Museum Negeri Pontianak, West Kalimantan

Submitted by viravira on 3 March 2014   •  Destination   •  Borneo

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On a sunny morning on my brief stay in Pontianak, the capital city of West Kalimantan province, I decided to visit the public museum before heading to Singkawang. The museum is called Museum Negeri Pontianak, which translates to Pontianak’s Public Museum, located on Jalan Ahmad Yani.


Exterior of Museum Negeri Pontianak

A Modern Version of a Long House

The museum building is a big and modern one but influenced by Kalimantan’s traditional stilt betang house. A real betang house is made of wood and got its name from the main structure, which is a big and long tree trunk stretch. Or so the museum guide said. Betang house is also called ‘rumah panjang’, which literally means ‘long house’, and is originally the traditional house of Dayak people, the native tribe of Kalimantan.


Rumah Betang or long house replica in Pontianak, near the museum


I was, I think, the only visitor that Saturday morning. The entrance fee was only IDR 1,000 per person (in November, 2012). That’s only about a dime in US money! A friendly lady staff in a civil servant grayish brown uniform (yes, even civil servants have uniforms in Indonesia) welcomed and guided me for free through the collections of the museum. I’m not sure if the service comes in other languages than Indonesian, though.

Honestly, I couldn’t memorize everything that she explained. It’s either she told me too much information or I have a brain as small as Homer Simpson’s now dangling from a string in my skull. But there are some stories I can remember and jotted down in my little notebook.

Pontianak, A Ghost Town

A sketch that depicts an Arabic man shooing a woman with long hair is displayed in the museum. It is said to be the early emblem of Pontianak. The woman was a ghost, and haunted the area around the delta of Kapuas River and Landak River. Syarif Abdurrahman, the son of an Arabic man who spread the teaching of Islam, and his people were haunted by this woman ghost when they were trying to build a town around the area. To exorcise the ghost, he had a cannon shot to the area where the ghost used to appear and there he built a town now called Pontianak. The word ‘Pontianak’ also means ‘kuntilanak’ in Indonesian, which refers to that woman ghost who died when giving birth.


Top: the old emblem, the carbide cannon.
Bottowm: the baby carriers.


That was the story the museum guide told me as it is also the story I’ve read in a number of articles. But now the city’s emblem has changed to something else that doesn’t have an epic story like the old one.

A cannon festival called Festival Meriam Karbit (meriam = cannon) is held every year, a day before the Lebaran. Some say it started when cannons were used to expel evil spirits like what Syarif Abdurrahman did, some say it was a way to banish enemies.

Ghost-related story in the museum is also portrayed in a Dayak’s baby carrier with scary creatures carved on the back. The carrier is to be carried on the mother’s back, so the carving faces back, meant to protect the baby from evil spirits.

Ethnicities in West Kalimantan

Dayak is a native tribe of Kalimantan, and I’m not sure where they actually originated. I’m sure there are a lot of books or articles that could tell you more about it though. They lived – and now a lot of them still do – by the rivers in the deep forests of Kalimantan. They have the image of being mystical and practices black magic.


Dayak’s elements: jewelry, bride & groom clothes, decorative ornaments


The museum guide told me that any non-Moslem people in Kalimantan was considered as Dayak by the Dutch in the colonial era, while the Dayak people actually called themselves with different names for each sub-tribe. There were Iban, Taman, and many more, and now they’re called Dayak Iban, Dayak Taman, etc. The Dutch also thought that all the Malays were Moslems, and all Moslems were Malays, so all the non-Moslems were Dayak. Um.. say whaaa…?? The Dutch were pretty confused and now they’re confusing me.

Nowadays, the whole West Kalimantan is consisted of Melayu (Malays), Dayak and Chinese people. While Pontianak is mostly inhabited by Chinese, though now more and more newcomers move in to the city.


 Chinese and Malayan ornaments


Other Displays in the Museum Negeri Pontianak

Of course, the museum displays a lot more than just ghost stories. There are potteries as well as jewelries that the natives made. There are also the traditional bride and groom clothes of the Dayak Taman with the signature style of colorful beads sewn to the cloth. Also the Malayan bride and groom clothes, as well as replica of things Chinese, among other stuff. But the mannequins don’t represent the local people at all. I wish they’d replace them with the shorter ones, rounder faces, smaller noses and black hair. You know, more like the real local people, and I’ve suggested that to the nice lady guide.


Pottery making, a durian-shaped jewel box, shields and Dayak musical instruments


In the back yard of the museum, there were boats displayed. One of them is the Perahu Tambe, which is a decorated boat that the Dayak Taman people used to cruise with around the Kapuas Hulu (upstream Kapuas river). They used it for wedding ceremonies, welcoming VIP guests, etc. And I think they still use these boats for ceremonies up until now. The decoration is usually made of beads, mandau (sort of like a saber but not a ‘lighted’ one) and colorful cloths.


Perahu tambe (decorated boat)



The Museum Negeri Pontianak is not the best museum I’ve seen, but I think it’s worth visited while you’re in the city. It’s informative, the displayed items are well-maintained and it’s pretty thorough in telling about the history and culture of West Kalimantan. I wonder why there was no other visitor other than me in a Saturday, though.

A note about Kalimantan:

Kalimantan Island is what you’ve probably known as Borneo and thought was all part of Malaysia. In fact, only the north coast belongs to Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam, and the rest belongs to Indonesia.

Museum Negeri Pontianak
Jl. Ahmad Yani, Pontianak
Phone: +62 561 34600


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6 years ago

bookmarked!!, I love yօur blog!

6 years ago

Oh thanks man!