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Extracts from "The Return of the Sultans"

Extracts from the article entitled: Return of the Sultans, with specific reference to the Raja of Kupang by Gerry van Klinken

Van Klinken, Gerry, Return of the Sultans: The Communitarian Turn in Local Politics (December 1, 2008). THE REVIVAL OF TRADITION IN INDONESIAN POLITICS: THE DEPLOYMENT OF ADAT FROM COLONIALISM TO INDIGENISM, Jamie Davidson and David Henley, eds, pp. 149-169, London: Routledge, 2007.

Gerry van Klinken is a research fellow with the Modern Indonesia Project at the Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology (KITLV) in Leiden, Netherlands.

Gerry van Klinken

Research fellow KITLV / Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asia and Caribbean Studies.

An institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)

Donald Tick, through his acknowledged contributions on Indonesia to several compilations on royals worldwide (Almanach de Bruxelles 1996-2003, Hariyono and Johnston 2004, Schemmel 1995-2003, Truhart 2003), and Hans Hägerdal (2003) have made the recent history of many of these principalities conveniently available. When one tabulates them in summary form, some exciting statistics emerge. Nearly 70 of them today retain an incumbent known to these two researchers. Most are informal cultural figures (tokoh adat). They are, in fact, not all sultans. Some are panembahan or pangeran ratu (slightly fewer august rulers than the sultan), pemangku adat (literally, bearer of custom), raja (non-Islamic kings), or any of various other titles. About half could be called locally influential, usually because they also occupy a formal position in government.

At least a third of these 70-odd entities have only recently been revived. That number is growing. They are the subject of this chapter and are listed in the table below. This is a conservative list, limited by my knowledge.

‘Revival’ of a principality can take various forms, depending on the history of its predecessor. It could be (a) raising the profile of an existing institution, (b) the symbolic resurrection of an entity that had been disestablished and allowed to decay in the 1950s and ‘60s, or (c) the symbolic reinvention of a kingdom that had been gone for centuries. In almost every case we are dealing with monarchical symbols of legitimacy, rather than with tangible political power shifts. Local opinion makers wield these symbols in the context of local autonomy.

Table 1: Recently revived principalities in Indonesia


The nominal raja (usif) of Kupang, long a respected local figure, raised his profile in 2003 when took part in a West Timor campaign to retain some oil rights for Indonesia after former Indonesian colony East Timor became independent (Kompas 14-04-2003; (Farram 2003).

Formal Recognition to Indonesian Royals from Indonesian National Parliament


In a land where the royal dynasties have always been an interwoven part of the nation’s tapestry of culture and custom, formal recognition since independence had been something that was elusive. But recent events have brought the possibility of this to be achieved.

During the ceremonies held in Jakarta with representatives from the various groups representing the royal dynasties, the Indonesian National Parliament had decided to accept law number 37-2007.

This law will mean that the Republic of Indonesia formally recognizes the approximately 300 dynasties of its country after 62 years of independence.

The Raja of Kupang as the Secretary of the Forum Silaturahmi Keraton se Nusantara-NTT section/FSKN-NTT(Cooperation Board of Friendship of the Indonesian Dynasties-of the Province Nusa Tenggara Timur)was there together with the president of FSKN-NTT Usif Theodorus (Olis) Taolin of Insana, Liurai Michael Bria of Malaka and Usif Pah Nesy Nope of Amanuban.

The implications of this law will enable the presence of the dynasties to be legally incorporated into the constitutionof the country, thus ensuring that the nation can support them in a formal manner for generations to come.

Formalities can be undertaken for big-scale reconstruction and maintainance of old palaces whilst restoring their ownership to their original families and financing various festivals, etc. This will bring about a stimulation ofthe national tourism industry by capitalizing on an integral part of the Indonesian nation – the very dynasties that brought parts of Indonesia into existence.

The national Indonesian government will thoroughly screen all coming forward as a dynasty of a certain geographic area of Indonesia to ensure and keep the legitimacy of those recognized.

At the present time 104 of the approximately 300 Indonesian dynasties are now being screened and they now have monarchs who are recognized by the Indonesian Republic as such. These dynasties can make in cooperation with their local FSKN can propose a budget that they need to restore their local royal culture.

Pangeran (Prince) Gunarso Kusumodingrat; the president of the National FSKN (who himself is a prince ofSurakarta/middle Java) wants to make a website about the revival of the Indonesian dynasties and the plans ofthis organisation.

The Kings and Rajas, who were in Jakarta to be at the National Parliament for the acceptance of the new law, were all dressed in their traditional Royal clothes.

The NTT delegation to the national Indonesian parliament comprised of the Kings of Malakka, Kupang and Insana from Belu, Kupang and Timor Tengah Utara (middle N Timor) districts while from Timor Tengah Selatan was the Usif Pah Nesy Nope of Amanuban.

This is a historic moment in the annals of Indonesian history and will ensure that an important part of the nation’s history and heritage will be kept alive by the nation for generations to come.

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