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.

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.

Amai Setia_photo_2016-08-17_18-39-44
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.


FSLDK Indonesia (2016) 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 (Accessed 6 August 2016).

Wikipedia (2016) Roehana Koeddoes (Accessed 6 August 2016).

Women and Youth Development Institute of Indonesia (2010) Roehana Koeddoes–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.


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.


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.


“Mak Itam Sang Legenda Sawahlunto”
“Menjenguk Mak Itam di Museum Kereta Sawahlunto”
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The Music of Minangkabau

Music has always been an important element in the Minangkabau society of West Sumatra. Traditional music is a major part of the rituals and festive activities of Minang community life. Moreover, Minang music has developed as a genre and has widely contributed to the development of modern music in Indonesia, while continuing to maintain the Minang identity.

Influences on Traditional Music

The unique sounds and instruments of Minang traditional music reflects the roles and statuses of each group in the community and serves to strengthen collectivity and cohesiveness. Minangkabau traditional instruments include the serunai (a wind instrument influenced by Indian culture), saluang (a bamboo flute), and talempong (a gong-like percussion). Some musical instruments are influenced by Arabic culture, such as the rabab (similar to a small violin) and the rebana percussions. The latter has its roots in Arabic culture and is frequently used in social or Islamic-related events. All these instruments are known to provide a distinct character to Minang traditional music.

A musical group playing the talempong instrument

In Indonesia, the Minang people are not only known for their traditional music but also for what is called the Minang pop genre, where modern musical instruments are also used. In the Minang pop genre, traditional instruments are played in combination with the piano and the guitar and other instruments. Many modern instruments that originated from Europe, made their way to Indonesia during the Dutch occupation. For example, the guitar was first introduced when a group of Portuguese people held captive by the Dutch would spend time playing guitar.

Hybrid music containing various elements of local and foreign features, which formed the Minang pop genre date way back to the 1880s when the Dutch theatre (tonil) presented these kind of musical influences in the theatres of Kota Padang and later in Bukittinggi. Gamad-Melayu music containing elements of Indian and Portuguese music has also been identified as the beginning of what would later be known as Minang pop. The Evening Market Fair (‘Pasar Malam’) which was held regularly in Kota Padang featured other types of popular music, such as keroncong, which has its influence from the Portuguese. The Javanese people who were taken to Sawahluntho by the Dutch to work in the coal mines played an important role in spreading keroncong in West Sumatra.

Minang Pop Music

Elements of music which combined traditional and modern characteristics continued to influence the development of modern music in West Sumatra and outside of the province, especially the genre known as Minang pop. In fact, a kind of Minang pop music invasion emerged in the early 1950s during the Soekarno era when Western influences and culture were suppressed. It provided the right moment for regional music to rise and grab the attention of the nation.

A musical group playing the rebana instrument during an islamic festival event

The Minang pop genre was popular in Jakarta mainly in the 1950s to 1970s where it was initiated by the Minang people who migrated to the cities. Leaving their village town (especially for men) to find a better living is part of the Minangkabau way of life which is still practiced until today. Minang pop music, sung by using the Minang language and with lyrics sometimes describing the landscapes of the villages, was soothing to the hearts of those Minang migrants far from home and at the same time it served as maintaining their Minang identity. More than that, the music was received quite well by the Indonesian public.

The mid-1950s saw the emergence of a Jakarta-based musical group under the name Orkes Gumarang who succeeded in making Minang pop a commercial break through. In a political climate which restricted western music, Orkes Gumarang was smart to adopt elements of Latin music. Not only did their song received high radio airplay, they even succeeded in performing live on the national radio, RRI (Radio of the Republic of Indonesia), where they had to go through a very tight selection process. The band reached its peak of success in the ‘60s and is considered one of the pioneers of Indonesian modern music.

Sawahlunto women singing keroncong melodies

Orkes Gumarang enjoyed internationally acclaimed success, they toured the United States, Europe, and Japan. In 1971 they played for the first time in West Sumatra, but only in two towns, Padang and Bukittinggi. Other towns, such as Sawahlunto, which was a title for a popular Minang pop song, ‘Nasib Sawahlunto’ (the Fate of Sawahlunto) were left disappointed.

Even today, Minang pop music has not lost the innovative sense which it had during its heyday. The music now combines elements of hip hop and various types of dance music mix. Whilst maintaining the importance of the Minang cultural identity, the Minang people have shown to be receptive to change, making the Minang culture always dynamic.


