Reflections on the Return of The Diponegoro’s Dragger Kiai Nogo Siluman

The Arrest of Diponegoro by General de Kock on Sunday, 28 March 1830, oil om canvas painting by Raden Saleh (ca. 1811-80), 112 x 179 cms, completed in March 1857.


The royal visit of the Dutch King, Willem-Alexander, and Queen Máxima to Indonesia on 10-13 March 2020, was newsworthy for a number of reasons. The first was the Dutch monarch’s apology for the atrocities committed by Netherlands forces following the declaration of Indonesian independence on 17 August 1945. Another was the return of the heirloom kris, Kanjeng Kiai Nogo Siluman (His Highness the Invisible King of the Snakes), which had purportedly once belonged to Prince Diponegoro (1785-1855) but which had ended up in the Ethnographic Museum (Museum voor Volkenkunde) in Leiden after over 60 years in the royal curio collection (Koninklijk Kamer van Zeldzaamheden). This was handed back in person to President Joko Widodo and was on display at the state reception at Bogor presidential palace on 10 March. The return of this long sought-after heirloom weapon elicited a number of reactions from the Indonesian public, some of which are reflected in the current essay by Peter Carey which was first published in Indonesian by the website in Yogyakarta on 13 March 2020, and translated by his research assistant, Feureau Himawan Sutanto, in Bandung.

On Wednesday, 4 March 2020, almost exactly 190 years since Indonesia’s ‘William the Silent’, Prince Diponegoro (1785-1855) (Image 4), was treacherously arrested by General Hendrik Merkus de Kock in Magelang, Central Java (28 March 1830), the Museum Volkenkunde (Ethnographic Museum) in Leiden announced that the prince’s heirloom dagger (keris), Kangjeng Kiai Nogo Siluman (His Highness the Invisible King of the Snakes), had been found. It would be returned to Indonesia, the press release stated, just days before the royal visit of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima to Indonesia (11-13 March 2020).

The timing was impeccable. But this was not about righting past wrongs through heritage diplomacy. As the legal philosopher and specialist on art plunder, Jos van Beurden, stated,[1] if that was the purpose then the return comes “obscenely late (rijkelijk laat)”. The bottom line was trade. The massive Dutch trade delegation with ministers Sigrid Kaag (Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation), Cora van Nieuwenhuizen (Infrastructure and Water Management), and Bruno Bruins (Medical Care) sent to Holland’s former colony ahead of the royal couple’s visit underscored its true significance. As the former Dutch Prime Minister, Joop de Uyl (in office, 1973-77), once famously admitted in a glorious malapropism, ‘we are a nation of undertakers (begrafenisondernemers)!’ But, trade and politics aside, what is the significance of this event?

As the former Dutch Prime Minister, Joop de Uyl (in office, 1973-77), once famously admitted in a glorious malapropism, ‘we are a nation of undertakers (begrafenisondernemers)!’ But, trade and politics aside, what is the significance of this event?

Nogo Siluman[2] seems not have been one of Diponegoro’s most cherished heirloom weapons. He never mentioned it in his 1,100 folio-page autobiography, the Babad Diponegoro (1831-32). Nor was it listed amongst the prized heirloom pikes and daggers which were distributed to his family by the Dutch colonial authorities after his arrest. Nor yet was it referred to by General De Kock in his very detailed report on his interactions with the prince in that fateful month of March 1830.[3] How it came into the hands of the Antwerp-born Dutch field commander in eastern Bagelen (south-central Java), Colonel Jan-Baptist Cleerens (1785-1850) (Image 5), who presented it to King Willem I (r. 1813-40) on 11 January 1831, is a mystery. But one can make an informed guess. Given that Cleerens was the officer tasked with opening ‘peace negotiations’ with the prince in mid-February 1830 at Remokamal in Banyumas, and Diponegoro took him into his confidence—‘a man whose heart could be trusted (kang tyas pan langkung pitajengipun)’ as he notes in his autobiography[4]—it is highly likely that the heirloom dagger was given to seal the gentleman’s agreement given by Cleerens that the Dutch would negotiate in good faith.

Of course, this did not happen. And the consequences were disastrous—both for the Dutch and the Indonesians.

