Agustus 07, 2014

Muara Jambi: Shifting Perspectives on Past and Present at a Heritage Site


IN THE last few years the view which Indonesians have of their past, their place in the world and their relationship to those who govern them have all been affected by changing social and political contexts. This paper focuses on the result of research into the changing perspectives on heritage through which one historic site has been seen.

The temple site at Muara Jambi, on the river Batanghari in Sumatra, has been very little studied in comparison with other more famous archaeological sites in Indonesia, partly as a result of the peripheral role played by the Jambi region during the Dutch period and in the early years of independence, when it was very much overshadowed by its neighbour Palembang. Palembang has been strongly associated in the writings of scholars and in the public mind with the kingdom of Sriwijaya, referred to in Chinese texts, although the texts also identify Sriwijaya with Jambi. Overseas archaeologists have undertaken several excavations in South Sumatra, in search of Sriwijayan remains, but although the site at Muara Jambi was mentioned in accounts of the area written by western visitors in 1820 and again in 1921 and 1936, since then overseas scholars have shown little interest in the area and have not been involved in excavations there.

In the last few years, a shift in the nature of understandings of local identity, during which the site has been identified with the kingdom of Melayu, referred to in Chinese texts as far back as the 7th century, has resulted in a growth of local interest. The site has been recognised as important by government at both provincial and national level, and in October 2009 was placed on the tentative listings for UNESCO World Heritage status. At the same time, industrial developments at the site encouraged by local government have threatened its integrity. The resulting campaign to save the site has involved a range of actors and agencies in complex interactions which give rise to questions around identity, notions of heritage, regional autonomy and power relations in modern Indonesia. It is these questions, and what they reveal about shifting perceptions of power and identity in past and present, which the paper explores.[]


Fiona Kerlogue, “Muara Jambi: Shifting Perspectives on Past and Present at a Heritage Site”, Paper presented at the 7th EuroSEAS Conference 2013, University of Lisbon, Lisbon, July 2-5, 2013.

Program of the conference is available here.

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