Written by Alemora Hadiz and Liza Hadiz



Barendregt, Bart (2002)
The Sound of ‘Longing for Home’ Redefining a Sense of Community through Minang Popular Music (Accessed 23 April 2016).

Yori, Dean Stales, Zusmelia, and Zulfa (n.d.)
Orkes Gumarang: Pelopor Musik Minang Modern Tahun 1953-1980 (Accessed 24 April 2016).

Various sources on music, musical instruments, and Minangkabau music.

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WEST SUMATRA, the Land of the Matriarchaat


Welcome today’s guest blogger, Liza Hadiz

West Sumatra is acknowledged for being culturally different from other parts of Indonesia, in fact, from most societies in the world. Many western anthropologists have come to West Sumatra to study the Minangkabau society and its social structure which differ from western societies. Some anthropologists have referred to West Sumatra as the largest existing matriarchal society. This is due to the important role the female members of the community play alongside their male peers.

Matriarchy: The Rule of Women?

The people of West Sumatra often use the term ‘matriarkat’ to describe their own society. The term most probably originated from the Dutch word matriarchaat, a term the colonial ruler used to describe West Sumatra’s distinct culture and social structure. Western scholars tend to interpret the term as meaning the opposite of patriarchy (the rule of the father), hence a society where women rule. However, this is not what was found in the Minangkabau society. Instead of domination over a group of people, the Minangkabau society was described by some researchers as a society founded on egalitarian social relations, especially between the sexes.

The above conclusion, however, may not be in accordance with conventional western perception of equality. The role of Minangkabau women is predominantly in the domestic domain, while the role of men mainly fall into the public domain. Women generally manage the household, prepare meals, and care for the children. Older men are involved in and lead public activities, such as religious gatherings and community decision-making; younger men leave the village to find new sources of livelihood.

However, inheritance is passed on through matrilineal lines. It is women who obtain ownership of the long houses, called the ‘rumah gadang’; they also own land and other assets. Traditionally, upon marriage, a man leaves his family’s house to live with his wife.

Besides attending to domestic affairs, senior women who are elected by community members to sit in the Bundo Kanduang (senior-women adat council) play an important role alongside the Ninik Mamak (the senior-men adat council) to make decisions which protect the well-being of the female descendants in terms of adat, including the maintenance of their wealth. These decisions aim to maintain the harmony within the community.

Senior Women of West Sumatra play an important role in family and community decision-making

Because of the western bias surrounding the term matriarchaat or matriarchy in English, as meaning the rule of women, anthropologists today tend to opt for alternative terms to describe the Minangkabau society. The terms partnership, matrilineal, matrilocal, women-oriented, or women-centered society are among those which are now used.

The Influence of Islam

With the arrival of Islam in the 16th century in West Sumatra, Islamic law was widely adopted in the region, while the people still retained their ‘matriarkat’ social structure. The Minangkabau people are known to be devout Muslims. This may seem contradictory from an outsider’s view. For example, the way inheritance is arranged in Islam (ruling men with twice the amount given to women) conflicts with centuries-old matrilineal Minangkabau custom (adat). It was said that through their egalitarian way of community decision-making, religious and adat tensions were resolved. Inheritance from the matrilineal kin is passed on to women in accordance with tradition and economic sources gained independently is inherited in accordance with Islamic law.

Islam is said to have further contributed to the uniqueness of the Minangkabau society. This is reflected in the old saying: ‘adat basandi syara’, syara’ basandi Kitabullah’, which means that adat is implemented based on Islamic law, and Islamic law is implemented based on the Holy Koran.

Men gathering
The Ninik Mamak shares its power with the Bundo Kanduang


There have long been concerns about the declining role of the Bundo Kanduang with the development of centralized governance. Despite the reintroduction of the nagari (the traditional administrative unit of West Sumatra) in 2001 under regional autonomy, these concerns still continue.

For the Minangkabau people of the older generation, the Islam and adat duality shows how their ancestors survived the test of time despite challenges to their cultural values and religious belief. They maintained their society by adapting to changes, resolving differences, and maintaining egalitarian forms of community life. Indeed a lesson the younger generation can learn from.


Sanday, Peggy. An excerpt from Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy
Cornell University Press, 2002. (accessed 1 April 2016)
The Pennsylvania University. Indonesia’s Matriarchal Minangkabau offer an Alternative Social System. (accessed 1 April 2016)
 Liza Hadiz is an editor in Jakarta.
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The Goedang Ransom Museum located in West Sumatra presents a snapshot of an important period in the history of a small town which would later be known as Sawahlunto. The public kitchen—which is now the museum—played an important role in a period that had a significant impact on the future of Sawahlunto. The images, artifacts, and building of the museum capture the life once lived by a community which developed under colonial rule.