As the 16-year-old Prince Henry the Seafarer (Prins Hendrik de Zeevaarder, 1820-1872), youngest son of King Willem II (r. 1840-49) (Image 2), put it so powerfully in his diary (Image 3) after meeting Diponegoro in his place of detention in Fort Rotterdam, Makassar, on 7 March 1837:

“Everyone knows that Diponegoro rebelled against us, but his imprisonment will always be, according to my way of thinking, a blot on the Dutch escutcheon as men of honour. It is true he was a rebel, but he came to put an end to a war that had cost both us and his own people so many lives, and he came trusting in the Dutch promise to negotiate in good faith. Then he was arrested on the orders of General de Kock. I believe that this matter, which has served us so well (relative to our possession of the whole of Java), has done us the greatest harm in moral terms because if we unfortunately get into another war again in Java, one of the two of us will go under, either ourselves or the Javanese, because no local [Indonesian] chief will ever want to have anything to do with us again. And this won’t just happen in Java but everywhere [throughout the archipelago].”

[Iedereen weet dat Diepo Negoro [Diponegoro] in opstand tegen ons is geweest maar zijn gevangennemen zal altoos volgens mijne wijze van de zaak in te zien, een schandvlek aan de oude hollandsche trouw zijn. Het is waar hij was muiteling, maar hij kwam om een eind te maken aan eene oorlog die aan ons en aan hem zoo’n veel volk heeft gekost had en wat nog meer is hij kwam vertrouwende op de hollandsche trouw om te onderhandelen. Toen is hij gevat op order van de Generaal De Kock. Ik geloof dat deze zaak die ons het is waar zeer veel gedient heeft (betrekkelijk ons bezit van Geheel Java) ons het grootste kwaad gedaan heeft in het moreel want indien wij voor ons ongeluk weer oorlog op Java krijgen zal een der beiden ten onder gaan wij of de Javaan, want geen een Hoofd zal dan immer meer iets met ons te doen willen hebben. Dat zal niet alleen op Java gebeuren maar overal’.][5]

Prince Hendrik’s prophecy proved true. 112 years to the day (8 March 1830) after Diponegoro rode into Magelang with his 700 followers to meet with General De Kock, the Dutch themselves would go down to defeat at the hands of the Japanese (8 March 1942).[6] Most Indonesians applauded—‘no local [Indonesian] chief will ever want to have anything to do with us again [geen een (Indonesisch) Hoofd zal dan immer meer iets met ons te doen hebben]’! Schadenfreude rarely comes richer than this!

And what of His Highness the Invisible King of the Snakes in his 189-year exile in the Netherlands? There are many mysteries still to resolve. Condemned to a twilight existence in the Koninklijk Kabinet van Zeldzaamheden (Royal Curio Collection) in The Hague (1831-83) and the dusty storerooms of the Rijks Ethnographisch Museum/Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde (State Ethnographic Museum; post-2005, Museum Volkenkunde) in Leiden, the dagger’s lot was a tale of exile and forgetting. Out of sight out of mind. Similar, in fact, to his one-time owner, Prince Diponegoro, who passed the last third of his life (1833-55) in two ‘miserable hot rooms’—the words are Prins Hendrik’s—in Fort Rotterdam, Makassar, in the distant Celebes (Sulawesi).

This is strikingly different to the fate of another royal dagger—this time a real Nogosiluman type keris with thirteen curves on the blade (see fn.2)—which was taken by the British Lieutenant-Governor, Thomas Stamford Raffles (in office, 1811-16), from the second Sultan of Yogyakarta (r. 1792-1810/1811-12/1826-28) after the British had stormed his court in the early hours of Saturday, 20 June 1812 and had exiled him to Pinang (1812-15).

This fine heirloom weapon was presented in person by Raffles in May 1817 to the Prince Regent, later King George IV (r. 1820-30), a British monarch renowned for his fascination with weaponry and all things military despite having had no personal battlefield experience himself, has long been kept in the Royal Armoury Collection in Windsor Castle where it is available for inspection online (see Photo 1).[7] Whatever one may feel about the justice of keeping precious colonial artefacts in the public collections of the former colonial power, at least in this case the object is well curated and maintained. What a contrast to the Dutch indifference to Diponegoro’s own heirloom weapon consigned to a century and more of oblivion in their state collections! But maybe this is the moment where a new future awaits this Cheshire Cat keris–now you see him now you don’t—and it will have the last laugh on his master’s former captors as it speeds home borne aloft on the wings of a Garuda.


