Indonesia in Focus
Dago Street: Bandung, West Java
Absorbed in leafing through the pages of a magazine, the woman did not seem disturbed by the Bandung traffic in the late afternoon of May 11. She was savoring a little relaxation with the magazine, which she had borrowed from the library of Prefere 72 Caf‚.
Cut Nany, 22, was not alone — her companion Bhakti P. Rahardjo, 29, was taking a deep on his cigarette when I approached them. Bhakti, an interior design consultant, said he often spent his time there, chatting with colleagues or making business deals.
The two of them were sitting comfortably in the rear of the cafe, which has been open for only six months. Prefere 72 Caf‚ is a new hangout for those who wish to while away their time on Jl. Dago, in the northern part of Bandung.
Dago street, which originally started out as a simple lane, has since 1810 become a place where people chat, gossip, and talk about politics and politicians.
Sudarsono Katam, 61, a writer and a book collector, said he had been cycling along the road since 1952.
“The place is comfortable,” he said.
In the early 1960s, young men began to spend their leisure time along the southern stretch of this road.
Ten years later, Dago street had changed into a road with its own attractions. You could find almost everything there, from toast to women.
These women “were called gong li”, said Katam, which is a shortened form of the Sundanese words meaning wild pigs.
The impacts of population and economic growth, he continued, began to be felt in the elite residential area around Dago street in early 1990, seen in the mushrooming of shops and boutiques.
In fact, Dago street was originally designated for upper-class Dutch houses and villas.
According to the Bandung Heritage Society’s website, construction on Dago street began in 1910 as desired by the Bandung municipal government — then still under Dutch rule — to expand its administrative territory to the north.
After several plantations and rice fields were cleared, the Dago and Cipaganti streets of north Bandung were born. Dago street extended to Pakar forest, where the administration had built a water reservoir on Dago Hill.
Katam writes in his book, Bandung Kilas Peristiwa di Mata Filatelis Sebuah Wisata Sejarah (Bandung: Flashbacks of a philatelist, a history tour), that Dago street originally linked Karapyak (Dayeuh Kolot) in the south and Mandalawangi, Sumedang Larang, in the eastern part of present-day Bandung.
“The road was used for the transportation of agricultural produce from northern Bandung to the warehouse, which is now the Bandung governor’s office,” he said, adding that in the past, Bandung was surrounded by coffee, tea and quinine plantations.
As more and more goods had to be transported, Dago street, which is still flanked by damar trees, was broadened to allow carts to pass.
“From 1910, the area was designated as a Dutch residential neighborhood,” said Katam.
Evidence that horses and carts used to travel this road is still visible in front of Santo Borromeus Hospital, near the Jl. Dago-Jl. Ganesha intersection.
During the Dutch colonial era, Dago was also used as a cavalry route, starting from Van Houtenweg (lower Taman Sari), through Husgensweg (Taman Sari) and to Dago.
In 1960, the road was divided into three lanes: a central lane for public vehicles and the other two for horses. The left-hand lane was northbound, while the right-hand lane was for southbound traffic.
Even today, it is unknown why the road was named Dago. According to Bandung “caretaker” Haryoto Kunto, it is written in Semerbak Bunga di Bandung Raya (The fragrance of flowers in Greater Bandung) that Dago is a Sundanese word.
In mid-19th century, Haryoto said, the area between present-day Simpang Dago and the Bandung Institute of Technology campus was a forest through which no vehicles could pass. Therefore, residents en route to morning market waited for one another so that they could walk through the forest in a group. They also brought along a “guard” armed with a machete and a spear to protect them against robbers.
This practice of waiting is referred to as padago-dago in Sundanese.
It was in 1970, Katam said, that the road became a place where people could gather and lounge.
“Even today people still gather along this road,” he said.
That same year, Dago street was renamed after Ir. H. Juanda, in memory of the Indonesian independence hero.
Every Saturday night, thousands of people crowd along Dago street. Most are teenagers who gather to dine in roadside eateries.
Meanwhile, scores of motorcycle and auto clubs have picked out their favorite spots. The road is also filled with the sounds of free live music, ranging from brass band and pop to underground bands, all performed in the open air.
The Dago area is indeed known as the merriest area in Bandung. Every Saturday night, particularly early in the month, crowds fill the sidewalks and even spill out onto the road just to enjoy the night air.
When asked her thoughts on the road, Cut Nany replied emphatically: “Bandung is Dago and Dago is Bandung.”
For Cut Nany, who is in the final year of her studies at the School of Communications in Padjajaran University, Dago street is the heart of the city. A Jakartan by birth, Cut Nany said whenever she got lost in the city, she would make her way to Dago.
“Once you are in Dago, it is easy to go anywhere,” she said.
As for her companion Bhakti, he has his own ideas: Dago street should be turned into a pedestrian mall.
“Cars must be barred from entering this area. Everyone goes on foot. This way, roadside eateries, many of which have now been turned into shops, can expand. While Braga is a heritage area, Dago should be a shopping venue for pedestrians,” he said.
Dago is certainly different from Braga, which was where estate owners spent their money from the moment the road was built.
According to the Bandung Heritage Society’s 1977 records of historical buildings, Dago street is home to about 25 protected buildings. All fall under the A category, which means that these buildings must be preserved as they are.
As an afterthought, Bhakti added: “Dago should also be a place for people to learn history.”
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