A trace of Islam inside Surabaya’s Chinatown

The history of the house started with the arrival of Han Siong Kong to Indonesia in 1673. One of his descendants, Han Bwee Koo, traveled to Surabaya and was appointed kapiten der Chineezen, leader of the Chinese people in Surabaya at that time. He then built the house at Chineezen Voorstraat, which is now known as Jl. Karet.
In the last 10 days of Ramadhan, thousands of Muslim pilgrims of different ethnicities and backgrounds have crowded the Sunan Ampel Grand Mosque and its complex — praying and reciting Koranic verses — in the hope of earning blessings equal to 1,000 nights of praying.
Jejak Petjinan Community founder Paulina Mayasari took people on a leisurely tour of the Sunan Ampel cemetery complex.

Inside, the woman, who won an award for her efforts in promoting a culture of nondiscrimination within the community through her Melantjong Petjinan Soerabaia tour concept, pointed to where a Chinese-Indonesian family cemetery was found.
“Since times of yore, Chinese and local residents have mingled and interacted,” Paulina said.
The tour of Chinatown reached Hong Tek Hian, one of the oldest temples in Kampung Dukuh. Soft and harmonious tunes coming from a song chen guitar, toa lo and siauw loo drums and a bien siauw flute greeted visitors.

At the temple, also known as Dukuh Temple, visitors can enjoy the potehi puppet show and meet puppet master Sukar Mudjiono.
The 50-year-old puppet master is not a Chinese-Indonesian but a Javanese Muslim who learned about puppetry from the age of 13 from Chinese puppet master Gan Co Co. That day he was fasting.
“Let’s listen to the Chinese music while watching the puppet master perform the show,” said Paulina.
Paulina is not a professional guide and the community is not run for profit. It all started when the Surabayan woman wrote an essay entitled “Melantjong Petjinan Soerabaia” (Tour of Surabaya’s Chinatown) in December 2009.

The essay was presented at the third annual forum of the United Nations’ (UN) Alliance of Civilizations, themed Bridging Cultures, Building Peace, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in May 2010.
The community has now become a gathering place for several communities wanting to learn more about Chinese culture. It has attracted more than 1,800 enthusiasts from across the country.
Apart from program that takes members to see Chinatown up close through its places of worship and historical places, the community also serves as a medium for its members to interact and exchange ideas, both online ( and in real time, to help better understand each other.
“Thanks to Gan Co Co, who opened up to Javanese culture and played traditional music when performing, the potehi puppet show is easily accepted by everyone to this day,” Paulina says.
In Mandarin, potehi comes from the word poo, which means cloth, tay (bag) and hie (puppet). Together, potehi means puppet made from cloth.

Potehi is believed to have entered the country between the 16th and 19th centuries, the same time as the arrival of admiral Cheng Ho on Java’s north coast along with Chinese traders. The first potehi puppet show was said to be performed at the Tay Kak Sie Temple in Semarang, Central Java, in 1772 during the consecration of the Goddess Kwan Im statue.

“While Sukar, a Javanese, became a potehi puppet master, Tam Chen Siong, who was a Chinese from Guangdong, chose to become a kris master.”
Taking a becak (pedicab) can be an alternative to experience the hustle and bustle along Kembang Jepun, the center of Chinatown’s trading area.

In front of the Bongpay Tjwan Tik Sing stone carving shop, the pedicab comes to a stop.
“The bongpay stone came from China. In the past, inscriptions were only in Han characters, but with the arrival of more Chinese Muslims and Christians, the writing also came in Arab script; or we can see a carving of Jesus Christ,” Paulina says.

In the Hokkien dialect, bongpay means gravestone. In the past, gravestones were made from a greenish stone similar to jade and were believed to bring blessings to the owner.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), a bongpay only contained the deceased’s history. Pictures and motifs like dragons, clouds and Hong birds were added later during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The script on gravestones continued to change during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

There is no record of when bongpay carving first entered the country, but many believe it started with the arrival of Cheng Ho.

The shop, located on Jl. Bunguran, is managed by Suwanto Susetyo, a third generation bongpay-maker descended from Tjio Kim Ek, who came to the country with his oldest son, Tjwan Tik Sing, in the 1930s.
Experts Mary Somers Heidhues and Michele Pirazzoli reveal in their book, entitled Archipel 72, that Tjwan Tik Sing’s bongpay carving maintained the style from Fuk Jian province in China.
The tour arrived at the house of Abu, built by Han Bwee Koo from the sixth generation of the Han family.

It was here that the trip came to an end. Around the area, hundreds of workers were finishing their work and sweeping out the buildings.
“There are many places we haven’t visited yet,” Paulina says, inviting tour participants to join her on another trip.

Before leaving Chinatown, she invited people to enjoy wedang ronde (hot ginger refreshment with peanuts and rice-flour balls), which is regularly served with thanksgiving meals inside Chinese-Indonesian homes in Surabaya.

“The beverage is also popular during the breaking of the fast,” Paulina says.

Source News :
Puppet master: Potehi puppeteer Sukar Mudjiono. (Photo by Indra Harsaputra)
Hustle and bustle: The hustle and bustle of the Kya-Kya Chinatown district in Surabaya, East Java. (Photo by Indra Harsaputra)

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