Image 1: Comparison of two krises: Top: Sultan Hamengkubuwono II of Yogyakarta’s personal Nogosiluman style keris with thirteen curves (eluk) in the blade now in the Royal Armoury Collection in Windsor Castle, UK; and Bottom: Diponegoro’s Nogososro style keris with eleven curves (eluk) styled Kangjeng Kiai Nogo Siluman, formerly in the Museum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden and now (post-March 2020) in the National Museum (Museum Nasional/MusNas), Jakarta. Photographs courtesy of the Royal Armoury Collection and Professor Sri Margana (Universitas Gajah Mada / Leiden University).

Image 2: Prince Henry the Seafarer (1820-72), youngest son of King Willem II of the Netherlands (r. 1840-49), oil painting by Jan-Baptist van der Hulst (1790-1862) now in the palace ‘Het Loo’, showing him in the uniform a Dutch naval lieutenant second class before he sailed for Indonesia on 17 October 1836 on the frigate Bellona (Captain Pieter Arriëns). Photo courtesy of the Geschiedkundige Vereniging Oranje-Nassau.

Image 3: The page of Prince Henry the Seafarer’s diary where he describes his 7 March 1837 meeting with Diponegoro in Fort Rotterdam, Makassar, and includes a doodle or thumbnail sketch of the prince dressed in his Buginese Muslim headgear. Koninklijke Huis Archief (The Hague), GO54-309-01 (archief prins Hendrik), ‘Dagboek’, 7-03-1837. Photograph courtesy of the Koninklijke Huis Archief, The Hague.

Image 4: Pencil sketch of Diponegoro by Adrianus Johannes (Jan) Bik (1790-1872) made in the Stadhuis (Town Hall) of Batavia (post-1942, Jakarta) in late April 1830 before he sailed on the corvette-of-war Pollux into exile in Sulawesi (3/4 May 1830). It shows him dressed in the ‘priestly’ garments which he wore during the Java War, namely a turban, an open-necked kabaya (cotton shirt) and a jubah (loose outer robe). A sash hangs over his right shoulder and his pusaka kris (heirloom dagger), Kangjeng Kyai Bondoyudo (Sir Duelling Without Weapons), is stuck in his flowered silk waist band. The slightly sunken cheeks, which accentuate the prince’s high cheek bones, were the result of successive bouts of malaria from which he had been suffering since his wanderings in the jungles of Bagelen and Banyumas in the last four months of the war (11 November 1829-16 February 1830). Photograph by courtesy of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Image 5: The Arrest of Diponegoro by General de Kock on Sunday, 28 March 1830, oil om canvas painting by Raden Saleh (ca. 1811-80), 112 x 179 cms, completed in March 1857. Saleh has painted Colonel Jan-Baptist Cleerens (1785-1850) as a Judas Iscariot figure with his back to the left pillar of the Residency House and his eyes gazing balefully at the viewer. The Antwerp-born colonel was not in fact present at Diponegoro’s arrest, but Saleh has included him to underscore his act of treachery. The painting now hangs in the State Palace (Istana Negara) in Jakarta. Photograph courtesy of the Sekretariat Kepresidenan, Republik Indonesia.


[1] Eric Brassem, “Nederland geeft ‘verloren’ kris terug aan Indonesië”, Trouw (4 maart 2020).

[2] The name of this keris is in fact confusing because it is not a Nogosiluman type, which has thirteen curves (ěluk) on the blade, but rather a Nogososro type which only has eleven curves (ěluk). Furthermore, according to the General Chairman of the Indonesian National Kris Secretariat (Sekretariat Nasional Perkerisan Indonesia-SNKI), Fadli Zon, it has not the dhapur [shape of the blade] of a Nogo Siluman (Naga Siluman) but instead the dhapur of Nogo Rojo (Naga Raja): ‘ ‘Naga Raja indeed looks like Naga Sasra, the only difference is on the crown,’ tweet, 12-03-20. According to another Kris expert, Mpu Nilo, ‘to know if the kris is a Naga Siluman or not, is quite simple: Naga Siluman kris has the dhapur of a naga with no body. This naga only appears from the neck up without a body extending to the end of the blade.’ The origins of this confusion may lie in part in the early descriptions of Diponegoro’s dagger by his youthful army commander, Ali Basah Sentot Prawirodirjo (ca. 1808-55), on 27 May 1830 (Susan Legêne, De Bagage van Blomhoff; Japan, Java, Tripoli in de negentiende eeuwse Nederlands cultuur van het imperialisme [Amsterdam: Museum voor de Tropen, 1998], pp.290-91), and by the equally youthful Arab-Javanese painter, Raden Saleh Syarif Bustaman (ca. 1811-80), in his clincher 17th  January 1831 description of the weapon after it arrived at the Koninklijk Kabinet van Zeldzaamheden (Royal Curio Collection) in mid-January 1831, when he referred to the remaining flecks of gold leaf at the tip of the blade, see Werner Kraus and Irina Vogelsang, Raden Saleh; The Beginning of Modern Indonesian Painting (Jakarta: Goethe Institut, 2012), pp.36-37.

