Indonesia’s independence!

But way before that, in the 1870s, coffee production was no longer profitable and was replaced by other crops, such as copra and tobacco. To make a long story short, the coffee golden age ultimately ended. Coffee was then grown in people’s gardens. People usually drink coffee made from coffee leaves rather than beans.

Visit These Coffee Venues

But luckily today, we can find fresh West Sumatran coffee beans at local markets and coffee shops.  After a decline in the popularity of the local coffee beans, things are looking bright as you can now find a variety of local beans—spicy and fruity—in a various places, such as in Padang and Bukittinggi. One example is at the Rimbun Espresso and Brew Bar in Padang and Bukittinggi (also home to the historical Jam Gadang tower clock).  And just to name a few other coffee venues in Padang, they are: Kubik Koffie, Lalito Coffee & Bar, M.O. Resto & Coffee, and Konco Coffee, and in Buktitinggi we have the Apache and Café Bedudal.

Meanwhile, in Sawahlunto there is a local brand coffee sold at Warung Kopi Datuk Silungkang Coffee. The makers have been producing local Robusta coffee traditionally since 1992.

And let’s not forget the Solok Coffee trend in 2014 which marked the emergence of a new era of coffee-making in West Sumatra. Under the Solok Radjo cooperative (which members include coffee traders), coffee producers from five villages in Solok District created the Solok Coffee specialty which has a hint of lemon taste. The coffee gradually hit the local market, including the big cities such as Jakarta, and it is now an export commodity. This has certainly put West Sumatran coffee back in the spotlight.

Enjoy West Sumatra, enjoy its coffee!

 

Sources:

Minangkayo (2015) Cerita Kopi di Minang http://minangkayo.com/index.php/2015/12/04/cerita-kopi-di-minang/ (accessed 13 January 2017).

Minangkayo (2015) Kopi Sumatra Barat Dan Ceritanya http://minangkayo.com/index.php/2015/11/04/kopi-sumatra-barat-dan-ceritanya/ (accessed 13 January 2017).

Otonomi (2016) Perjalanan Kopi Minang Solok Menuju Kualitas Teratas di Indonesia https://www.otonomi.co.id/komoditas/perjalanan-kopi-minang-solok-menuju-kualitas-teratas-di-indonesia-160926t.html (accessed 14 January 2017).

Republika Online (2016) Menikmati Kopi Khas Sawahlunto, Datuk Siloengkang Coffee http://www.republika.co.id/berita/gaya-hidup/kuliner/16/01/21/o1au7g328-menikmati-kopi-khas-sawahlunto-datuk-siloengkang-coffee (accessed 14 January 2017).

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Abdul Muis: West Sumatra’s Novelist and First National Hero

At school in Indonesia, we all learned about Abdul Muis (1886–1959), Indonesia’s first national hero and the author of the very famous novel Salah Asuhan (1928). Although I’ve memorized this many times in order to pass school exams, it was only recently that I realized the relevance of the novel—which talks about mixed cultures and national identity—not only for Indonesia before independence, but in fact, for Indonesia today.

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kebudayaanindonesia.net

Abdul Muis is known as a journalist, novelist, a nationalist, and advocate for independence.

He was awarded the national hero title after his death by former President Sukarno. Although born in Sungai Puar, West Sumatra, he spent a major part of his adult life in West Java, many years in exile. His father, Datuak Tumangguang Sutan Sulaiman, was the district head of Sungai Puar between 1870s and 1930s.  He was known to be very critical of the Dutch government and refused to implement some policies, which resulted in his exile. Like father, like son, as they say.

I have seen pictures of Datuak Tumangguang Sutan Sulaiman’s rumah gadang (traditional long house) in Sungai Puar. It’s also interesting to know that my maternal great grandfather was a Sungai Puar native and is related to Abdul Muis, but we don’t share the same rumah gadang.

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My aunt at Abdul Muis Street, Sungai Puar

Anyway, this is why Abdul Muis is a national hero.

Adul Muis did not complete his university education (Stovia, Jakarta),  but his fluency in Dutch made it easy for him to find work, such as being  the first Indonesian to work as a clerk (civil servant) for a government department.

Thanks to his good journalistic skills Abdul Muis later worked for a number of newspapers. The first was the Bandung-based newspaper, Bintang Hindia in 1905, which was later banned. Fluency in Dutch got him a job at the Dutch daily newspaper, De Prianger Bode, around 1912. Being a nationalist, he had written articles for the De Express, a Dutch-language daily newspaper, bluntly criticizing Dutch occupation. Tensions with his superiors at De Prianger Bode led him to leave the paper and he became head editor for the first nationalist daily newspaper, Kaum Muda, which promoted anti-colonial views.

