The Mulawarman Museum, East Kalimantan: Unparalleled Charm and Historical Value

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Borneo harbors extraordinary tourist attractions alongside its abundant offerings. Interested in historical sightseeing? Look no further! One landmark destination, drawing high curiosity from researchers, writers, and history enthusiasts alike, is the Mulawarman Museum in East Kalimantan. 

If you're fond of Borneo's history, this should be your first stop. Because here, the civilization of humankind has been carved into inscriptions known as the "Batu Yupa". Planning a long holiday?

A historical journey

Instead of aimlessly wandering, why not embark on a historical journey? And not just any historical journey, but one to the Mulawarman Museum in Kutai, East Kalimantan.

This place holds immense historical value. Not only does it mark a significant milestone in the Nusantara civilization, but this historical site also speaks volumes through its "Batu Yupa" inscriptions. Revealing tales of past Nusantara civilizations and interactions, the Batu Yupa also sheds light on the relationship between religion and state.

I've personally visited this place. I took a taxi from Samarinda and intentionally made my way to Kutai Kartanegara.

Along the journey, I paused for a moment. Enjoyed some village-style rice, served with satay and venison rendang. The steamy red rice added to the delight of that lunch. While gazing at the banks of the Mahakam River, I watched the boats drifting along the river, carrying cubic tons of goods through the upstream rapids...

Tenggarong: the Kutai Kingdom

Mention Tenggarong, and thoughts immediately drift to the Kutai Kingdom. A legendary and historically rich city, nestled on the banks of the Mahakam River. In the past, this city was immensely popular.

After the Nusantara gained independence, the former Kutai Kingdom became part of East Kalimantan. Now, it's become a tourist destination, especially for foreign tourists. A visit to Tenggarong is considered incomplete for those touring East Kalimantan, as it's the only place where the history of East Kalimantan can be truly explored.

The history of East Kalimantan explored here isn't limited to just a century or two ago. Visitors can delve into the glory of Nusantara kingdoms more than 15 centuries ago.

The Indian civilization had a significant influence

In the history of Nusantara civilization, the Kutai Kingdom holds immense significance, particularly in the introduction of scripts in the archipelago. The oldest written sources about the Nusantara come from the Kutai Kingdom, in the form of four inscribed stones.

Coincidentally, these four stones were found on the banks of the Mahakam River, in Muara Kaman, Kutai. These inscriptions, serving as a milestone in the history of the Kutai Kingdom, are enshrined in a stone inscription. Estimated to be from the 5th century, these inscriptions, called "Batu Yupa", are written in Pallava script and Sanskrit language.

srimathi sri-narendra asya; kundungasya
mahatmanah; putro svavarmmo vikhyatah;
vansakartta yathansuman; tasya putra
mahatmanah; trayas traya ivagnayah; tesan
trayanam pravarah; tapo-bala-damanvitah;
sri mulavarmma rajendro; yastva
bahusuvarnnakam; tasya yajnasya yupo
‘yam; dvijendrais samprakalpitah.

This indicates that Indian civilization had a significant influence on the social and political structure of the archipelago at that time. The inscriptions mention the offerings of gold, cattle, and sesame seeds by King Mulawarman.

The writer in the background of the duplicate Batu Yupa inscription because the original was taken and secured in a museum in Jakarta.

These inscriptions hold great historical value as one of them contains information about the relationship between religion and the state at that time.

"Prince Kundungga had a famous son named Aswawarman, the founder of the dynasty. One of the great sons of Aswawarman was King Mulawarman, who has offered a lot of gold, hence this offering stone was established by the leaders from those who were born twice (Brahmins)."

Kundungga is believed to be original from here, and in this place, the island "Borneo," the Dayak people, during the influence of Hindu India, the third largest island in the world with an area of 743,330 km2, was called "Varuna Dvipa."

Due to its high historical value, this museum is frequently visited by foreign tourists. They are generally fascinated by the ancient artifacts or miniatures displayed in the museum.

For example, artifacts depicting the life of the Dayak community, royal thrones, to the miniature of the Kutai sultan's crown are showcased here. The crown, now stored in this museum, is a replica of the original crown made of 7 kilograms of gold (now kept in the National Museum, Jakarta). In the past, this crown was used as part of the coronation of the Kutai Kartanegara sultan.

How to get to the museum? 

Another interesting aspect is the display of various traditional costumes from different regions inside the museum. There are costumes with Dayak motifs as well as Malay motifs.

Built-in 1930 by the Dutch, this museum is open every day from 8 am to 2 pm, with special hours until 11 am on Fridays. The entrance fee to the museum is only Rp 1000.

How to get to the museum? From the provincial capital of East Kalimantan, Samarinda, Tenggarong can be reached by road. The journey covers a distance of 39 kilometers, taking between 1.5 to 2 hours, passing through forests and coal fields.

What feels unique is that on both sides of the road — during the dry season — you can see smoke rising. This smoke comes from the active coal mines underground. These coal mines are scattered throughout the Borneo region, especially along Bukit Suharto.

Travel to Tenggarong by road

If you travel to Tenggarong by road, you'll witness many exotic sights. Many roadside stalls offer authentic Kalimantan cuisine. Particularly special is the venison, either served as satay or cooked as rendang, accompanied by field rice.

Upon arriving in Tenggarong, take a moment to pause by the banks of the Mahakam River. During the rainy season, the river flow can be quite strong. Be cautious if you can't swim, as the currents can be dangerous.

The most beautiful views can be seen during sunset or in the morning. The gentle sunlight touching the water's surface creates a sparkling glow.

Not only in the past, but even today, the Mahakam River remains a vital lifeline for the local community. This river serves multiple purposes: as a source of drinking water, for bathing, washing, and even as a toilet.

Another crucial function is that this river serves as a significant transportation route for the locals. Just so you know, the famous wooden rafts of Samarinda are navigated through this river.

At any given moment, motorboats (known as ketinting) constantly traverse the Mahakam River. From Samarinda, through Long Bangun, the journey takes about three days, covering approximately 523 kilometers.

On both sides of the river, you can see traditional houses made entirely of wood. Traditional Dayak houses (lamin) can be found almost everywhere. But the most exceptional ones are, of course, the lamin in the village of Mancong.

  • Masri Sareb Putra

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