Mandor killing fields
The site of large-scale massacres committed by Japan
in this remote West Kalimantan location during their occupation of much of what today is Indonesia
. This is commemorated through a big memorial with graphic depictions of Japanese brutality; there is also an underdeveloped exhibition pavilion, and along a forest drive you can find several mass graves of the victims.
It's quite an off-the-beaten-track and very special dark site that may perhaps hardly be worth the journey on its own, but it combines extremely well with some of Borneo's other prime attractions.
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
When the Japanese forces arrived in Kalimantan in 1942, Dutch
rule in the East Indies (as they used to call what is now Indonesia
) had already faltered, as the colonial forces were withdrawn within the turmoil of WWII
(or taken POW
by the Japanese). The local population thought that independence was thus on the horizon … but the Japanese put a brutal stop to any such ideas.
Repression was ruthless. And, as elsewhere (e.g. in Singapore
), mass execution of the local elites followed soon. Especially targeted was also the Chinese minority, who were collectively accused of being anti-Japanese by nature (in the wake of the Sino-Japanese war of the 1930s – cf. Nanjing
) and thus were targeted for almost complete elimination.
The Malay leadership ranks of the local sultanates were wiped out too, as were intellectuals (who military rulers are always suspicious of) as well as affluent traders. Eventually all men potentially capable of carrying weapons became targets of these purges.
Victims mostly came from the West Borneo city of Pontianak – hence the alternative name of “Pontianak Incidents” as a label for the mass killings. The victims were taken to the remote location of Mandor well out of view in the wilderness to be executed and buried in mass graves. In total well over 20,000 were killed here over the three years before the Japanese surrender in September 1945.
These mass graves were discovered after the war but it wasn't until about 1970 that a proper memorial was erected at the site, thanks mainly to a single local campaigner for such a move.
The site is now one of the more exotic local visitor attractions that is often included in tours into the Dayak areas further north-east, as it is logistically easy to combine – see below
“Pontianak”, by the way, is also the name for a legendary vampire-like mythical creature of the area. Pontianaks are said to be the ghosts of women who died during pregnancy. Typically depicted as long-haired and pale and at one time beautiful and the next dead ugly, pontianaks are said to prey on men who they kill by digging out and devouring their organs – and if you look at them they may even suck out your eyes. Monster-myths hardly come more horrific than that! Not all that surprising, then, that the myth has been the subject of several Indonesian and Malaysian made horror movies.
What there is to see: When you get to Mandor, the site is first announced by a kind of gate, not dissimilar to those totem-pole like entrances to Dayak village areas, and after a short drive (or walk) you come to the large-scale main memorial.
This consists of a central grey tower-like monument with a golden Indonesian Garuda bird on it, flanked by long red-and-black walls on which gold-painted reliefs illustrate what the Japanese did here.
The scenes depicted cover the Japanese soldiers chasing women, disturbing livestock, exploiting locals for forced labour, dealing with and betraying local leadership elites, looting, arresting selected victims (such as a well-dressed doctor with a stethoscope around his neck) and deporting people by trucks. And of course the mass executions are also depicted – with victims lined up at gunpoint row after row behind a trench that is to be their mass grave, in which a number of dead already lie. It's all pretty drastic and works almost like a storyboard. Some degree of dignity is maintained by the whole area being fenced in and surrounded by a park-like garden.
Nearby there is also a small pavilion with an exhibition of sorts inside it. When I was there it was locked (and nobody was in sight who may have been able to open it), but that didn't matter so much because you could look in through the glass walls. There were newspaper cuttings, documents and, for the most part, photographs of prominent victims of the Japanese purges (not that as a Western visitor you would be able to recognize any of them).
There was also an information panel with a “West Kalimantan tourist map”. This, however, was hardly legible. At a first glance it looked like it might be riddled with bullet holes – but the dots were just spots of rust slowly eating into the metal.
A track leading south from the main memorial site into the forest eventually passes the locations of several of the victims' mass graves – now protected under concrete slabs with roofs on stilts over them. They are simply numbered, I, 2, 3, 4, ...
