Discovering Majapahit Terracotta. Article 1

This is the first of a series I plan to write. I shall take you on a journey that we made and tell you something of the history, the artifacts and share with you some of our knowledge that we have acqired over the last 45 years.

When we first went to Surabaya we discovered Majapahit terracotta almost by accident. In the 70's Surabaya still had the feel of its colonial past. The hotel that we stayed in was called Hotel Majapahit and had been the Dutch equivalent of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. 

Across the road from Hotel Majapahit was a restaurant that also harked back to colonial times that serving Dutch cakes and sandwiches. The waiter, dressed in Javanese court attire served one approaching the table on his knees.

Down the road was a shop called the Bali Butcher Shop. It too was a strange establishment. One side was a delicatessen with wonderful rye bread baked by Catholic nuns, hams and other European delicacies. On the other side they sold antiques, porcelain, textiles, furniture from past era.

Across the road, the street I think called Basuki Rachmat, was a kampung. Little lanes one person wide with a drain down the center, off which tiny residences were built. Some of these places had converted their front rooms into small shops to sell antiques.

Head, 3 cm tall

We were brousing in one and Veronica looked at a plastic bucket in which was scraps and shards, just fragments of dusty red clay. Amongst these she saw a face looking out. It was tiny, only 5 cm tall, and she picked it up.

"What is this?" she asked.

"Majopahit, Majopahit," was the reply.

"But, what is Majopahit?" The only reply was the same word. We bought the piece and so started a journey of discovery of Majapahit, the golden era of Indonesian history.

Our first breakthrough was an article in Arts of Asia in 1976 by Roy C Craven (which you can access here https://www.artsofasianet.com/back_issues/back_issue.php?issue_code=1976_sep_oct) and that was followed a couple of years later by a slim book by H.R.A. Muller, Javanese Terracotta Terra Incognita that you can still buy on Amazon. Alternatively, watch this space.

 

 

1 comment

  • Interesting and evocative story!

    Christine Encel

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