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The Van Der Wijck name in Indonesia – Nothing to be proud of

November 21, 2013


The Van Der Wijck Fortress is a Dutch East Indies bastion which was built in 1817 and 1818. The fort is located in Gombong, about 21 km from the district Kebumen, Central Java, or 100 km from Borobudur Temple, Magelang. The name of this fort comes from one Captain Van Der Wijck (he never used his first name), who was the commander at the time. The fort is sometimes associated with the name David Cochius Frans (1787-1876), a general who served in the western region of Bagelen.


Van Der Wijck established his name by “silencing” the Acehnese resistance. In fact, this was pure genocide. The Royal Dutch-Indies Army (KNIL) regarded Van der Wijck a military officer with a “distinguished career”, because supposedly he was capable of winning the war in Indonesia. In 1827 the Van der Wijck fort was a military barracks with the purpose of dampening the strength of the troops of Prince Diponegoro. At the time of the Diponegoro war, around 1825-1830, Fort Van Der Wijck was not only used as a defence bastion, but also as a fortress of logistics and a KNIL military school.


When Dutch colonization came to an end, Fort Van Der Wijck functioned as a military school for the Japanese-trained Indonesian army. In 1940 Suharto became the new commander of the fortress. Later he would become president of Indonesia. The renovation of the fort started in 1999, with permission from the military.


Today the fort Van Der Wijck is a tourist attraction. There is a miniature train on the grounds, and apart from the grim history, which will be the subject of  a film by Garin Nugroho, Soegijo Pranoto, there is the architecture. In the whole world there are only two octagonal fortresses: one in Australia, and the Van Der Wijck Fortress in Indonesia. The octagonal shape is similar to the Grand Mosque. When viewed with the Islamic compass, the proper fortress doors are facing the Qiblah.

Despite the horror which took place here, the Van Der Wijck fortress is now a family-friendly place, with a swimming pool, a children’s playground, a hotel, and musical performances.


Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah (1908–1981), better known as simply Hamka, was the Sumatran-born son of a devout Muslim who viewed local traditions as hindering the progress of religion – his father’s opinions influenced his. After a trip to Java and Mecca beginning when he was sixteen, he became a religious scholar in Deli, East Sumatra, then in Makassar, South Sulawesi. During these travels, especially while in the Middle East, he extensively read works by Islamic scholars and authors, such as those by the Egyptian writer Mustafa Lutfi al-Manfaluti, as well as Arabic-language translations of European works. In 1935 he left Makassar for Medan, North Sumatra, where he became the editor of an Islamic weekly magazine, Pedoman Masjarakat. It was while in Medan that he wrote Tenggelamnya Kapal Van der Wijck, which was inspired in part by the sinking of an actual steam vessel in 1936.


The movie Van Der Wijck will be released soon

Hamka wrote Van der Wijck as a critique of the discrimination against mixed-race persons prevalent in Minang society at the time, as well as the subservient role of women. Originally released as a serial, Van der Wijck was republished as a novel after favourable popular reception. Described by the socialist literary critic Bakri Siregar as Hamka’s best work, the work came under fire in 1962 because of similarities between it and Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s Sous les Tilleuls (Under the Limes; 1832).


The Dutch steamship Van der Wijck, on passage Surabaya to Tandjong Priok, capsized and sank in 1936, in heavy weather near Tandjong Pakis, between Surabaya and Semarang. A monument was raised to commemorate the disaster.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2013 8:45 pm

    Worth reading, jack. Sorry my head is kind of spinning around…

  2. Alvira permalink
    December 3, 2013 12:34 pm

    You said that the name “Van der Wijck” nothing to be proud, but … it is quite famous here. “Sinking of Van der Wijck Boat” is an old book, but people are still looking for and reading that book 🙂

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