At a small clearing, a roofless mass grave is accompanied by a memorial stone. I seem to remember that I was told that this was dedicated to a local sultan killed in the purges, though I can't be sure now.
At one point the track goes past an opening in the dense forest that reveals a view over a desert-like white-sand expanse, which I was told was a former illegal gold mining site. The environmental devastation was shocking to behold. And this was just a tiny little insight. The whole picture is much worse. When you search the area on Google Maps you find that the mining operation must have been enormous – that vast stretches of land were turned into a toxic desert. And once you've got an eye for it you find loads of such pale desert-like patches all over the satellite map of Borneo. It serves as a stark reminder that while the Japanese war atrocities may be a thing of the distant past now, the contemporary destruction of the environment in Borneo by the Indonesians
themselves is very much a current tragedy.
Making the trip out to Mandor is certainly not prime dark tourism but rather a niche option for only the very dedicated. For what you get to see, the effort and/or costs for getting here may seem disproportionate. But if you plan to go to West and Central Borneo in any case, then Pontianak makes a good entry/departure point, and if you have a day spare here, the day trip out to Mandor (and the Dayak longhouse – see below) is well worth considering.
in various places in West Kalimantan province, Borneo, Indonesia
(see also combinations
below), as indicated by the following map locators:
] – mass graves and environmental scars from gold mining
Access and costs: quite remote, hence complicated and/or expensive to get to.
Getting to Pontianak is fairly easy – there are daily direct flight connections to Jakarta
with Garuda, and onward connections with (somewhat less reliable) regional airlines to e.g. Pangkalan Bun.
From Pontianak, onward travel options to the memorial site do include buses to Mandor (ca. 2-3 hours), but if you want to combine the trip with a visit to the Dayak village you really need to invest in a tour with a guide and driver, or else you're faced with disproportionate complications. There are several local operators offering such tours. Some include an overnight stay at the Dayak village or elsewhere to spread things out a bit instead of cramming it all into a single long day return trip. Shop around.
The regional airline Trigana Air offers onward flight connections to Pangkalan Bun, from where tour packages of Tanjung Puting national park by klotok boat start (well, the boats go from Kumai, but an airport transfer is typically included or, if not, easy to arrange).
In Pontianak there are plenty of accommodation options, including very good standard Western-style business hotels whose rates don't have to break the bank. I stayed at the Aston, a chain hotel, OK, but it offered superbly appointed spacious rooms and a breakfast buffet of an absolutely vast array of choices, including really exotic local delicacies. Shame I had such early departures both mornings so I couldn't really exploit this.
Food & drink
in Pontianak is also generally interesting, especially given the heavy Chinese influence, so you get a wider range than elsewhere in Indonesia. Veggies (like me
) can benefit from Chinese-run special vegetarian restaurants that offer the whole gamut of the area's cuisine (and beyond) but all in veggie versions. Excellent.
For Tanjung Puting you have to book packages that include accommodation (mostly aboard klotok boats or at the single lodge adjacent to the park), all meals and visits to the orang utan viewing spots (see below
Time required: The combined Mandor/Dayak longhouse trip takes a long whole day, from daybreak to about nightfall. And that's as a guided trip by car. Independently this would surely take at least three whole days. Most of that time is just travelling time. At the main sites themselves you won't spend more than about half an hour or so each.
Combinations with other dark destinations: The environmental devastation caused by gold mining has already been mentioned. Another, possibly even more wide-ranging environmental issue that is endangering Borneo as a biodiversity hotspot (and, amongst others, is responsible for so critically endangering orang utans, proboscis monkeys and other vulnerable species) is palm oil farming. This you don't get to see so directly en route to the sites outlined above – but what you do see is trucks transporting the palm oil fruits from the plantations to the oil factories. On this day trip alone we must have passed at least five or six dozen such trucks, all loaded to the brim with this highly controversial cash crop. It's depressing.
Another environmental issue in Borneo is logging – and e.g. in Pangkalan Bun you can see evidence of this as well: (mostly) red wood tree trunks shipped upriver and awaiting processing on the riverbank sawmills. Teak, so I was told, is a popular type of wood logged here.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: A typical combination with the Mandor memorial site is a visit at a Dayak longhouse – in fact these are normally advertised as the primary destination, with the Mandor site just thrown in en route.
