Most Indonesians have learned in school about the exile of Soekarno (affectionately known as Bung Karno, meaning Brother Karno) Indonesia’s first president and leader of the country’s struggle for Independence from the late 1930s. In the midst of this struggle, to prevent Soekarno from making political speeches against the Dutch colonial policy, the Dutch Governor-General sentenced Soekarno to exile without trial. In 1934, Bung Karno and his family were first shipped to Ende, a town on the island of Flores. Due to a malaria outbreak in 1938, Dutch authorities then moved political prisoners to the city of Bengkulu in Southwest Sumatera, where they remained until the Japanese invasion in 1942.
During his exile in Bengkulu, Sukarno met Fatmawati, a young woman from Bengkulu, whom he later married. Fatmawati later became the first Indonesian First Lady. The airport of the city of Bengkulu is also named after her. During these hard times Farmawati was accredited to have personally sewn by hand the first Red and White Flag of Indonesia. This was the flag that was flown on the historic moment of the Proclamation of Independence of Indonesia on 17 August 1945 and every year until 1967, when it was too threadbare to fly. Today, at every Independence Day ceremony, this flag is taken out to accompany a newer version of the Indonesian flag that is flown in front of the Merdeka Palace.
Bung Karno’s exile home in the town of Bengkulu measures roughly 162 square meters. It is a simple, rectangular house with plain walls, a high pyramid-shaped roof and a spacious yard. The main doors are double leaf with ornate window grills. It is not known when the house was first constructed, but it is estimated to have been built in the early 20th century.
The house was originally owned by Chinese businessman, Tan Eng Cian, who worked as a grocery supplier for the Dutch Government. Chinese characteristics can be found in the structure of the building’s vents, and several doors and windows are still patterned with Chinese characters. The house was later leased by the Dutch government as a home for Sukarno.
Today, the building is maintained by the Bengkulu Provincial Government, and is named Persada Bung Karno. It now serves as a museum, library, meeting room and theater. Within the house is a collection of objects of high historical value, such as Soekarno’s strategy outlines during his struggle in exile.
Bung Karno’s exile home is located on Jalan Jeruk – later renamed JalanSoekarno-Hatta, in the Gading Cempaka District, Bengkulu City.