As a native of Cirebon, West Java, I was never fond of the city. Fifteen years ago, it was stifling, hot and humid, lacking in modern facilities and kid-friendly activities.
Yet, like an abstract painting by Wassily Kandinsky, I recently realized that Cirebon is a place worth revisiting and seeing from a different perspective to fully appreciate its beauty.
From July 16 to 18, the KKS Melati (Melati Social Group) based in Ampera, South Jakarta, shuttled 48 underprivileged children from six shelters in the capital to give them an in-depth look at Cirebon’s cultural heritage sites.
“Kids today know more about modern songs and dances, but almost nothing about their own culture,” said Nurul, project manager of KKS Melati. “It’s very important for them to learn about their roots to respect and take pride in themselves.”
To be eligible for the trip, the children had to pass a test on Cirebon’s culture and history.
“In Cirebon, the Sundanese, Javanese, Arab and Chinese mix and create a unique cultural assimilation, unlike any other part of the country,” Nurul said. “In the visit, these kids can experience it for themselves and see how people from many different backgrounds live and work together in peace.”
The city, the fourth largest along the northern coast of Java after Jakarta, Surabaya and Semarang, has always been an important port and strategic gateway to the island.
There are many versions of its historic past. But according to an old manuscript written in the 17th century by Prince Kararangen, grandson of Sultan Syarif Hidayatullah of Cirebon, the city was founded in the 14th century as a small port town called Muara Jati, part of the Hindu Pajajaran Kingdom.
Because of its strategic location, the port grew into a busy international harbor heavily trafficked by merchants from China, the Middle East, Cambodia and India.