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In all of these posts about crowns, I have been ignoring/omitting the royal headdresses which I think are most gorgeous.  This is because crowns from this vast syncretic archipelago nation often defy traditional interpretation and classification as crowns (which sounds weird now, but which will become more comprehensible when you see today’s example).

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Also, Indonesia is enormous

Indonesia is a land of more than 17000 islands, including Java, the world’s most populous island.  Lying between major continents, oceans, hemispheres, and eco-regions, these islands have been reassembled in countless different forms into all manner of different empires, kingdoms, principalities, alliances, satrapies, colonies, and what ever other political units you can think of (although perhaps the most influential was the Majapahit Empire, a Hindu-Buddhist sea-based empire which was headquartered in Java and provided the cultural and aesthetic roots for contemporary Indonesian society).  Sometimes almost all of Indonesia has been unified.  Other times the islands have gone in different directions.

Anyway, as you can imagine, the complex history of these seventeen thousand islands partakes greatly of Indian, Chinese, South East Asian, Japanese, African, Australian, European (particularly Dutch), Melanesian, Polynesian, Papuan, Philippine, and American influences.  The gifted Indonesians (who have a particular genius for sculpture) have figured out ways to take all of these different flavors and make something which is breathtaking and uniquely their own.  Here is a crown from Singaraja, a Balinese City which was the courtly center for Dutch influence over Bali and the Sunda Islands between 1850 and 1950.  Like the British in India, the Dutch preferred to rule by subalterning small regional kingdoms into the merciless clutches of an anodyne-sounding “company” (The Dutch East India Company).

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King’s Crown from the Balinese Royal Court of Singaraja

This crown is from the second half of the nineteenth century (or maybe the early 20th century) when some local monarch had it made in emulation of a Dutch officer’s hat.  Look at how much it resembles an [American]  civil war cap!  And yet, despite its shape, this hat is nothing like an American/European military hat of that era.  It is made of gold and gemstones with undulating floral zoomorphic patterns on every inch!

Is this a crown?  Certainly. And yet if I pulled it out of a prop box, it would probably not pass muster.  Indonesian history has many similar caps, but I have never written about them, because of how hard it is to write about the baffling history of this enormous and complicated (yet not well-studied) part of the world.  Keep your eyes open for unfamiliar opulence ans (sigh) confusing and wordy explanations like this one!

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Jakarta (photo by Josh Haner for The New York Times)

Before I write about my trip home to visit my family (and LG the Canada goose), we need to pause for a moment to gawp in wonder at Indonesia’s decision to move their capital city.   Perhaps you are rolling your eyes in idiference and casting your mind back to Sung Dynasty/Mongol era when the Chinese capital (as variously construed by various factions)  could have been any of 28 locations, or you are remembering 18th century America when the capital meandered around the Mid-Atlantic to such an extreme extent that the national capital was some random bar in Trenton for a while [shudders].  Yet, this is not the era of Mongol conquest, nor the birth of a nation.  Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation and Jakarta is absolutely enormous.  The city proper has a population of more than 10 million people and the full metropolitan area could arguably be the second most populous in the world with 34,365,000 souls packed into 3,300 square kilometers…although, frankly I found that list to be completely baffling and I can’t believe New York isn’t higher (also New York City’s GDP is greater than all of Indonesia’s…so maybe we can afford not to be too tetchy about rankings on some internet list).

Uh, anyway, according to president, Joko Widodo, Indonesia will move its capital city to Borneo over the course of the next decade, as set forth in this not-very-compelling illustration I just made.

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As you can see, Jakarta is in northern Java, so the move crosses about 1250 kilometers (800 miles) which includes the Java Sea.  Imagine if we decided to move Washington DC to Saint Louis, but St. Louis was on a huge island (St. Louis is not on an island, right? I don’t know much about it).

I have never been to Jakarta, but my mother grew up there and her house is filled with furniture and artworks from the great city.  When we visit my grandparents I hear all sorts of tales about Grandpa’s obstreperous mynah bird (that bird evidently had a naughty mouth), the giant cobra in the garden, and the beauty and chaos of 1960s Indonesia.

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Bogor in 1968 (photo by Roy Stall)

Jakarta needs to move because it is sinking fast.  Not only is the Java Sea rising (like all of the world’s oceans) but the city was built on top of a huge aquifer which was seriously depleted by the needs of 34 million people and all of their crops, showers, dishwashers, and whatnot.  The new location is more stable and already has some critical infrastructure in the oil-rich cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda.  To quote Asia Today, “The capital will be built on 180,000 hectares of land already owned by the government, thereby minimizing the cost of land acquisition. Earthquakes, flooding and volcanic eruptions are less common in that area.”

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The current site of the proposed capital

The new capital is currently a rainforest, but the Indonesian government hope to minimize forest loss by keeping the city as dense as possible and by “building green.”  That sounds faintly hopeful, but if Indonesia’s real estate developers are anything like the ones here, it might not work out right in the real world.

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To be honest, I have no idea how to assess this proposal.  Obviously all of Jakarta won’t go to the new location.  It could be the Indonesian president is trying to juice the (moribund) project of building up the economy of Borneo (the majority of Indonesia’s economic output comes from Java).  But whatever the case, and whatever the ultimate outcome, this is not the last instance of this sort of move which we shall see.  The near future will feature massive disruption to seaside communities everywhere in the world (New York has been studying Holland and creating parks and building huge seawalls, but who knows if our plans will hold up?).  Best wishes to Indonesia in their quest.  Please spare the rainforest as much as possible, and let us all know what you learn.

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On Tuesday we wrote about the Red junglefowl, the wild ancestor of the domestic chicken.  To progress further with this Stendhalian color theme, here is a human-made chicken, crafted by means of artificial selection over the centuries—the Ayam Cemani—the back chickens of Java.  These amazing birds are all black.  I mean they are really black…so exceedingly black they make Kerry James Marshall weep with aesthetic envy.

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Not only do Ayam Cemani chickens have black feathers, black faces, black beaks, and black wattles, their very organs are black.  Even their bones are as black as India ink.  It would be downright disconcerting… if they didn’t wear it so stylishly.

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The birds’ black color is a sort of reverse of albinism—the Ayam Cemani chickens have a surfeit of pigment.  This is genetic condition is known as fibromelanosis.   For generations and generations farmers have selected it until they have produced this rooster who looks like he stepped into the barnyard from the event horizon of a black hole.

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Yet the Ayam Cemani is not completely black…they have red blood and they lay cream colored eggs (although they are unreliable sitters, so without fashionistas looking after the survival of the breed, they might vanish real fast).  Speaking of which, why did the Javans collectively make such a crazy striking animal?  The internet says that the chickens are used for ceremonial purposes and for meals, but it looks like an amazing work of intergenerational conceptual art to me.  If you want you can get some for yourself, but unless you are headed to Java, they are rare and cost thousands of dollars in the United States (if you can find a seller).  It looks like it might be money well spent though.  These are stunning roosters.  Let’s hope the year of the fire rooster is as stylish as they are (but maybe not quite so dark).

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