Capturing the Siliwangi Heritage

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The building that Mandala Wangsit Siliwangi museum resides was built in 1926. It was residential quarters before it was made into the headquarters for the Siliwangi army division in the period 1945 —1950.

On Jan. 23, 1950, the Ratu Adil Legion, led by the notorious Capt. Westerling, carried out an ambush here that left 79 dead.

One of those killed in the attack was mayor Adolf Lembong. His name replaced Oude Hospitaalweg, as the name of the street where the museum stands.

I arrived at the museum at around 12 noon with my 4-year-old son. We went through the gate but the security post was unattended so we explored the parking lot.

The big tanks and an old ambulance that were stationed outside the colonial building instantly caught my son's eyes.

We followed the arrows that read "museum” only to find it being renovated, regardless, we still entered the building by way of an alley and a door that led to the exhibition area.

To be honest, the dark, abandoned museum was far from how I imagined it would be, albeit it in the middle of renovation works.

We wandered inside and saw plenty of paintings that depicted colonial times, along with weaponry dating back as far as before 1900, such as keris (Indonesian short sword) and even stones said to have magical powers if held by those possessing the special "knowledge".

There were, of course, plenty of the famous bamboo spears, said to be the weapons used by local fighters against the Dutch, who were equipped with much more modern weapons.

"We divide the exhibition areas into rooms. R1 stands for Room 1 and so on. They are in chronological order from the oldest to the latest. We have 11 rooms all together," Ucu, the museum guide who appeared and greeted us after some time, said.

He then informed us of the museum’s history and shared the story of weaponry once used by the Indonesian fighters in West Java before the movement against Dutch colonialism was organized nation-wide.

"The idea for the museum came from Col. Ibrahim Adjie, then the 8th Pangdam III [Commander of Military Area III] Siliwangi, who opened the museum on May, 23, 1966," Ucu said, adding that in 1980, Indonesia’s second president Soeharto inaugurated the museum.

The word mandala means weapon and wangsit means advice and wisdom. Thus, the name Mandala Wangsit Siliwangi implies that the museum aims to pass on the legacy of West Java’s heroes through their history and the story of the weaponry, to the younger generations.

I found some interesting facts and objects in the museum despite its current condition. One such object was a Samurai sword stolen from the Japanese army and used by female fighter called Susilowati in a battle at Andir, Bandung, in 1946. She is said to have decapitated a Gurkha solider using the sword.

Another piece, the tong tong was a wooden instrument meant to summon Muslims to prayer but was later used to send secret codes to the local fighters of Singaparna Tasikmalaya to gather and fight against Japanese soldiers.

It was a shame that many objects were seemingly not properly cared for, especially amid the ongoing renovation. But that said, I can't wait to revisit the museum once the renovation is completed in three months time.

I did not find any official sign stating the entrance fee and opening hours but Ucu told me that the museum now opens daily from 8 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., except on Fridays, when it closes at 10 a.m. Upon entering, do obey the instruction of taking off your shades and hat and open your car window if you arrive in a car.

To mark Bandung Lautan Api on March, 24, 1946, is when the citizens of Bandung burned their own houses and evacuated themselves to the South mountainous area to prevent the NICA army from taking over Bandung, Ucu said that the museum staff dress in military outfits, march and reenact the patriotic incident at Bandung City Hall.

Another celebration takes place at Monumen Bandung Lautan Api at Tegal Lega, Bandung, he said.

Museum Mandala Wangsit Siliwangi is located on Jl. Lembong No. 38, Bandung.

Read also: Sharing the joy and fun in music and dance at Saung Angklung Udjo

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