The Goedang Ransoem Museum was established in 1918 under the Dutch colonial government but was not inaugurated until 17 December 2005 by the Indonesian government. Fortunately, despite a few issues, the museum has been well taken care of throughout the years.


The  picture gallery in the museum shows historical photographs, such as of WH de Greeve, a Dutch geologist who discovered coal in Sawahlunto in 1868. He claimed that there were over 200 million metric tons of ‘black pearls’, the term for coal, in Sawahlunto. The Dutch invested 5.5 million guilders to build housings for workers and the Sawahlunto Emma Haven (Teluk Bayur) train track for the Ombilin coal mine enterprise, as well as for traditional and modern coal mine equipment. Other photos include the Ombilin coal mine map, the uniforms of foremen and the coal miners, as well as of community leaders of the era.

Visitors can particularly see photos of coal mine laborers at work using dynamite and laborers which were brought from all over the provinces and forced to work at the coal mine with their feet chained, popularly known as “Orang Rantai” .

The main building of the museum holds a collection of cooking utilities which was once used to cook food for coal mine workers and Sawahlunto residents. Large-sized woks used to boil water, cook rice and vegetables are still in good condition. Old giant crocks made of iron and nickle with a diameter of 132 and 62 cm in length are also stored in this building. Visitors can see the uniform used by the cook and examples of the food cooked for the coal miners from a glass case.

People used to cook in this building by using the steam produced by two stoves at the back of the main kitchen, which was provided by underground gas pipes using compressors. The main stove which function to supply steam is located in the back area of the main kitchen. This old  coal stove is as tall as a tower. A reserved stove and a tank have also been kept in good condition. The roof top of the main building of the museum is made of zinc and a concrete chimney can be viewed from a far.

Besides the main kitchen and the stoves, there is an area for storing vegetables, dried spices, meat, and also an ice factory. This ice factory is said to be one of the oldest ice factory in Sumatra.

Beside the front entrance of the building, visitors can see the collection of the trains used to transport coal. On the right side of the building there are audio visuals of Sawahlunto’s coal mine history. The area is air conditioned and has comfortable seats for visitors. Next to this area is a hall way with the photo panels showcasing the history of the public kitchen and the building.


The museum also showcases historical artifacts such as a wooden foot rice pounder. People pound unhulled paddy, spice, and traditional medicine only by using their feet and weight to move the pestle, while the mortar is attached to a large wood.

During the struggle for independence in 1945 and on to 1950 the Goedang Ransoem Museum was used to cook food for Indonesian soldiers. In 1950 to 1960 the museum was used as the office of the Ombilin coal mine enterprise. From 1960 to 1970, the building became the Ombilin Junior High School and it afterwards became a residence for the Ombilin workers until 1980.

What remains as a strong reminder of Sawahlunto’s colonial history is the unnamed and numbered tomb stones of workers who had died while working at the mine, which are found at the back of the museum building. These workers are part of what would later bring about Sawahlunto’s present rich cultural diversity and establish the town’s unique place in the history of West Sumatra.


The Goedang Ransoem Museum is in Jl. Abdurrahman Hakim, Lembah Segar, West Sumatra 27422, Indonesia

The museum is 94 km or about a two-hour drive from Kota Padang

Ticket price is Rp4,000 for adults and Rp2,000 for children.


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Music, art, and culture have always been an important part of the Sawahlunto community of West Sumatra. Every year in Sawahlunto, a music festival which presents music from all over the region and world is held to promote cultural diversity and exchange.

The Sawahlunto International Music Festival, or popularly known as Simfes, is a music festival for ethnic, modern, and contemporary music which is held annually in Sawahlunto. The Simfes, opens the way to discourses of unlimited creative ideas in the music world for artists and musicians. The festival showcases the musical diversity and dynamics of various ethnic groups around the world, aiming to facilitate cultural dialogues between nations based on the spirit of idealism.

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The opening of Simfes 2015


This idea of this event emerged in 2009. A year later it was realized through the Simfes premiere on 3–5 December 2010. This international event was held the second time on December 2–4 2011. In previous years, Simfes has also helped celebrate Sawahlunto’s commemoration day.

