Thursday, February 9, 2012

Madura Is Steeped in History

The island of Madura gets a bad rap on Java. The stereotype is that all Madurese are crass, ill-mannered and quick to anger, while the island itself is hot, dirty and simply not worth visiting.

The Javanese prejudice against Madura has knocked the island off the list of destinations for most domestic tourists, who in turn discourage foreigners from visiting. But as is the case with most stereotypes, not everything people say about Madura is true.

Located just northeast of Surabaya in East Java, Madura is easily accessible by boat across the Madura Strait. Since 2009, it has also been accessible by road, thanks to the Suramadu Bridge connecting the island to mainland Java.

Entering the main town (after a three-hour drive), I found Sumenep itself to be clean, cultured and affordable. I made the obligatory visit to the Grand Sumenep Mosque, the town’s best-known attraction.

The structure, built in 1779, showed a fascinating combination of Chinese, Javanese, Indian, Portuguese and Arab influences in its architecture. The interior of the mosque likewise displayed the influence of those cultures in the ceiling, wooden windows, pillars and mihrab. But the most beautiful part of the mosque is its concrete gate, which has a European touch.

A few hundred meters to the east of the mosque is Kraton Sumenep, the sultan’s palace and the only one of its kind in East Java. The palace is said to have been established in 1269, when its authority covered all of Madura, as well as the many islands scattered around it. The head of the kadipaten, or sultanate, was known as the adipati.

Unlike Yogyakarta’s kraton in Central Java, the kraton complex in Madura is no longer occupied by traditional families serving the adipati (the last sultan ruled in 1929). The complex surrounding the palace was built in 1762 by Adipati Sumenep Tumenggung Ario Notokusumo, or Panembahan Somala (1762-1811).

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