Pancasila Sakti monument and museum
One of the more unusual sights in Jakarta
– a totally bizarre mix of historical site, shamelessly propagandistic museum, OTT monument, anti-communism shrine and all-round glorification of militarism and nationalism. Possibly the single weirdest commodified site in all of Indonesia
More background info:
In Javanese “Sakti” means as much as 'sacred', and “Pancasila” means 'five principles', namely those that form the heart of the official state philosophy of Indonesia
. This is enshrined in the constitution and represented in the national emblem in the form of a Garuda bird holding a shield with the corresponding five symbols. Here they are (roughly and concisely translated):
1) belief in one and only one God (symbol: star),
2) just, civilized humanity (symbol: chain),
3) unity of the state of Indonesia (symbol: tree),
4) very roughly: representative democracy, or “guided” democracy (symbol: buffalo), and
5) social justice (symbol: rice and cotton).
There isn't much wrong with these principles, except for the first one, of course, as it basically declares atheism or any non-monotheistic belief system unconstitutional and thus illegal (even though there are many ethnic groups in Indonesia where older animist beliefs still dominate – but these are, reluctantly, tolerated).
The actual content of the Pancasila ideology is not really the point here, though. For Indonesian nationalists like Suharto what matters more is simply that there IS such a prescribed ideology and that it is anti-communist (naturally communism
too would fail to pass the first principle test, though not necessarily any of the others).
The Pancasila Sakti site in Jakarta, however, is only in small part a celebration of this ideology. Much more so it is a glorification of “martyrs”, namely those army generals who were murdered on 1 October 1965 in the alleged 30th September Movement communist coup (see under Indonesia
). And of course in the process it is also a well over-the-top demonization of communists (portrayed as evil torturers and murderers).
The location of the Pancasila Monument and Museum is also a historical site. It was here that the alleged HQ of the communists was, where they are said to have hatched the plan for the attempted coup. Moreover it is also the site of the Lubang Buaya. This literally means crocodile pit or hole – apparently such reptiles formerly lived in the nearby river, hence the name – and is the common word for the (waterless) well into which the murdered victims were dumped by their assassins and from which they were later retrieved (as forensic evidence after the failed coup, as it were). Suharto is said to have personally supervised this retrieval operation.
The well hole is presented like a holy shrine of sorts, while outside the former communist HQ barracks dummies “re-enact” the torture of the captive army generals – all with plenty of fierce grimacing on the part of the torturers and plenty of fake blood on the victims.
The largest feature of the site, though, is the adjacent museum. This purports to chronicle a long string of communist coups and plots, culminating in the 30th September one, which is lavishly illustrated. But more than that it is a celebration of the steadfast anti-communist quelling of the communist threat to the nation by Suharto et al. Museums simply do not come more biased than this.
The Pancasila Sakti site was first developed in the late 1960s, i.e. as Suharto was consolidating his grip on power which he then held on to until the late 1990s. During his reign he apparently attended annual ceremonies commemorating (the crushing of) the coup on 1 October each year.
Now that Suharto is gone and nationalistic militarism isn't as dominant in Indonesia
as it used to be (though it is far from gone altogether, mind you!), the Pancasila Sakti site has lost a bit of its official significance. But it is still there and for the dark tourist of today it is a curious place to go and see what degree of propagandistic clout the Suharto regime used to have.
What's more, many (if not all) of the Indonesians coming here still believe all this claptrap! Even my Jakarta
guide was routinely referring to that “communist coup” as if it was set in stone that it really happened and that the version of history portrayed here was indeed correct. Apparently this is also still the version to be found in school textbooks. So no wonder this warped vision of Indonesia's history still prevails so much inside the country.
It remains to be seen whether that may slowly change, now that the country for the first time since Suharto has a president without roots in the old guard of the “New Order”. The film “The Act of Killing” may also have raised awareness of what really happened in the mid 1960s in Indonesia
. But there is probably still a very long way to go for this country to come to terms with its own very dark chapters of its 20th century history.
To whatever degree this may happen or not, I do hope that the Pancasila Sakti site will survive. It is such a drastic showcase of how manipulative and truth-warped a museum and memorial site can be. As such it deserves to be preserved, although it could obviously do with some counterpointing commodification
putting things into a more adequate perspective. Indeed, it needs this very badly, but hopefully not in another twist of revisionism and bowdlerization. Ideally I wish the site would remain as it is and only be complemented by more enlightened, balanced commentary. To be frank, though, my hopes for this happening any time soon are very slim.
What there is to see: There are basically three separate components to the site: the museum, the historical site and the monument. Let's begin with the latter.
The Pancasila Sakti monument stands set back from the square in a woodland grove. To the side of the stairs leading towards it are shrine-like granite blocks with marble slabs on them on which the Pancasila principles are engraved in gold letters (and in the old spelling, “pantjasila”).