The Simfes appointed two curators to select musicians who will appear in upcoming events. They are Edy Utama, a humanist, observer, and practitioner of arts and culture, and Dr.Hiltrud Cordes from Germany who is also the founder of Kultur Kontakt, an organization which develops cultural cooperation between Indonesia and Germany as well as raise funds for musicians to perform in Europe. In addition to selecting and searching for musicians, the two curators also develop concepts for musical performances with a different theme for every year.

Stierwascher performing at the Simfes 2015

Musical performances organized by Simfes were held for the sixth time in Sawahlunto on 18–20 September 2015. Aside from Indonesian musicians, a number of musicians from various countries also performed at the event. Indonesian musicians include Gilang Ramadhan, while musicians from other countries are the Hereford Hoppers from England and Steev Kindwald from Thailand. Every year, different international musicians perform in the Simfes.

The festival also promotes local musical groups, such as the Forum Kompang of Riau Islands, Arastra of Bengkulu, as well as various musicians from Sawahlunto.

Don’t miss next year’s Simfes to get the ultimate music experience of Sawahlunto.

Visit the Sage II Vacation Home of Sawahlunto.

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Second photo:



Sawahlunto, the historic coal mining town of West Sumatra, celebrated its 127th anniversary on December 1st 2015. Last Tuesday, which was the peak of celebrations beginning last month, a community dine-out or makan bajamba with the people of the town was held in the Sawahlunto Triangle Park, better known by the local name Lapangan Segitga Sawahlunto.

Happy 127th Anniversary, Sawahlunto!

Makan bajamba is a Minangkabau tradition of dining conducted at traditional ceremonies and festivals, or important events. Women carry food trays on top of their heads and serve them to the people who are sitting cross-legged on the floor dining. Before the feast begins, community leaders take turns reciting a four-line verse (pantun). The philosophy behind this dining tradition is to bring a sense of togetherness among the people of the community, regardless of social status. The makan bajamba ceremony is conducted every year in Sawahlunto to commemorate the birth of this historical and multicultural town.

Prior to this ceremony, a range of activities had been held since the 24th of November which will continue until the turn of the year. These activities include a multicultural festival, a Tarung Derajat martial art attraction (originating from West Java), a Sawahlunto night run with over a hundred participants, a paragliding festival and fun fly, a body building contest, a book launch and photo display, a derby with 61 race horses, a dog race, and a bird-singing contest. The commemoration ends with the New Year’s Eve celebration.

Makan Bajamba ceremony on 1st December

Multicultural festivals which have marked celebrations each year reflect Sawalunto’s changing history from the ‘Kuali Town’ to the ‘Coal Mining Town’, and now  the ‘Tourism Town’. Sawahlunto used to be coined as the Kuali (wok) Town because of it’s inward shape that is surrounded by hills, resembling a wok.  During the coal hey day, Sawahlunto was a gem for the Dutch government who had built a successful coal industry in this town by bringing in workers from provinces around  the country, notably Java (read more on this in our previous post). Thus, the town was known as the Coal Mining Town.

This historical past has set Sawahlunto apart from other cities in West Sumatra in terms of cultural diversity, characterizing Sawahlunto with a mix and merge of different cultural influences. In this annual celebration, this is reflected in festive activities, such as the Kuda Lumping dance, which has its roots from the Javanese culture.

Kuda Lumping dance in Multicultural Festival

Some activities, however, are carried out with no relation to culture or tradition. The paragliding competition in Batu Tanjung is an example. As many as 70 paragliders entered the competition as well as seven Japanese paragliders. Paragliding competitions have been held as part of the government’s effort to boost the tourism sector through what is called ‘Sports Tourism’ events. Puncak Polan—which allows paragliders to enjoy a full view of the town from the skies—is also a landmark for paragliding activities which have attracted tourists from around the world. Since 2004, the Sawahlunto government has officially announced that the tourism sector will be the main driver of the economy and development of the town which over a decade ago had experienced a decline.

Besides sports events that are of international interest (read previous post on bicycle tournament), Sawahlunto is a town of historical heritage where old buildings and monuments of the colonial past are found. The government is currently making efforts to establish Sawahlunto as one of UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage City.

Paragliding competition

Indeed Sawahlunto has come a long a way from being an abandoned town after its coal mine glory days. Now it is a vibrant town where cultural diversity meets historical heritage. Hence, the town’s anniversary is a celebration of cultural diversity and historical identity. Join the celebration, visit Sawahlunto and participate in upcoming events.


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Sawahlunto Derby

Visit the Sage II Vacation Home of Sawahlunto.

For more information contact: | +6281296144491