Sunda Kelapa Where a centuries-old boating community still lives despite mass industrialisation

The murky unknown of Sunda Kelapa's water is no deterrent for the children who live in and amongst Jakarta's historical port.

They are the children of ex-captains, growing up aboard static ships of creaking timber, flaking colour and salty air.

They are the neighbours, who run through the streets of Penjaringan towards the harbour to fare well the afternoon heat.

They are children who see hours of fun in the waters of Sunda Kelapa.

The air smells of mud and damp wood as children jump from their perches on jetties, boats and cement outcrops along the canal. They call out and wave, trying to get the attention of tourists passing in a motored canoe.

But Sunda Kelapa has not always been the port lined with children and Phinisi ships it is today. Some of the people living and working in the harbour are the descendants of generations of seamen.

Behind the weathered exterior of the unmoving vessels lies a history of trade and colonisation in Indonesia; behind the people, a community which survives in a world industrialised by global trade and the shipping container.

Sunda Kelapa is situated in Jakarta's old town of Koto. Driving through the streets here, it becomes clear Koto is a town of contrasts, a town caught between the now and the then. A building reduced to little more than powdery grey rubble waits out the rest of its existence in the shadow of a looming colonial mansion ignorant to its decaying neighbour.

Despite the rows of shipping containers and Phinisi ships, this port is far from the bustling trade hub it once was.

During the fifteenth century, Sunda Kelapa was a vital place for the kingdom of Pajajaran, connecting them with the outside world through trade and commerce. But this port soon became a vital key for the Dutch in their colonisation of Indonesia. Tall-masted Phinisi Schooners brimming with timber, coal and food moved into the harbour and began ploughing international seas. Because of this rich history, the port is now mostly a tourist attraction, a chance for people to glimpse a tradition still afloat despite a global onslaught of faceless shipping containers. Sunda Kelapa is still used as a port for trade among the Indonesian islands, with vessels from Borneo and Sumatra keeping the port alive.

Here lives one of the world's last fleets of sail boats still in operation. It's the community, which has clung to centuries of maritime knowledge and a deep connection to these waters, who are to thank.

Nompo has lived on a boat in the harbour all of his life, and has bore witness to the incredible change bestowed upon this port.

He's reserved and watchful. You can't miss the way he looks over the water with an undisturbed reverence; this is his home. Once just a carefree child jumping from his father's boat into the grey depths below, he now operates a water taxi business. For thirty years, he's taken tourists through the harbour in dug-out motor powered canoes splashed with colour.

The community is a close-knit one. For most people here, Sunda Kelapa has been their family home for generations. Most, but not all.

"My father is from South Sulawesi and my mother is from Java. I moved here ten years ago, into a house. Ten years, but I'm still a newcomer," Saharudin says. He operates the taxi service along with Nompo and another man, Suparno.

In other parts of the world, the steady tide of shipping containers and industrial import operations have flooded out generations of families, and centuries of knowledge have been reduced to or replaced by a mere license.

But not here.

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