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The rumah gadang of Lareh IV in Sungai Puar, my grandfather’s ancestor

Although Abdul Muis was a journalist and writer, he had only written the novel he is best known for during exile in West Java.

Abdul Muis was first of all a political activist. In 1913 he established the Komite Bumi Putra alongside other nationalists who criticized the Dutch government’s policy of collecting tax from the native Indonesians for the celebration of the Dutch people’s independence from France. Addul Muis and his colleagues were apprehended by Dutch Indies authorities because of this.

Abdul Muis also took part in Sarekat Islam, the first national political party in the Dutch Indies, which promoted Islamic modernism. In 1917 he represented the party in negotiations with the Dutch to obtain direct representation for Indonesia in the Dutch parliamentary system which, however, failed. In 1918 he became a member of the volksraad (the people’s representative body).

Abdul Muis was also a labor and human rights activist. In 1922 Abdul Muis led a worker’s strike in Yogyakarta to demand better conditions for workers and was arrested. In 1923 he led a protest against a land supervision law (landrentestelsel) which was going to be implemented by the Dutch and he lobbied local figures in Padang to object taxes collected by the Dutch government. As a result, Abdul Muis was banned from political activities. In fact, he was banned from leaving West Java for 13 years (1926–1939).

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My cousin with pictures of our ancestors in the background

It was during his exile that he used words to compensate for his political restraint and penned the critically acclaimed, Salah Asuhan, published in 1928 and translated as Never the Twain in 2010.

His work opened the door to the modern Indonesian literature era. The novel highlights tensions between Eastern and Western culture and what it meant to efforts in building a national identity for an independent Indonesia. It seems to me that this issue is still relevant for our country even today, although not only in terms of East meets West, but in reference to tensions among local cultures and identities. What do you think?

 

Sources:

Anak Nagari Sungaipua Community (2014) Minang Saisuak https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10202720149780366&id=194662079017 (14 January 2017).

Badan Bahasa (n.d.) Abdul Muis http://badanbahasa.kemdikbud.go.id/lamanbahasa/tokoh/754/Abdul%20Muis (accessed 6 January 2017).

Erwin Wirawan (2014) Bukittinggi: The Town That Killed Colonialism http://erwin-wirawan.blogspot.co.id/2014/08/published-jakarta-post-pramoedya-ananta.html (accessed 6 January 2017).

Indonesia-Investments (2015) National Heroes of Indonesia: Abdul Muis; Writer, Journalist & Nationalist http://www.indonesia-investments.com/culture/culture-columns/national-heroes-of-indonesia-abdul-muis-writer-journalist-nationalist/item5505? (accessed 6 January 2017).

Pahlawan Center (n.d.) Abdul Muis http://pahlawancenter.com/pahlawancenterbaru/?p=1439 (accessed 6 January 2017).

Republika Online (2014) Abdul Muis, Tokoh Pertama yang Dapat Gelar Pahlawan Nasional http://nasional.republika.co.id/berita/nasional/umum/14/11/10/net0hr-abdul-muis-tokoh-pertama-yang-dapat-gelar-pahlawan-nasional (accessed 6 January 2017).

 

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Autumn Inspiration: In Memory of Amri Djamiun (Sawahlunto, 28 February 1951–Jakarta, 8 October 2016)

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Autumn is a season which represents release and maturity. I have read that somewhere, I can’t remember where exactly, but by what our family is going through now, I am beginning to understand what the metaphor is all about.

We are here in the month of October, a month in the season of autumn. Our family has been going through a difficult time these last few months, my uncle from my mother’s side had been stricken by illness. On October 8th we lost him.

Just like a lot of families in the big city of Jakarta, bad traffic, long working hours, tons of school activities make the extended family a thing of the past. Families just don’t connect physically but through social media messages when they have the time. So as you can guess, I hardly saw my uncle. Only in important family occasions would I see him—during weddings, funerals, or Idul Fitri family gatherings—and sometimes, like most teens, I’m there because my mother had dragged me there.

Although we don’t meet as often as we should, I remember my uncle, “Om Amri”, as I would call him, as a friendly man who likes to chitchat with a sense of humor and a distinctive way of speaking. Even though I don’t always get his jokes, I remember the big smile he always had on his face. A warm and caring smile.

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After the funeral, family members gather to enjoy the beautiful scenery overlooking the Sage II Vacation Home in Sawahlunto.

