In 1983, following a five-day voyage from Jakarta, Huib Akihary stood at the boat’s bow at sunrise, watching the two points of the Bay of Ambon grow and gradually encircle him, welcoming him to his father’s homeland.
When the boat finally arrived in Ambon, the then 29-year-old waited for the other passengers to disembark, as he had told his aunt he would be the last one off the boat.
“Then four police officers came to the boat and they were asking for me. I said, *I haven’t done anything, just visiting my family’,” Akihary says.
“*No, no problem,’ they said. *Just your aunt has asked us to get you off the boat.’ So I was escorted by them and met my aunt for the first time . then she told me that my uncles, cousins and nephews were also there . There were more than 40 people standing there, some of whom had traveled two days to Ambon.”
This auspicious reception signaled an important step in Akihary’s lifelong journey to understand his Moluccan heritage, leading him to become an expert on Indonesia and Holland’s mutual architectural history, and culminating in his appointment as director of Museum Maluku, in the Netherlands, in March this year.
Akihary was born and raised in Holland by a Dutch mother and a Moluccan father. Although he grew up outside the Moluccan diasporic community, he was always interested in his father’s culture and roots.
“My thinking and reasoning are Dutch, yet my feelings and emotions are Moluccan. Adat *tradition*, family matters, music, food and helping each other as much as possible are basic Moluccan cultural values and are very much part of my personal life. I try to incorporate that in my Western way of thinking and find a balance in both,” he says.
Akihary has two teenage sons, with whom he says he shares Moluccan culture via literature, film, music and cuisine.
“I present it to them and they can choose by themselves if they want to absorb it or not,” he says.
“In my case, if I have the name Akihary, I have to know where it comes from.”
The name Akihary is well-known in Ambon and increasingly representative of Moluccans overseas. Akihary says many of his relatives in both Indonesia and the Netherlands are highly involved in their immediate community and the wider Moluccan diaspora, as businesspeople, teachers, solicitors and ministers. His cousin Monica Akihary is the lead singer of Boi Akih, a world jazz ensemble that performs Moluccan songs.
“We all share a mutual interest in our Moluccan culture and traditions wherever we live,” he says. “As Monica and I play an important role in spreading and conserving Moluccan culture, our family supports us in every way.”
Since his first visit to Indonesia in 1983, he has returned several times: in 1984 to research his thesis on the history of architecture of the city of Batavia between 1870 and 1942; in 1988 for a seminar on Indonesia and Holland’s mutual architectural heritage; and in 1990 to conduct a five-year inventory of all the Portuguese and Dutch fortifications in the Moluccas, a project cancelled in 1991 for political reasons.
Last month, the Moluccan governor and diplomatic community invited Akihary, in his capacity as Museum Maluku director, to Ambon to organize a musical theater project, Paku Coklat, performed by the Moluccan Music Theatre Ensemble, and reportedly a sell-out success.
His position as director of Museum Maluku is one he has strived for since graduating as an art historian from the University of Amsterdam in 1986, the same year the museum was founded.
“I was involved with the museum since the start, as an adviser, as a member of committees and as chairman of the foundation of Friends of the Museum. In the 90s I was asked to organize a few exhibitions,” he says.
“Under my direction and in close cooperation with the newly appointed curator Dr. Jet Bakels, a very experienced museum worker, the Museum Maluku will focus on a broader audience, broader than simply the Moluccan community in the Netherlands.”
He says partners will include institutes and individuals worldwide that study Moluccan culture, such as the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, government departments in Moluccan province and Moluccan cultural societies in Jakarta.
“It’s important to join hands and strengthen the cultural identity of Moluccans wherever they live,” he says, adding there are significant communities in California and Jakarta.
“I have a very active role now in preserving, discovering, documenting, registering and describing Moluccan culture… In short, safeguarding it for those who live abroad.”
Although his focus is on Moluccan heritage, his doctoral research on Batavia means he is knowledgeable about Jakarta’s architectural treasures, citing the city as a modern marvel, as well as a major example of Indonesian and Dutch mutual heritage.
“When you drive through Jakarta at night it’s beautiful, with all the lights and all the high-rise buildings,” he says.
“At present, these buildings, as well as shopping malls and complexes, have an international style. The interesting question is if modern Indonesian architecture and urban planning will find ways and means to develop its own Indonesian identity.”
A unique Indonesian identity, he says, remains evident in the architectural remnants of Jakarta’s past.
“The layout of Jakarta still shows the history of its growth since 1600, such as the town near Pasar Ikan with its Dutch layout of streets and canals *Kali Besar*,” he says.
“This is why it makes me sad when I see that they are destroying a building without knowing its meaning or historical value.”
So far, Akihary feels his greatest professional achievements have been his publications on Dutch colonial architecture in Indonesia, which he says have helped Indonesian architects in their urban planning, as well as architectural exhibitions he has participated in, such as at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
“But by far I am most proud of and feel very privileged to have the chance to work on and to promote the Moluccan culture as the new director of Museum Maluku in close cooperation with Moluccans worldwide. It’s very rewarding in many ways.”