The monument itself stands on a black-marble-paved square and features a tall light-grey slab with a big bronze Garuda bird with the national symbol on it towering over a group of seven life-size figures standing in a semi-circle on a raised platform. Why seven? Wasn't it SIX army generals who were murdered on 1 October 1965 (see above
and under Indonesia
)? Indeed, but a seventh victim who was not a general but a lieutenant, one Pierre Tendean, was allegedly mistaken for another general and shot in a botched kidnapping attempt. In a way, then, he was an accidental victim, but still a casualty of the coup. So he was included here as well. The roost is led, as it were, by the central figure, that of General Ahmad Yani defiantly pointing his arm ahead (he was commander of the army, after all).
Beneath the group of figures, on the outside of the platform they're standing on, is a large bronze relief depicting scenes related to the historical events. You can see the dumping of the bodies in the well, street fighting scenes, army and police operations, scenes from the show trials following the arrest of the plotters, and of course an aloof Suharto being looked up to by devout disciples.
The historical site, if it really is that, consists of a cluster of small houses, or barracks, and of course the infamous well into which the murdered victims were dumped by the plotters. This is a rather small round opening made of terracotta that does not look convincingly like it could actually be the real thing, but so what. It is illuminated from within its depths in red light – presumably to symbolize blood. There's a small plaque next to the hole proclaiming something in Indonesian to the effect of Pancasila being upheld come what may. The well site is sheltered by a rather oversized temple-like roof and is slightly elevated on a marble platform (which to me cast further doubt on the authenticity of the hole). To the front of this well-hole shrine red marble paving is set into the black in seven long strips – presumably symbolizing the flowing blood of the seven victims.
Next to the well site is an ensemble of dummies under a roof – called the “torturing veranda”. It shows tied-up victims with blood streaming from their heads and arms, fierce-looking torturers swinging sabres and rifles and a group of onlooking communist rebels (marked as such by red scarves) holding rifles with bayonets or raising their fists in the air. The message is clear: the communists are evil and the victims are martyrs. They are even referred to as “revolutionary heroes”, though it is not explained in which way exactly their being tortured and murdered is supposed to constitute a kind of heroic act.
The small buildings behind this scene are marked by little plaques as the “command post” of the PKI plotters. PKI is the name of the Indonesian communist party that was allegedly behind the coup – even though no real evidence for this has ever been produced (see under Indonesia
). The rooms inside are almost bare, except for a few simple items of furniture such as a table with chairs, a bed (without bedding) and bamboo mats.
So much for the monument and historical site. The larger part of the whole site is taken up by the museum. En route to the entrance you pass a couple of open-air exhibits such as a jeep that Suharto is said to have used at the time, one of the plotters' trucks, as well as Ahmad Yani's limo.
The first exhibit inside the museum foyer is a diorama under glass showing what the site looked like in 1965 when it was still just a rural, swampy location well away from the city. The actual museum exhibition is split into two parts housed in separate buildings connected by a bridge.
The first half kicks off with a large photo montage showing important figures involved in the whole episode of 1965, including, naturally Suharto himself as well as the arrested plotters.
There are also a few artefacts, such as guns, uniforms and flags, as well as a few documents and further photos, but for the most part the remainder of the exhibition consists of a series of glass display cases with dioramas of scale models and figurines engaged in all manner of brutal acts: rioting, murdering, torturing and so on and so forth, as well as communist groups, especially the PKI, holding conspiratorial meetings. These are supposed to portray various communist atrocities and plots committed between 1945 and 1965.
There are descriptive texts in Indonesian and English. The translations are often in rather broken English but you get the gist. Content-wise it is all extremely biased: evil, bloodthirsty commies vs. heroic nationalist martyrs. We do not need to go into the details.
The culmination of it all is obviously the portrayal of the 30th September movement, their coup attempt and its aftermath. The latter is obviously especially interesting, given the general bias of the exhibition. And indeed, as expected, it gets even more ridiculous here. The celebration of the anti-communist actions under Suharto is as glorifying as it can get, while the mass murder of communists in Suharto's purges following the events of 1 October 1965 are conveniently overlooked entirely.
Only the dissolution of the PKI is pointed out, and hurray – apparently everybody lived happily ever after … I quote from the relevant panel verbatim: “The decree disolving [sic!] and banning the PKI […] received a warm welcome from all the Indonesian people. Masses of Jakarta people held a victory parade in the streets and carried poster [sic!] to express their happiness and thanks”. Have mercy!
The second half of the museum in the other building concentrates solely on the events of 1 October. The dumping of the victims' corpses is lavishly described and illustrated in an almost loving fashion by yet more dioramas. It gets even more drastic with the display of photos from the exhumation of the bodies from the well.
The remainder of the museum consists of full life-size dioramas of the kidnapping and murder of the seven “heroes” by the communist rebels, as well as the shooting of one general's daughter – in the arms of her mother. Oh those evil commies, eh? Good riddance to them, then! That's clearly what visitors are supposed to take home from here.