The last time I saw Uncle Amri was at the hospital and I couldn’t attend his funeral in his hometown, Sawahlunto. Funny thing, I always thought that he and I and Aunt Ita will visit Sawahlunto together some day. But that’s okay.

After graduating from high school in Sawahlunto, my uncle moved to Jakarta to go to college. Even after 48 years, he never forgot his hometown and visited it regularly. His heart belonged to Sawahlunto and that is where he wanted to return to. On Sawahlunto soil, close to the Sage II house, and under the Sawahlunto sky is where he chose to rest.

The grief and lost that our family is feeling with the passing of Uncle Amri is what autumn is all about. It is about releasing and letting go. The changes that come about because of it make us more mature and a better person. This is the phase my family, especially my aunt and her children, is going through at this time. Letting go of a loved one will make us grow spiritually and emotionally.

Rest in peace my uncle, Amri Djamiun, it was nice knowing you. Thanks for being part of our lives and teaching me this great lesson in life.

In Remembrance of Rohana Kudus (20 December 1884–17 August 1972)

On the 17th of August, Indonesia celebrates its Independence Day. Amidst this joyful celebration, we should be reminded to pay respect to one of Indonesia’s less celebrated female hero, Rohana Kudus, who died on the same day 27 years after independence. Rohana Kudus was Indonesia’s first female journalist and was an advocate for women’s education. She founded the first school for women in Koto Gadang, West Sumatra. To learn more about this pioneering women’s life, you can visit the Rohana Kudus Museum in Koto Gadang, Bukittingi, West Sumatra, just a two-hour drive from the Sage II Vacation Home, in Sawahlunto.

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A picture of Rohana Kudus at the Amai Setia handcraft shop

About Rohana Kudus, My Ancestor

Known as the “Ibu Kartini” of Koto Gadang, Rohana Kudus was born on 20 December 1884 in Koto Gadang and happens to be the cousin of my great grandmother from my mother’s side. Although I have learned about her at school but it was only when I was in junior high school that my mother told me that we are related to her and that our families once lost contact for a period of time. Ever since then, I was eager to know more about her.

Reading about Rohana Kudus, I found out that her way of thinking was ahead of her time. Rohana, who herself never had any formal education, was an advocate for women’s education. Rohana established good relations with the Dutch women in her neighborhood and it was through a friendship that she learned to knit, weave, and sew, as well as learned the Dutch language. This had influenced her views on education and led her, in 1911, to found the Amai Setia Women’s Handcraft School which also taught women how to read and write. In 1917 she established a school for women and men, this time using her own name the “Rohana School”.

I was told that she encountered various obstacles in running her handcraft school’s activities. Some residents disliked her views on women’s emancipation which conflicted with the cultural norms of the old days.

What I also learned and found remarkable is that Rohana was also the founder of the first women’s newspaper in Indonesia in 1912, called Sunting Melayu, where all the writers and editors were women. Throughout her life she worked for a number of newspapers.

Aside from having the skills to teach and write, Rohana was also a successful businesswoman. She was able to market the handcraft school’s merchandise and they were imported to Holland. The Women’s Handcraft School is now a handcraft shop and on top of this shop is where the Rohana Kudus Museum humbly stands.

Despite having good relations with the Dutch, Rohana was against Dutch occupation. She led a public kitchen during the battle with the Dutch and smuggled arms wrapped in fruits and vegetables.

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My aunt’s family visiting the Amai Setia handcraft shop

Even though I had all this information about her, Rohana Kudus, my ancestor, is still a mystery to me. I could only imagine this young fearless woman who devoted her life to the future of the people of West Sumatra, especially women.

Reading about the Rohana Kudus Museum, I learned more about her. The museum kept a lot of her personal belongings and photographs of her family and relatives. Her father, Mohamad Rasjad Maharadja, was an advisor for the Sultan of Deli. It was her father who taught Rohana how to read and write. He was also the founder of what was later to be the Studiefonds Koto Gadang, a school for the people of Koto Gadang.

Rohana’s half-brother, Sutan Syahrir, was Indonesia’s first prime minister and her cousin, Agus Salim, is a national hero who fought for Indonesia’s independence. Then I suddenly realized, how hard my ancestors have fought for our independence. Previously, it was just something I read in school textbooks, as if having no relation to me.