[3] Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden (UBL), KITLV H (=Hollands MS) 340, H.M. de Kock, Verslag van het voorgevallene met den Pangeran Dipo-Nagoro kort vóór, bij en na zijne overkomst [Report on what happened with Prince Diponegoro shortly before, during and after his coming over], 1 April 1830.

[4] Peter Carey, The Power of Prophecy; Prince Dipanagara and the End of an Old Order in Java, 1785-1855 (Leiden: KITLV Press, 2007), p.669 fn.55.

[5] Koninklijke Huis Archief (The Hague), GO54-309-01 (archief prins Hendrik), ‘Dagboek’, 7-03-1837, quoted in Katrientje Huyssen van Kattendijke-Frank (ed), Met prins Hendrik naar de Oost; De reis van W.J.C. Huyssen van Kattendijke naar Nederlands-Indië, 1836-1838 (Zutphen: Walburg, 2004), p. 121.

[6] This happened at the surrender negotiation at Kalijati near Subang, West Java when the Dutch commander of Allied Land Forces in Java, General Hein ter Poorten (1887-1968), surrendered unconditionally to Japanese General Hitoshi Imamura (1886-1968), commander of the Japanese Sixteenth Army. The ghost of Diponegoro must have quietly rejoiced as he contemplated this total Dutch defeat 112 years to the day after his entrance into Magelang for the ‘peace negotiations’ with General de Kock which ended with his treacherous arrest. When Ter Poorten  tried to argue the toss with Imamura about the unconditional nature of the Dutch/Allied surrender, he was told coldly that he could return under Japanese escort to his military headquarters in Bandung and continue his resistance, but that he was on notice that Japanese bombers would be taking off within the hour from Kalijati airfield and Bandung would be flattened if he did not immediately agree the surrender terms.

[7] (Kris and scabbard, iron, gold, rubies, diamonds and wood, RCIN 67495).

This article is published with the original title; A Blot on the Dutch Escutcheon [Een Schandvlek op De Oud Hollands Trouw]: Reflections on the Return to Indonesia of Prince Diponegoro’s Heirloom Dagger, Kangjeng Kiai Nogo Siluman [His Highness The Invisible King of the Snakes]


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Peter Carey
Peter Carey, yang lahir di Myanmar 30 April 1948, adalah Fellow Emeritus Trinity College, Oxford, dan Adjunct Profesor FIB-UI (Fakultas Ilmu Pengetahuan Budaya, Universitas Indonesia). Karya yang lahir dari sentuhan tangannya antara lain : Burma: The Challenge of Change in a Divided Society (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997); The Power of Prophecy; Prince Dipanagara and the End of an Old Order in Java, 1785-1855. Leiden: KITLV Press, 2007 (terjemahan dalam Bahasa Indonesia, Kuasa Ramalan; Pangeran Diponegoro dan Akhir Tatanan Lama di Jawa, 1785-1855. Jakarta: Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia, 2012); The British in Java, 1811-1816. A Javanese Account. Oxford: OUP Press, 1992. Terjemahan Inggris di Jawa. Jakarta: PBK, 2017). Kemudian beberapa ulasan mengenai dirinya antara lain : buku Urip iku Urub; 40 Tahun Sarjana Lelono di Negara Leluhur. Tulisan yang dipersembahkan kepada Peter Carey untuk HUT ke-70. FX Domini BB Hera (peny.). Jakarta: PBK, Oktober 2018.