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Thursday, August 12, 2010

TOKO MERAH, SLAVES ON SALES

Let us walking around the street known as Kalibesar Barat and stop in front of a remarkable two-story building wholly painted in red. It is called Toko Merah, literally means the red shop. It is one of the oldest and the most historical buildings in Jakarta, probably in Indonesia. The building was constructed by Gustaff Willem Baron van Imhoff, the then governor general, for his office and dwelling house in 1730. Since then, many of his successors stayed in and owned the building.


The building once became the maritime academy (1743-1755) graduated many good sailors to meet the increasing demand for capable sailors as more and more galleons came from Europe. Its function was converted into a guest house (Heerenlogement) (1787-1808) as it was very difficult to rent a good accommodation during that time. When today you read the reports from dagsblaat found at the National Library you will be surprised about the neglected cleanliness of the house at that time and it seemed the service did not meet at all the satisfactions of the guests.

Slave Auction

In 1851, the building was bought and converted into a store by a rich Chinese trader, wholly painted in red, the Chinese traditional color. That period was marked by intense slavery trading,the slaves were taken from different parts of the Archipelago. The local authorities supplied and sent slaves to Toko Merah to undergo auction in the yard of the building.

The slaves from Bali were sold and worked in the area which is now known as Kampung Bali (Bali village). Manggarai was the area where the slaves from Flores worked, got married, established families. Kampung Ambon was the area where the slaves from Maluku worked and lived.

One of the reports tells that when the widow of Governor General Reinier de Klerk died all her 181 slaves were sold at auction in 1786. The slaves stood in a long queue in front of Toko Merah waiting for their turn. The auctioneer called them by their names complete with their duties for example as the musician, the lace maker etc. Mother and daughter went into different directions as they had different buyers and new employers.

Slave auction took place early in the morning and buyers were Dutchmen who exploited them as the cheap workers (for males) or their concubines (for females) especially in time when the European females were rare. The activities was dwindling in 19th century following the abolition of slaves in America in a decree issued by the then President Abraham Lincoln.

Today the building belongs to the Indonesian Trading Company. The owner, however, is not allowed by Jakarta Government to renew or improve it in such a way that it might change its old model since the building is included into Jakarta Heritage.

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