Semarang in Central Java has rightfully earned the unofficial title of the city of Diponegoro, one of the Indonesia’s greatest national heroes. The state university in Semarang is named Universitas Diponegoro, and the Military Command (Kodam) IV there is known as Kodam Diponegoro.
But few people realize that of Diponegoro’s 70 years, 24 were spent inside a jail in Makassar, South Sulawesi. The walls of one room at the Rotterdam Fort complex, which served as his jail, bore silent witness to Diponegoro’s imprisonment, where he was held by Dutch colonial rulers.
Makassar has become the eternal resting place for this son of Indonesia.
Born in 1785 under the name Raden Mas Antawirya, Diponegoro was the eldest son of Hamengkubuwono III, the sultan of Yogyakarta, and his concubine.
But despite his noble blood, he preferred to live a more ordinary life, focused on honoring Javanese culture.
Supported by his people, the devout Muslim openly declared war on the Dutch colonialists in 1825, when they built a street through Tegalrejo, Magelang, crossing the graveyard of Diponegoro’s forefathers.
This also provoked him to fight against the high taxes the Dutch imposed on the Javanese. The Diponegoro War, as it was later known, became one of the biggest wars on Java.
Dutch commander General Hendrik Merkus de Kock mobilized most of his troops in Indonesia to support troops in Java.
Diponegoro, the “rebellious” war strategist, eventually became the most wanted person by the Dutch regime, and a large sum was offered to anyone who could arrest the man who had caused the deaths of many Dutch troops.
In 1830, Diponegoro and his followers came to Magelang, Central Java, at the invitation of the Dutch, who said they wanted to negotiate. De Kock welcomed him, but later on Diponegoro was declared a prisoner, along with many of his followers.
The capture of Diponegoro was depicted by Raden Saleh in the painting “Penangkapan Diponegoro,” which became the artist’s most famous work. The Dutch declared his surrender, but Diponegoro considered it a betrayal.
After a stay in Semarang, Diponegoro was taken to Jakarta and detained in the basement of the building now known as the Museum Fatahillah.
Diponegoro’s life in the jail began on May 3, 1830, when he was taken to Manado in North Sulawesi by ship.
His wife Ratnaningsih, some family members and followers also accompanied the prisoner.
During his exile, Diponegoro wrote his autobiography “Babad Diponegoro.”
He only spent four years in Amsterdam Fort in Manado, because the Dutch considered the jail not strong enough to contain him.
He, his wife and followers were moved to Rotterdam Fort in Makassar. For 21 years, Diponegoro remained in solitude in a room of the complex fort until he died in 1855.
“Before he died, Diponegoro mandated that his body be buried in Kampung Melayu,” said Muhammad Saleh Diponegoro, the fourth generation descendant of Diponegoro, who guards Diponegoro’s grave in Makassar. The cemetery complex is located on a busy street of Pasar Sentral.
“Pasar Sentral used to be a neighborhood for Chinese and Dutch people,” said the 69-year-old descendant. The Dutch later donated 1.5 hectares of land in Kampung Melayu for the graveyard of Diponegoro and his family, which has since shrunk to 550 square meters.”
The graves of Diponegoro and his wife are situated side by side. A small musholla (prayer room) is located in the corner, while a room with a terrace is situated opposite, where Muhammad stays during the day.
“Our family is obliged to take care of the graveyard of our great-great-grandfather,” he said.
Despite its central location, only people with special interest visit this graveyard. In 1969, the graveyard complex was renovated. In 1973, the regional government of Semarang converted the grave of Diponegoro and his wife from wood to stone. There are also many tombs with unnamed gravestones.
“There are around 90 graves of children, grandchildren and followers of Diponegoro,” Muhammad said. A donation box is provided for visitors who wish to help with the upkeep of the burial places.
Diponegoro’s life has attracted many historians, including British man Peter Carey, who has extensively studied the prince’s life.
After 40 years of research, in 2007, Carey published “Power of Prophecy: Prince Dipanagara and the End of Old Order in Java, 1785-1855,” which is the most outstanding and complete biography of the man. But the legend lives on.