What happens when a claimant of a region is excluded from a treaty that officially divides it into smaller parts? As history suggests, this person will keep fighting for what they believe is rightfully theirs. The success of that usually depends on how much power and support he or she amasses to win that claim.
18th-century Java witnessed such a struggle where battles, political maneuvers, drama and intrigue were the norm in the relations among the rulers of Surakarta and Yogyakarta, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and Prince Sambernyawa, a common enemy of the former three. The Treaty of Giyanti, which formalized the breakaway of Yogyakarta from Surakarta, conspicuously omitted Prince Sambernyawa’s demand for a land of his own. His relentless defiance of the Dutch proposal for joining either Surakarta or Yogyakarta resulted in the Treaty of Salatiga two years after the formation of Yogyakarta. The treaty effectively marked the establishment of the Principality of Mangkunegaran which was granted parts of Surakarta and Yogyakarta, effectively putting the wars among Java’s competing royal courts to an end.
Prince Sambernyawa – who took the official title of Mangkunegara I – soon commissioned a palace, located roughly 1 km north of the keraton (royal palace) of Surakarta, from which he would rule his nascent realm. Inspired by the layout of a Javanese keraton, Mangkunegaran Palace consisted of separate buildings erected for specific purposes. Pendopo Ageng (Great Audience Hall) stands at the front of the palace’s core compound, welcoming dignitaries and commoners alike to walk on its reflective marble floors beneath a lofty ceiling. Rows of elegant chandeliers usher people into Dalem Ageng, which was once reserved for the Mangkunegaran court’s newlyweds. Today it houses a collection of weapons, medals, and artistic artifacts owned by the royal court. Behind the chamber are beautiful gardens as well as pavilions adorned with both European and Javanese decorative elements.
In 1944, a new ruler, Mangkunegara VIII, ascended the throne and led his principality through turbulent times. Just a year after his ascension, Indonesia declared independence from the Japanese, and subsequently from the Dutch. However, as the latter pushed back and managed to regain control of parts of Indonesia, the new republic was keen on stripping local rulers across the archipelago of their political powers to make way for a modern governmental structure. Unlike Yogyakarta whose active role in the Indonesian struggle against the Dutch ensured the preservation of the monarchy’s powers within the Republic of Indonesia, Mangkunegaran and Surakarta were merged into Central Java province a year after the Dutch pulled out and officially recognized Indonesia’s independence.
Like Pakubuwono XIII, the current ruler of Surakarta who possesses no real power and acts more as a cultural figure, Mangkunegara IX is still the nominal ruler of his principality, a patron who oversees traditional dances and rituals performed in his palace grounds. This leads to the question I mentioned in the first post of this series on Javanese Royal Palaces: where is the cultural center of Java? In fact, it’s as preposterous as asking who is the most European among the French, the Germans and the Italians. The truth is that Surakarta, Yogyakarta and Mangkunegaran were all once part of one big family called Mataram, the custodian of Javanese culture as well as the advocate of a Javanized version of Islam. Only when the three work together, instead of constantly being consumed by their own intrigues, can the battle to turn the tide against creeping conservatism be won. Whether that day when the successors of the Mataram sultanate unite will come or not, only time will tell.