The International Steam Pages


Happy 124th Birthday Sawahlunto

This is part of our report on our visit to West Sumatra in late 2012.  You can read about the rest of it from the links below.



When the large coal mines at Sawahlunto closed in 2003 after more than 100 years of operation, it would have been understandable if the local community had just curled up and died. Instead, a few determined individuals backed with a significant amount of money from both provincial and national governments decided otherwise and the town is now going down the 'industrial heritage' route, a first in Indonesia to my knowledge. It's too early to say whether it will work, but the town has become imbued with civic pride which is embodied in the birthday celebrations each year on 1st December and which continue for a few more days after.

On the appointed day, we were somewhat reluctant gate crashers to the street party. Groups such as schools, clinics and businesses had laid out their communal meals ('Makan Bajamba') on mats down two of the main streets which had been temporarily covered against the equal possibilities of rain or strong sunshine:

Each group tended to be dressed similarly and some of the 'uniforms' were spectacular.

There was to have been traditional lengthy speech making and cultural displays afterwards which we wanted to avoid to explore the town more. Our host's 14 year old daughter was part of a dancing troupe which would probably have had a gamelan accompaniment. To be fair, the mobile phone in her hand was necessary to locate her group as Yuehong and I had enjoyed a lie in which had made us all a bit late.

:We ate with a group from Sawahalunto's Senior High School, they had already started on the cake when we arrived:

We were the immediate object of attention, cameras, with and without phones, were popping all the time. Given the current atmosphere in the UK, I think I had better show the picture of me with the senior English teacher...

As a town which attracted many economic migrants, Sawahlunto is more multicultural than just about anywhere else in West Sumatra. On our way back from a bit of industrial heritage bashing we found a Lion Dance taking place outside the offices of the coal company. I'm not too sure what Mummy and Daddy Lions are up to in the second picture. The performers are not actually Indonesian Chinese, but they are sponsored by Chinese businesses in Padang.

In the next three evenings there was to be an 'International Music Festival' with performers from Senegal, India, Australia, Germany and Switzerland. Most seemed to be regular visitors to Indonesia, I suspect the first night at least will have been rained off, it was coming down by the bucketful in Talawi.


Rob and Yuehong Dickinson

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