The neglected grave of van Motman

Hendra M. Astari in Balebat no. Sept 2009 (Sundanese journal)

As in the other regions of Indonesia once occupied by the Dutch, Bogor  has numerous and unique heritage from the colonial times. Many Dutch legacies still exist and are being utilized until now. However, there are also many remnants that are not properly maintained, neglected and with an unclear future.One family which has a long history in the Bogor region and left many assets, is the family van Motman. One of the outstanding van Motman legacies is the van Motman family graveyard. This grave lies at the Kampung (subvillage/ghamlet) Pilar in Sibanteng village, Kecamatan (subdistrict) Leuwisadeng, Kabupaten Bogor – about 25 Km from Bogor into the direction of Jasinga. The van Motman family mausoleum is no common grave. In this complex stands a large solid dome built by Mr. Motman to lay the remains of his family members. The corpses were not buried into the ground, but conserved and put into wooden boxes with glass covers. This is why it is called a mausoleum, the only one in Bogor. Is there any other place in Indonesia where you have this?

Who is van Motman?

Of course van Motman is a Dutch surname (‘marga’). The man who first came to Bogor (at that time called Buitenzorg) was Gerrit Willem Casimir van Motman, born 11 January 1773 in Genneperhuis. When Java was under Daendels rule (1808-1811), GW Casimir was a landowner in the east of Bogor, in the area of Dramaga, Jambu and Jasinga. As owner of such a large area, van Motman had at least two residences, namely the landhuis buildings in Dramaga and in Jambu. The Dramaga landhuis still in its place, while there is nothing left of the Jambu house. About the Mr. Motman’s ownership of a house in the Jambu afdeling (farmland / estate), information can be found at the site that states that there were four of his children born in this area between 1811-1814.

Also in 1811, the land in Jambu was used for a graveyard. Then GWCasimir’s daughter named maria Henrietta van Motman departed and was rested here in December 1811. Later eight of van Motman’s 12 children were buried in this Jambu graveyard.

Among these eight, almost all died at a very young age, under five years. Only one, Petrus Cornelis died at an old age. He passed away on 8 October 1802 when he was 82 years old. Probably Peter Cornelis is one of the Mr. Motman’s offspring mummified under the Jambu dome.

Apart from his children, also a grandchild and two in-laws of van Motman are buried here. The grandchild with similar name with his grandfather was rested here 2 September 1831 when he was 5 years old. His daughter in law, namely Jacoba Djiem, the wife of Petrus Cornelis was rested here on 14 August, 1877. The other is Johanna Maria Louise Quentin, the wife of Jan Casimir Theodorus van Motman who died on 13 september 1855 when she just reached the age of 27 years.

From then on this grave becama a Dutch grave. Not less than 33 persons were laid to rest around the dome of the mausoleum. However, it is not certain who they were – were they still relatives of the Motman family or not. Where GWC himself was buried is not clear. It was told he died on May 25, 1821 in Dramaga and buried in Jasinga. Whether this is identical with the Jambu graveyard, no further information is available. Similarly there is no reliable information on ecatly whose corpses were mummified. What is sure, until 1965 the remains of four van Motman family members were still visible inside the glass-covered boxes inside the mausoleum building. As common for Dutch graveyards, this grave was also beautifully built and using marble for the tombstones as well as tiles. The area of the graveyard is 3300m2. At the perifery it was encircled by robust pillars. A road of about 300 m and 3 meters wide connects the complex to the main road. There are even two tall and solid pillars built on the roadside to function as a gate.  In time, these pillars became the name of this kampung (subvillage, “Kampung Pilar”).

In the 1950s the Motman grave complex was being maintained by Haji Sumatra as its custodian. He received a salary from the Motman family living at Dramaga. However, after the youngest offspring of the Motmans, Pauline Elise Laurince Marie left Indonesia in 1958, there was nobody to take care of the mausoleum. As a result, the dome and its annexes fell into neglect. Later many plundered the complex, starting with the vanishing of the marble, then the tombstones disappeared, finally not even the skeletons were left.

Present state

If we take a careful look at the dome of the van Motman grave, we wil see a plus sign (cross) in originally white color but becoming stained with black. Its architecture is clearly Ducth. The building faces north-south. Its only entrance comes from the south. In the past it should have doors, now just open without any security. The entrance is about 2m x 1.5m. Above it is written “FAM: P.R. v MOTMAN”.

On the upper parts of each side there are half-circular decorated openings. Their function is not so clear, were they for lighting or ventilation. If these were windows, they naturally would have glass panes. In the middle of the building’s apex there is an eight-sided dome of about 1.5 meter diameter.

Inside, there are rooms at both the eastern and western side divided into two storeys. Here was where the four deceased Motman family members, or their mummies were stored. The remnants of iron holders are still visible, probably due to forceful pulling. Lots of graffiti and meaningless writing on the walls around. On the southern and northern wall still shows some green colored paint. The style of their ornaments is still noticeable. Also these walls did not survive vandalism, soiled by letters with no meaning. Except for the dome structure, all became neglected. What was earlier a court is now an unmaintained field. Knee-high grass, big and small trees in every corner, wild ‘talas’ (some kind of tuber plant) everywhere. Also the pillars that used to stand up guarding the dome, are now covered by upward climbing vines. What a sad sight!

Future prospects

Considering the uniqueness of the dome which probably has been erected at the end of the 19th century or beginning of the 20th century, one might study its architecture, its ornaments, material used etc. Additionally, it may be linked to the art deco style in architecturl design, which became popular in the beginning of the 20th century. If nobody takes care of it, the van Motman graveyard won’t sustain, maybe only leaving its name. There should be some initiative to save this building, as it has such a historical meaning. A first step that can be done by anybody concerned with heritage, is cleaning and tidying up the place so that it is not so gloomy anymore. Free the pillars from the strangling vines and plants. Then wipe out the graffiti, repaint to make it brighter. Especially if the buildings can be repaired and restored (?), this may become a beautiful park – “Taman Astana van Motman” (van Motman grave garden), might be its name. No need to be scared of entering a graveyard. There are many places in the city of Bogor which have become centers of leisure, which were Dutch graveyards. Functioning as a park, it may be a nice and inexpensive plae for rest and leisure. May be a place for handing out school rapports to pupils of surrounding schools. Even better if this park is equipped with pamflets and photos related to this place (?) or related to the van Motman family, to enrich the knowledge of guests entering the place. Maintenance till protection of the place may be assigned to local villagers. Ideally the kuncen (custodian) should have been equipped with the history and the importance of this complex for science (?), so that he will be able to explain these correctly to visitors. What has been described above will be possible if there is close attention from every element, among others: those concerned with heritage (?), the local community, the village government, the government of Kabupaten Bogor, and the Balai Perlindungan Peninggalan Purbakala (BP3 / agency for protection of heritage). If this can be accomplished, soon many people will visit this place, including foreign tourists, in particular those from the Netherlands who want to know the story of their ancestors.  Cag ! (?)