Jakarta Sinks as Jokowi Ascends: Will President Desert the Fortress of Batavia?

Jakarta is rapidly sinking and, in theory, soon being displaced as the capital city of Indonesia.  After his re-election as President, Joko Widodo and his cabinet have announced something that has often been mooted.  The Javanese metropolis – the most traffic-congested city on the planet – is no longer suitable as the seat of state.

Some experts believe parts of the city will be submerged by 2050, sinking as it is at up to 15cm every year. Built on marshland, the dubious stability of which is further compromised by the extraction of groundwater for civilian use, Jakarta’s fate looks doomed.

Scenes such as this flood are likely to become increasingly familiar for Jakarta’s citizens

It was the Dutch who set the scene for the leviathan of today.  In 1619 the Dutch East India Company established Batavia on the ruins of Jayakarta, having wrestled it from native control in their bid for a mercantile empire. Batavia became the seat of that empire, elegant Dutch buildings constructed on reclaimed marsh in an engineering feat reminiscent of the homeland.

For more than two centuries this was a purely commercial settlement.  Dutch traders used Batavia as their storehouse and trading hub for the luxurious goods of the Indies, the local population kept in check by force of arms and compliant Chinese immigrants.

City plan of elegant Batavia, 1780

Canals were dug and city walls raised.  But before long the call of the swampy hinterland grew stronger, the Dutch desperate to seize ever more control over the cash crops of the interior.  Batavia expanded and the environment suffered with it.

By the time the Dutch East India Company went bankrupt and was dissolved in 1800, Batavia had many of the characteristics of other colonial cities of the era.  The Dutch East Indies was duly proclaimed and, whilst trade still proliferated, the territory gradually became more of a Dutch settler state.

Dutch-built canal through Batavia

Gas works and street lighting appeared in the mid-19th century, telephone lines and electric trams soon to follow.  All the while the population expanded; native Javanese, Chinese immigrants, Dutch settlers and the mestizo offspring of colonial copulation. Batavia’s numbers had swelled to over 2 million by the start of the 20th century.

The Supreme Court building in colonial Batavia

Many rural Javanese migrated to Batavia as economic opportunities grew. With a rapidly increasing population and an infrastructure ill-equipped to deal with the influx of new settlers, poverty soared.  Unsanitary living conditions closer to the exposed marshland bred plague and other disease, cramped living quarters became the norm and crime rose.  These are issues that persist in modern Jakarta.

Whilst not without their faults, the Dutch colonial authorities did not enact the same sort of civilian co-option and repression seen in other European colonies.  An independence movement emerged in earnest through the 1920s – led by youth groups – which the Dutch did try to suppress.  However, the onset of the Second World War would be required to deliver the death knell to the Dutch Empire and allow subsequent Indonesian independence, by which time the megacity of Jakarta was already well-established.

Japan’s invasion of Indonesia in 1942 (Batavia fell in March) was, like most of its military actions, carried out in the divine name of Hirohito, their Emperor. Whilst the politicians and military leaders exercised real power in Tokyo, they invoked the Emperor’s godliness as a rallying call for their troops and the civilians forced to sacrifice so much at home.

Emperor Hirohito

It was only after Japan’s humiliating defeat at the end of the war that Hirohito publicly renounced his divine status and this week his son, Emperor Akihito, abdicated in an unprecedented public display.

Things have changed in Japan.  The Emperor is revered for his humility not his divine aloofness.

In Jakarta – the capital of the free and independent Indonesian people – the change is one of alarming consistency.  Over-populated, under-resourced, subsiding into oblivion.  The disparate people of Indonesia’s more than 17,000 islands have often grumbled at the disproportionate influence wielded by the Javanese, resting as it is on the symbolism and economic might of its former Dutch citadel.

President Joko Widodo – popularly known as Jokowi

If ever there was an apt moment to change this – and Palangkaraya on Borneo is the favoured location for the new capital – it surely must be now.  Whether Jokowi’s government feel they have the political will at the start of a new five year term to take this prodigious step will soon be determined.