Acknowledgment Long Overdue

Rohana lived a long life, she died on 17 August 1972 in Jakarta at the age of 87. It is such a shame that the government acknowledged all of Rohana’s work only after she had died and that she was not quite a celebrated national hero. It was in 1974, two years after her death, that Rohana was awarded as the first female journalist of Indonesia by the Government of West Sumatra, and in 1987 awarded for being a pioneer of Indonesia’s Journalism by Indonesia’s Minister of Information. In 2007, she was finally awarded the Bintang Jasa Utama, a medal for civilians who are acknowledged for their services to the country.

RIP, Rohana Kudus, you are an inspiration for me and for Indonesia’s young generation.
 

Sources

FSLDK Indonesia (2016) Rohana Kudus, Seorang Perempuan Multitalenta dari Sumatera Barat http://fsldkindonesia.org/rohana-kudus-seorang-perempuan-multitalenta-dari-sumatera-barat/ (Accessed 8 August 2016).

Rangkuti, Annisa F. (2015) ‘Berkunjung ke Museum Rohana Kudus di “Amai Setia.”’ Kompasiana http://www.kompasiana.com/annisa_rangkuti/berkunjung-ke-museum-rohana-kudus-di-amai-setia_54ff104ca333119a4250f838 (Accessed 6 August 2016).

Wikipedia (2016) Roehana Koeddoes https://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roehana_Koeddoes (Accessed 6 August 2016).

Women and Youth Development Institute of Indonesia (2010) Roehana Koeddoes http://www.wydii.org/index.php/en/publication/publications/newsletters/63–roehana-koeddoes.html (Accessed 6 August 2016).

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The Return of Mak Itam, the Oldest Locomotive in Indonesia

Long before Thomas the train became famous, there was Mak Itam running through the railways of West Sumatra, an island unknown to most parts of the world in the 19th century. Mak Itam (Mr. Black), the nick name given to the long sleek black locomotive, is Indonesia’s oldest train which first operated in Sawahlunto to transport coal for the Dutch Indies government. He was built by Hartmann Chemnitz from Esslingen, Germany, with the serial number E 1060. Now he is the icon of Sawahlunto and is the star of Sawahlunto’s train station museum which received UNESCO’s Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation for the category Living Museum Town in 2009.

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This locomotive is full of history. If Mak Itam could speak like Thomas he would be able to tell you how he witnessed the beginning and the end of the coal mining Dutch Indies enterprise. Traveling from Sawahlunto to Emmahaven (Telukbayur) Padang to transport coal, Mak Itam witnessed the first coal workers settlements in Sawahlunto. In fact, he may even know about some of the worst times in the history of Dutch occupation where people from other islands were forced to work to build the railways all through the 1890s. He also witnessed the fall of the coal mine industry and how it impacted on Sawahlunto’s economy and population.

Mak Itam was still on duty during the 1980s where he was sent to work and transport coal in Ambarawa, Central Java. However after only a short period he was called off duty in the 1990s and retired at the Amabrawa Train Station Museum. This is when he began his career in the tourism industry, taking tourists for a ride from the museum.

It was not until 2008 that he was brought back to his home town, Sawahlunto, and was back in operation in 2009. This time his job was to take tourists from the Sawahlunto Train Station to Muarakelaban. Mak Itam has also provided transportation for participants of the Tour de Singkarak, the last time in 2012.

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Since his return, Mak Itam has settled at the Sawahlunto Train Station Museum. Opened in 2005, this museum displays photographs of Mak Itam during his youth and the Sawahlunto Train Station’s activities during the golden years of coal mining. It holds old train and communication equipment as well as miniature replicates of old locomotives.

Unfortunately, in 2013 Mak Itam suffered from combustion problems and was not able to operate. However, museum visitors could pay tribute to the historic Mak Itam in the museum where he was resting. Lack of government funds delayed Mak Itam’s regular operation in taking visitors from the train station. It took quite a while to figure out the way to repair Mak Itam, however in 2016, Indonesia’s locomotive experts have finally revived Mak Itam. In 13 June 2016, the Government of Sawahlunto launched the comeback of the legendary Mak Itam. He elegantly came dashing through the train tracks while a gathering crowd applauded with delight.

According to Sawahlunto’s Mayor, Ali Yusuf, Mak Itam will continue his important role in Sawahlunto’s tourism sector as soon as possible.

 

Sources:
“Mak Itam Sang Legenda Sawahlunto”
http://wawasanproklamator.com/artikel/33/mak-itam-sang-legenda-sawahlunto.html
“Menjenguk Mak Itam di Museum Kereta Sawahlunto”
http://travel.kompas.com/read/2013/12/28/1119149/Menjenguk.Mak.Itam.di.Museum.Kereta.Sawahlunto
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