After the VOC took over Batavia (present-day Jakarta), they brought in workers from many ethnicities. During the sugar industry boom, many Chinese immigrants came to work on sugar cane plantations. They settled in the western part of Batavia, located right outside Fort Tangerang. Since then, these Chinese immigrants and their descendants became known as Cina Benteng, meaning the Chinese living near the fort.
However, they were not the first Chinese immigrants to arrive in Tangerang. The oldest manuscript that mentions the arrival of Chinese to Java island is a Sundanese manuscript called Tina Layang Parahyang (or Notes from Parahyangan, where Parahyangan refers to the land of Sunda). It recorded the arrival of the first Chinese fleet led by Chen Cie Lung (Ha Lung) in 1407. They landed at the mouth of the Cisadane River called Teluk Naga (Dragon Bay in English), and many settled down along the Cisadane River in Tangerang. Chen Cie Lung was a part of Admiral Zheng He's (Ceng Ho) fleet.
Unfortunately, the exact location of Benteng Makassar is unknown today. The last written report, dating back to 1816, stated that the fort was dilapidated beyond repair. Hence, the only indication of Benteng Makassar's whereabouts is a street on the west side of the Cisadane River named Jalan Makassar. It is in downtown Tangerang, near the Chinatown.
Although Benteng Makassar has long gone, the Chinese Indonesians in the area are still known as China Benteng. You can learn a lot about their culture and history at Benteng Heritage Museum.
The entrance to Benteng Heritage Museum in Tangerang.
A Trip to Benteng Heritage Museum
Closed on Mondays
Benteng Heritage Museum resides in a restored old Chinese house built around the 17th century. It is a typical Chinese two-story house in the heart of Tangerang downtown. What might surprise you is the location of this museum. Addressed at Jalan Cilame no. 20, Tangerang, the museum is right in the middle of a traditional market called Pasar Lama (Old Market). Every morning, tables of all sorts crowd the narrow street in front of this museum. The entrance to the museum is hidden behind vegetable sellers and butcher stands!
Since Benteng Heritage Museum uses an old house, the front room functions as a receiving area, a ticket stand, and a waiting room. The museum only offers guided tours, which are held every hour. Each takes approximately forty-five minutes. Visitors are not allowed to roam inside the museum by themselves.
Upon purchasing our ticket and filling out the guest book, we got a Benteng Heritage sticker that served as the entrance ticket.
The museum staff started her explanation in the reception area, explaining the mission of Benteng Heritage Museum to preserve the cultural heritage in Tangerang. She narrated the stories behind each portrait hanging on the wall. Some portrayed the landmarks of old Tangerang, while others depicted cultural activities.
These cultural activities are still celebrated today, especially the annual dragon boat race at the Cisadane River. In addition to the boat race, they also release ducks into the river because it is believed that good luck will be upon whoever can catch these ducks.
The dragon boat race is usually held annually on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese calendar, known as Pe Cun. On that day, people eat Bacang – steamed rice filled with meat and wrapped in leaves – and Kwecang – glutinous rice wrapped in leaves. These dishes are known as rice dumplings in the Western world.
We continued our tour of Benteng Heritage Museum to the second floor, where the majority of the museum's collection was exhibited. But first, we were instructed to remove our shoes before we stepped on the stairs. We also were strictly prohibited from taking pictures or touching displays, including the railing.
During my visit to Benteng Heritage Museum, I felt like I was on a house tour. We climbed to the second floor and looked through the wooden fence, where we could see the ground floor and the attic on the third floor. The attic was adorned with solid stone relief sculptures depicting the famous Chinese story of Sam Kok, also known as the Three Kingdoms epic. This was the most precious collection in the museum.
Our tour guide led us to the balcony and showed us the entrance door that had a unique locking system. Instead of using a lock or padlock, it required a family member to remain in the house to lock it. Usually, the daughter of the family was responsible for this task.
The balcony of Benteng Heritage Museum is adorned with sculptures.
Next was looking into the museum's extensive collection, which included a beautifully crafted wooden wedding bed with all the necessary bedroom amenities. The museum also featured a collection of tiny women's shoes worn by women in the past, as there was a belief that a woman's beauty was determined by the size of her feet. Other items on display included pipes used for smoking opium, game boards such as mahjong and dominoes, weighing scales known as da cin, antique porcelain dining wares (including the broken pieces), and an altar complete with Chinese gods.
We also saw a collection of wedding clothes. Today, some of the Cina Benteng still perform the traditional wedding ceremonies called Cio Tau, wearing this type of wedding dress.
Despite its limited space, Benteng Heritage Museum is packed with fascinating collections, making it a must-visit for anyone interested in the Cina Benteng culture and history. Plus, the tour guide provides thorough explanations.
We finished the tour at a small souvenir kiosk selling local products, including the famous SH soy bean sauce, the authentic product of Tangerang.