Keichi Endo and the Kempeitai: the story of a Japanese PoW

Amongst the collections at the National Archives in Kew are a set of Japanese Prisoner of War (PoW) identity cards dating from the end of WWII. After the Japanese surrender, thousands of captives were detained whilst evidence was collated for their trials.

By studying these intriguing documents, we cannot only help families trace their long lost relatives but also gain an insight into the career of an ordinary soldier in the Imperial Army during WWII. For an example, we shall examine the case of Keichi Endo.

Who Was He?

Keichi Endo was, according to British records, a Military Police Sergeant in Batavia (Dutch Jakarta). After the Japanese surrender, he had been arrested and sent to Bang Kwang Prison in Thailand before being transferred on 7th December 1945 to Changi Prison in Singapore, having made a stopover in Saigon.

The notorious Changi prison had been used to imprison Allied soldiers in brutal conditions during the Japanese occupation
The notorious Changi prison had been used to imprison Allied soldiers in brutal conditions during the Japanese occupation

What Was He Accused Of?

Endo was arrested under suspicion of unlawfully executing two Australian PoWs and two Dutch nationals. He was to be tried by an Australian war crimes commission.

Service Record

Endo had been conscripted early on in WWII, joining the 74th Infantry Regiment on the 1st December 1941. The 74th was part of the 19th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army which had its garrison in North Hamgyong, part of Japanese Korea (now North Korea), on the border with the Soviet Union.

Endo would have been responsible for securitising the Japanese border with the Soviet Union and subduing any resistance posed by the native Koreans, who had been under Japanese occupation since 1910.

In May 1942, Endo was sent back to Tokyo to attend a training course for the Military Police. The Japanese Military Police was the notorious Kempeitai. Formed in the late 19th century, the Kempeitai took on a variety of often secretive roles to ensure peace, both within Japan and subsequently the territories it had conquered.

Chinese PoWs in the hands of the "Japanese Gestapo", the Kempeitai
Chinese PoWs in the hands of the “Japanese Gestapo”, the Kempeitai

Counterinsurgency and surveillance were particularly important tasks for the Kempeitai and it had developed a fearsome reputation in Korea (where it had had a presence since 1907) for its brutal methods of extracting information and subduing dissent.

Mr Endo’s role was thus both secretive and, potentially, lethal, and he returned to Korea in July 1942 after just a couple of months of training. The 74th Regiment would soon be transferred to the 30th Division and Endo was transferred to Java in in February 1943, by now part of the Japanese Empire. Here, he would establish himself at the Kempeitai headquarters in Batavia.

The British describe his role in Batavia as “Dealing with Jap. military offenders” yet it is likely that Endo’s concerns were more directed towards the Dutch and Indonesian settlers, in addition to Allied prisoners, than they were to his own kin.

In May 1943, Endo was transferred to a place named Pogol (this appears to be the present-day city of Bogor) to undertake clerical duties. Whether his actions in the field had brought him into disrepute or whether he was now adjudged senior enough to take on an organisational role is unclear.

However, what we do know is that on the 5th May 1943, two Australian PoWs and two Dutch civilians were executed in Bogor and Endo was suspected of being the guilty party. So much for clerical duties.

Endo's arrest card shows the accusations against him
Endo’s arrest card shows the accusations against him

His possible complicity in this horrible act seemingly did not displease Endo’s superiors. Promoted to Corporal in December 1943, he would see out the rest of the war in the Bogor Kempeitai division, even becoming a Sergeant on the 1st August 1945, a mere two weeks before the Japanese surrender.


No details of Endo’s trial are available except for a note that he was acquitted for lack of evidence on the 30th September 1946, over a year after his initial incarceration.

Whether Endo was guilty we will probably never know, yet these important documents (brief though they may be) offer a fascinating portrait of the path of an individual soldier through the carnage of the world’s greatest battle.