But just in case all this one-sided portrayal wasn't enough, a plaque at the end of the exhibition admonishes everybody to be vigilant against the latent danger of communism and be firm in Pancasila ideology. (As far as something so vague as the Pancasila principles can be adhered to firmly … but logic presumably doesn't enter into this.)
Back outside you really need to take a good few breaths of fresh air, even if it's out in the heat rather than the air-conned museum interior, just to recover from this onslaught of hyper-biased propaganda.
So is it worth going to such a dodgy site? Not for everybody, but for some absolutely! Especially if you can get a certain delectation out of such crazily overdone one-sided propaganda in a style that even North Korea
would be hard pressed to match. If you are expecting a genuine history lesson, don't go. But if you can handle the extreme weirdness, it's priceless. If you enjoyed the weird history museum at the Monas
, then you will totally love the Pancasila Sakti – in a twisted and potentially even cynical way, of course.
But try not to laugh out loudly at the site itself – it might offend other visitors and museum staff who probably still fall for all the Suharto-era propaganda. It is hard, though, not to keep shaking your head in disbelief. In that sense the museum even requires a North-Korea-tourism-like degree of self-discipline.
In terms of mission, message and execution this is probably amongst the very worst museums I have ever seen (cf. also the WWII museum in Kanchanaburi
), but some things are just so off the scale of any quality standards that this alone makes for a twisted kind of attraction. Like cheap 1950s horror movies or brutalist 1960s housing architecture. You get my drift (I hope).
some 10 miles (16 km) south-east of the centre of Jakarta
, but only a bit over a mile (2 km) north-east of the Taman Mini theme park.
Access and costs:
way out of Jakarta
's city centre and thus tricky to get to independently; cheap
not easy to get to unless you have private transport, i.e. ideally a car with driver and a guide, like I did when I visited Jakarta
in 2014. The location is far from the city centre and not at all well connected by public transport. If you want to brave it, the nearest bus line would be the No. 40 going to/from Jl Pondok Gede to the north of the monument. The bus stop is near the gate to the site (clearly marked “Monumen Pancasila Sakti” at the top), from where you'd need to walk to the actual museum and monument for about half a mile (800m). But better get a taxi – and allow plenty of travelling time in any case.
Opening times of the museum: 8 a.m. To 4 p.m. (but may vary)
Admission: 3000 IDR or so (it may have gone up a little but will still be very cheap, as usual in Indonesia)
about an hour to an hour and a half (depending on how long you are able to keep yourself from bursting out laughing at all the bizarreness). Getting there and back can take as much time or even longer if traffic is thick (which it often is in Jakarta
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Apparently the house of one of the victims killed on 1 October 1965, that of army commander General Yani (see above) was turned into a small museum, with bullet holes in the floor and door preserved, as well as the original period furniture. Outside stands a glorifying monument with another bronze statue of the man (this time not pointing). It is located in central Jakarta on Jl Latuharhari [map locator: -6.2046, 106.8366
]. Unfortunately I was not able to check out this museum personally when I was in Jakarta, so I can only mention it in passing here. Likewise the Heroes' Cemetery in Kalibata, where Yani and the other six victims are buried [-6.257, 106.847
Not too far from the Pancasila Sakti site itself is the Suharto Museum which should also make a fitting and complementing combination as it shows another weird aspect of the post-1965 cult of personality about Indonesia
's dictator of 30+ years – if it has re-opened again by now (it was closed for refurbishment when I tried to see it in August 2014). It's next to the Taman Mini Indonesia theme park. See under Jakarta
, also for yet more other sites in the city centre.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
. The Taman Mini Indonesia theme park next to the Suharto Museum is the closest place of general interest to get to from the Pancasila Sakti site – it's only a bit over mile (2km) as the crow flies but the route you'd have to take on the ground would necessarily have to be quite roundabout, so you'd need some form of transport to travel between the two sites as well. Everything else requires going back to the city centre, which more or less requires private transport (or a taxi) in any case.
- 01 - main monument
- 02 - victims on a grand pedestal overlooked by a giant bronze Garuda
- 03 - relief depicting how Suharto saved the nation
- 04 - the trial was probably not the fairest
- 05 - declaration in marble
- 06 - the five principles of Pancasila
- 07 - murderous communist dummies
- 08 - dummy victims
- 09 - drastic depiction
- 10 - Lubang Buaya
- 11 - where the plotters allegedly stayed
- 12 - Suharto jeep
- 13 - museum
- 14 - diorama of what the place looked like in 1965
- 15 - photos from 1965
- 16 - in the first part of the museum exhibition
- 17 - exhibits
- 18 - scale-model communists
- 19 - bridge to the second wing of the museum
- 20 - depiction of the dumping of the corpses down the Lubang Buaya well
- 21 - life-size dioramas of the killings
- 22 - they even murdered a child!
- 23 - rather scary propaganda in rather infirm English