The Dayak are a local tribe that in some parts of Borneo still even constitutes the majority, although transmigration has diminished their former status. In really remote jungle locations, the Dayak (which is really a cover term for quite a range of tribes) still live more or less like they have since time immemorial. Head-hunting, that is literally: the collection of severed adversaries' heads, once a favourite pastime in the olden days, has, however, been outlawed. So you are are quite safe to visit these days. The Dayak longhouse mostly visited on these shorter trips from/to Pontianak is one that has seen a certain degree of westernization (electricity, TVs, etc.) but is still one of the oldest – and longest (180m!) – such structures in the area. You can observe traditional crafts, and potentially even buy souvenirs, but overall the whole thing does not feel overly touristified.
Pontianak city itself may not be the prettiest of places but has a few sights of note, not least the well-known equator monument. Pontianak is kind of famous for sitting bang-on the imaginary equator line … well, nearly. Hence the monument is actually a short drive of a few miles out of the city on the northern bank of the river. Another better known Pontianak sight is its Abdurrahman mosque, which features an unusual design (from an international perspective – here it is actually typical) namely in the form resembling a multi-tiered pyramid
Further afield the Tanjung Puting
national park beckons – which is possibly the best location in Indonesia for seeing orang utans
, especially at Camp Leakey
. The place is named after Louis Leakey, the British paleoanthropologist who famously mentored the three “Leaky girls” doing field research on three endangered species of great apes – including Dian Fossey
), Jane Goodall (chimps) and, at this location, Birute Galdikas.
The apes you see here are “rehabilitated” formerly captive ones that have been released into the semi-wild but still get fed at designated feeding platforms – hence it is so easy to get so close to them. It is not like seeing them in the real wild habitat, that is true, so it is a little zoo-like, especially when many tourists congregate at the feeding stations. But it is still an amazing exp erience.
In my view, however, it was all topped by seeing large troupes of proboscis monkeys (only found on Borneo) in the wild, yet still fairly close up, namely in trees just by the riverside. Their almost impossible looking faces rather resemble CGI-ed creatures in a Harry-Potter movie, especially the adolescent ones, while the big males sport those eponymous bulbous noses, and pot bellies … and much of the time quite visible sexual prowess too (in glaringly red and upright form). The national park is also full of various other rare and not-so-rare species and is definitely a highlight of any trip to Indonesia! Well worth the investment.
The gateway to Tanjung Puting is the riverside town of Kumai, which in turn is best reached from Pangkalan Bun which is home to the area's regional airport. That town is also a great place to explore for a few hours, on foot along the riverside boardwalks or by canoe along the river.
- Mandor 01 - remote location
- Mandor 02 - killing fields monument
- Mandor 03 - scaring women and chicken alike
- Mandor 04 - chicken run
- Mandor 05 - dodgy dealings with local chiefs
- Mandor 06 - a bit cliched
- Mandor 07 - rounding up the victims
- Mandor 08 - deportation
- Mandor 09 - mass executions
- Mandor 10 - looting
- Mandor 11 - one of the mass graves
- Mandor 12 - mass grave No 6
- Mandor 13 - memorial stone by the mass graves
- Mandor 14 - exhibition pavillon by the main monument
- Mandor 15 - with extra photos and documents
- Mandor 16 - prominent victims
- Mandor 17 - pavilions by the main monument
- Mandor 18 - rusty tourist map of the region
- Mandor 19 - approach road to Dayak village
- Mandor 20 - Dayak longhouse
- Mandor 21 - inside the longhouse
- Mandor 22 - old Dayak woman in the longhouse
- Mandor 23 - modern amenities and papal support
- Mandor 24 - lots of lorries transporting palm oil plants
- Mandor 25 - unusual cemetery with graves on stilts
- Mandor 26 - the Kapuas river at Pontianak
- Mandor 27 - equator monument
- Mandor 28 - Pontianak at dusk