One of the neat things you can do when you're in Jogjakarta is to stroll through the Sultan's palace and surrounding walled district, known locally as the Kraton (or more specifically, the Kraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat). The Kraton is the royal residence of the family that rules the Jogja Special Region (Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta) along with the mini-city which traditionally housed the people that worked for the Sultan, including servants, artisans, and soldiers. The current Sultan is the 10th from his dynasty, the Hamengku Buwono dynasty. The Kraton sits in the middle of town, and is easily accessible. You'll find that you can walk, ride a bike, or, if your one of those lazy ones, you can ride a horse-drawn carriage (andong). You'll find the residents cheerful and welcoming. Below I've included a map I lifted from this site. The map doesn't show all the little alleys, but you can get the idea of the organization of the Kraton, along with the mini-districts within the walled city originally set aside for specific professions.
Today I spent a few hours riding my bike through the winding back alleys (gang) of the Kraton. For me this is really relaxing, and there are all sorts of day-to-day things that catch your eye. But before I mounted up I began with a walk through the actual palace, which seems to be open only towards the middle of the day. They have displays of all sorts of Jogja-type stuff and assorted royal accouterments and appurtenances, including the ultra-rare relic featured in the picture to the right: a gas burning stove used by one of the royal wives to cook fried instant noodles or some such. If you're lucky, the gamelan orchestra will be playing when you get there.
The Kraton's also filled with traditional artisans plying their trade both for the tourist market and the "culture industry" that thrives in Jogja. I stopped to talk with a couple of guys making puppets and props for wayang kulit (shadow puppet shows). They emboss and carve intricate designs into dried buffalo leather, creating a variety of stylized puppets which are then painted. There are also folks that make batik and do wood carvings. After a bit of wandering through the gangs you're bound to stumble onto Taman Sari, the water palace. This complex originally functioned as the Sultan's seraglio (1), but it fell into disrepair or was destroyed for some reason or another. It's been restored over the past few years, and the Sultan is working to convert the area into a park. I included a couple of pictures for your viewing pleasure. The first is a view from the back of the palace. From this angle it looks like something that belongs on Tatoinne. Inside Taman Sari has reflecting ponds and a number of chambers for the ladies to occupy and entertain themselves when they weren't otherwise occupied. The last picture is just a general view of one of the gangs. These winding ways are narrow and densely populated, but their clean and quiet.
The Jogja region is unique in Indonesia in that its leader isn't elected; Sultan Hamengkubuwono is the administrative head, and this office is passed down through the family. The Sultan is known as very progressive and is highly respected around Jogja and Indonesia in general. The Sultanate has in fact played a very important role in Indonesian history, both in the colonial era and since independence. In the early 1800s, Prince Diponegoro, the first son of Hamengkubuwono III, was past over for succession to the throne in favor of his younger brother, who was supported by the Dutch. Eventually Diponegoro would lead the most successful (though failed) revolt against the Dutch colonial masters. He is still viewed as a hero today. In the early 1900s Budi Oetomo, regarded as the first Indonesian nationalist movement, had its first major meetings in Jogja. The region, under Hamengkubuwono IX, also played a leading role in the war of liberation from the Dutch. The Sultan's contribution was recognized when Jogja was declared a special administrative region after independence was won. The Jogja region is also the birthplace of Indonesia's second president and longtime authoritarian ruler, Suharto.
The Kraton area is also a place where you can see Java's unique system of community organization. Indonesia has 5 levels of government extending from the central government down through the provinces, regions (kabupaten), subregions (kecamatan), and wards (keluruhan). Below the ward are two further administrative divisions, but these aren't part of the official state apparatus. Rather they are headed by volunteers from the community. The upper division is the rukun warga (RW). The head of the RW is elected by residents and functions like a magistrate; he/she signs and stamps papers related to marriages, moves, deaths, and births. Below the RW is the rukun tetangga (RT), which might be translated as "neighborhood association". The numbers vary, but here in Jogja the RT consists of around 40-50 households. The head of the RT is elected by residents and serves as the eyes and ears of the government; it is the RT's job to know what's going on in the neighborhood. The RT also disseminates information concerning public health, elections, and community events. It's a pretty neat system if you can get over the "big brother" feeling of a creeping state intruding on every aspect of public life.
Well, that's it for today. In the coming weeks I'll dedicate posts to other interesting aspects of Jogja, including gamelan music and batik design and manufacture.
(1) A seraglio is where you stow your ladies.