Sumenep – Madura's Most In­ter­est­ing Town

Sumenep town to the far east of Madura is­land of­fers a pleas­ant few days stay with plenty to in­ter­est his­tory and cul­ture buffs.

Indonesia Expat - - CONTENTS - BY GRAEME STEEL

Sumenep is a town I love. Hav­ing vis­ited it fre­quently for nearly 30 years, I can say it has changed lit­tle, re­tain­ing its quaint charm. Ever-aware that any­thing can be lost sud­denly to progress – the de­mo­li­tion of old build­ings to pro­vide space for malls and car parks

-- I can re­port that largely the town’s au­thor­i­ties have re­spect for its his­tory and cul­tural promi­nence, and it will be proudly cel­e­brat­ing its 750th an­niver­sary in Oc­to­ber 2018.

To the out­side world Sumenep is a bit of an enigma, seen as too far away on the far side of an is­land off Surabaya, or off-putting by rep­u­ta­tion as a town on a hot and arid, in­hos­pitable is­land, with few mod cons. This is how it is of­ten por­trayed.

It’s a shame, be­cause Madura has a num­ber of fine at­trac­tions just open­ing up to the pub­lic, in­clud­ing Gili Labak, a beau­ti­ful islet per­fect for snor­kel­ing and div­ing and ap­proached from nearby Sumenep by boat.

For me Sumenep’s at­trac­tion lies in its his­tor­i­cal sites, a town cen­tred around a pretty alun- alun or town square, and com­pris­ing prin­ci­pally of a very fine and beau­ti­ful mosque, and a kra­ton or palace, and the Mu­seum Daerah show­cas­ing the town’s long his­tory. Few towns in East Java have re­tained as many of their old build­ings as Sumenep has man­aged to do, and th­ese are con­ve­niently scat­tered not too far apart so as to al­low most to be vis­ited on foot. And the kra­ton is the last remaining in

East Java.

For me, the plea­sure of a visit is to wan­der leisurely to the var­i­ous sights, or to take a be­cak or rick­shaw. And, it is true, Sumenep in the dry sea­son can be hot and close. It’s a very flat town, how­ever, which is some com­pen­sa­tion when walk­ing.

The his­tory of the town as we see it to­day is largely 18th cen­tury. It was clearly pros­per­ous judg­ing by the el­e­gant style of the ar­chi­tec­ture, ex­plained by the amount of trad­ing it did and, it is said, the amount of taxes it didn’t pay to the VOC. Most of the im­por­tant civic ar­chi­tec­ture of this pe­riod was de­signed by a Chi­nese ar­chi­tect ap­pointed by Panem­ba­han Su­molo, son of Queen Ayu Tir­tone­goro. Law Pia Ngho is thought to be one of the many Chi­nese who fled the anti- Chi­nese ri­ots in Batavia in the mid-1700s and set­tled else­where, in this case Sumenep, where he was em­ployed as the town’s elite ar­chi­tect and builder.

His most out­stand­ing work is, in my opin­ion, the Masjid Jamiq (also called Masjid Agung), a truly beau­ti­fully-de­signed mosque with a strik­ing façade that sits apart from the mosque it­self form­ing a gate­way to the prayer room en­clo­sure.

The mosque’s ar­chi­tec­tural lan­guage draws on sev­eral cul­tures: Chi­nese, Arab and European, and the bright colour­ing sug­gests more the Chi­nese style of adorn­ment. The prayer room in­te­rior is quite fine, with sub­stan­tial white pil­lars sup­port­ing the three-tiered roof.

As you leave the mosque it is worth walk­ing out­side the com­pound and turn­ing left along a short lane to the rear of the mosque wall. En route you will pass a cou­ple of fine late 19th cen­tury vil­las fea­tur­ing de­light­fully pretty colon­naded ve­ran­das with del­i­cate wrought iron fil­i­gree dec­o­ra­tion, and it is easy to imag­ine the Dutch sit­ting here in the cool of the af­ter­noon in all their fin­ery.

Few towns in East Java have re­tained as many of their old build­ings as Sumenep has man­aged to do and th­ese are con­ve­niently scat­tered not too far apart so as to al­low most to be vis­ited on foot.

As you turn into a street that is di­rectly behind the mosque a mar­ket can be found in the morn­ings. Dozens of road­side stalls pack the length of the street sell­ing all man­ner of items. A ven­dor of farm­ers tools and im­ple­ments of­fers the iconic Madurese

celu­rit or sickle, brass cow bells, whips, ploughs, hoes and ham­mers, many of which have the rough-hewn look of the cot­tage in­dus­try in their man­u­fac­ture.

A lit­tle fur­ther along a ven­dor sits among bales of to­bacco. The rich grassy smell of the aro­matic leaf can even be pleas­ing to the non-smoker. Madura is fa­mous for its quality to­bacco and what we see here is des­tined for the older gen­er­a­tion han­drolling smoker who has about five lo­cal va­ri­eties to choose from.

Other stalls in this abun­dant mar­ket of­fer grated co­conut while you wait for use in cur­ries and cakes. Along­side, a woman is cut­ting up dozens of freshly slaugh­tered chick­ens, and fresh they do look. Wan­der fur­ther and you will de­light in the va­ri­ety of goods and pro­vi­sions for sale.

As the sun beats down, now is a good time to take a break and re­turn to the ho­tel for a rest.

An af­ter­noon walk to the kra­ton or sul­tan’s palace makes for a pleas­ant visit es­pe­cially if you go to the Mu­seum Daerah or pro­vin­cial mu­seum across the road (the high­light of which is a royal car­riage), and the in­ter­est­ing streets to the rear of Dutch-era houses from the mid-19th cen­tury through to the 1930s.

The kra­ton is housed behind a wall with a par­tic­u­larly fine arched en­trance that is high by mod­ern stan­dards but was de­signed to al­low for horses and car­riages to pass through. Painted in bright yel­low the walls of the kra­ton con­nect with the bright yel­low of the mosque on the other side of the alun- alun which sep­a­rates the two. Built in 1750 the kra­ton is at­trac­tive in de­sign and fea­tures. Pretty wood carv­ings, cer­e­mo­nial canon, and glimpses in­side the pri­vate cham­bers of the palace al­low you to get a sense of what life must have been like in the past. The Pen­dopo Agung or

Great Hall in the cen­tral grounds of­fers game­lan and tra­di­tional dance con­certs on cer­tain days and is the per­fect set­ting for them. Aside from the mu­seum, across the road the kra­ton has its own col­lec­tion of royal an­tiq­ui­ties, mostly in poor con­di­tion but nonethe­less pro­vid­ing in­sights into the pe­riod. And don’t for­get the Ta­man Sari or Wa­ter Gar­den, where, we are told, princesses once bathed un­der the gleam­ing eye of the sul­tan who ad­mired the view.

A trip to Sumenep is cer­tainly worth con­sid­er­ing for a cou­ple of days. With other at­trac­tions in the area such as the Asta Tinggi Royal Ceme­tery, a fine Chi­nese Tem­ple, and sur­round­ing is­lands of­fer­ing wa­ter sports, Sumenep is a per­fect and pleas­ant base for even longer.

How to get there: Take the ferry from Surabaya’s Tan­jung Perak port, or cross the Su­ra­madu bridge and drive east­wards to Sumenep, a jour­ney of about 3.5 hours and 170 km. Al­ter­na­tively, newly es­tab­lished reg­u­lar flights are avail­able to Sumenep air­port from Surabaya.

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