The National Archives of the Republic of Indonesia (ANRI)


A Review of the National Archives of the Republic of Indonesia (Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia) in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The National Archives of the Republic of Indonesia in Jakarta (Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, hereafter ANRI) contains Indonesia’s largest collection of archival materials and is responsible for maintaining the country’s central archive. The collections at ANRI can be traced back to the work of J.A. van der Chijs, who was appointed as the Keeper of Records in 1892 by the colonial government of the Dutch East Indies, and his role in developing the ‘s Lands Archief of Batavia (see J.A. van der Chijs, Inventaris van ‘Lands Archief te Batavia 1602-1816, Batavia: Landsdrukkerij, 1882). The history of ANRI, however, has been documented in detail elsewhere: Guide to the Sources of Asian History, Indonesia, Vol I: National Archives (International Council on Archives Guide to the Sources of Asian History, 4, Jakarta: National Archives of Indonesia, 1989); W. Philippus Coolhaas, A Critical Survey of Studies On Dutch Colonial History (‘s-Gravenhage: M. Nijhoff, 1960); H.T. Colenbrander, Koloniale Geschiedenis (‘Gravenhage, Martinus Nijhoff 1925-26, 3 vols); and F.G.P. Jaquet, “1200 Meters of Colonial Past” (Itinerario, vol. 3, no. 1, 1979, pp. 47-56). Taomo Zhou has written a review for Dissertation Reviews that provides practical and logistical information for accessing the reviews. Therefore, I will focus in this review on the current state of ANRI and my experience conducting seven months of research there.

From May 2014 to January 2015, I was based in Jakarta where I conducted archival research for my dissertation project. My research examines the ecological history of northern Sumatra in the early-mid twentieth century. At ANRI, I spent most of my time searching in the collections of the Algemene Secretarie (the General Secretariat), the Departement van Binnenlandsch-Bestuur (Department of Home Affairs), and in the Memorie van Overgave (memoranda of conveyance or “handover reports”) from the microfilm archive. A few examples of colonial materials that I found in these collections include agreements between local leaders and colonial administrators, taxation documents, letters of inquiry sent to the Governor-General of the East Indies from European and North American researchers, communications between plantation owners in Aceh and the colonial government, cartographic works detailing the implementation of conservation zones, and so on. I will discuss these collections in more detail below.

What I did not find at ANRI, however, were materials from the Nederlandsche Commissie voor International Natuurbescherming (Dutch Committee for International Nature Conservation), the Opperhoutvester van Atjeh (Aceh’s Chief Forester), the Koninklijk Zoölogisch Genootschap (Royal Zoological Society), documents related to the collection and trade of wildlife, port and ship records, and the personal collections of colonial officials in Aceh. I have since learned that many of these collections are held in various archives in the Netherlands, while a few are maintained elsewhere in Indonesia. The Stadsarchief Amsterdam (Amsterdam City Archives), for example, holds a large collection of unique materials related to nature conservation, forestry, and the wildlife trade in the Dutch East Indies. In Indonesia, the Unit Kearsipan Planologi Kehutanan Bogor (Archival Unit at the Directorate General of Forestry Planning in Bogor) maintains an archive of forestry documents from the colonial period, including agreements between Aceh’s Chief Forester and local communities.

Before moving on, I want to comment on other archives in Indonesia. There are smaller regional archives (arsip daerah) and provincial archives (arsip provinsi) throughout Indonesia, as well as holdings located in many government ministries and nongovernmental organizations. In addition to ANRI, I also visited the Aceh Provincial Archives in Banda Aceh (Badan Arsip Provinsi Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam) and at the office of Forestry Planning in Bogor. Both of these archives hold nice collections of unique materials. Regional and provincial archives are unreliable, however, especially if searching for pre-independence period documents (before 1945). I have visited numerous regional archives and have had mixed success. The North Sumatra Provincial Archives in Medan (Arsip Daerah Propinsi Sumatera Utara) and the regional archives in Blangkejeren, Gayo Lues (Kantor Arsip dan Perpustakaan Kabupaten Gayo Lues), were both in the process of being repopulated with region-specific materials from ANRI after their collections had been lost or moved during the independence movement. The regional archives in Takengon, Central Aceh (Kantor Perpustakaan dan Arsip Daerah Kabupaten Aceh Tengah), on the other hand, held a nice collection of independence period documents. It is hit or miss with regional archives, but they are worth visiting.

Holdings at ANRI

The holdings of the National Archives are divided into eight inventories (inventaris). The first is the inventory of the colonial period (1. Inventaris Arsip Periode Kolonial), which includes materials from the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC) starting in the year 1610, and continuing up through the colonial period to 1941. The colonial period archive is organized into five collections:

The Archives of the VOC
The Archives of the British Interregnum
The Archives of the Netherlands Indies Government
Personal Collections, Testaments, and Genealogies
The Colonial Cartographic Collections (2. Inventaris Arsip Periode Kolonial Kearsitekturan Arsip Kartografi Kolonial)

The colonial period holdings are organized by ministry, by individual or family, and regionally. The gewestelijke stukken, or regional documents, collected from the former ‘s Lands Archief of Batavia can also be found in the colonial archive. In 1939, the Dutch colonial government required all local administrations to transfer their pre-1830s materials to the Algemene Secretarie and this continued until the start of World War II (Coolhaas, A Critical Survey, p. 4). The regional documents date mostly from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, although a few collections continue into the early twentieth century, such as the Aceh collection. Not all regions are represented, however, as certain local administrations did not submit materials or their documents were lost or destroyed over the years. The colonial cartographic collections include maps and materials produced by the Topografische Dienst (Topographical Service of the Netherlands Indies).

ANRI also holds an impressive inventory of cartographic materials from post-independence (3. Inventaris Arsip Kartografi dan Kearsitekuran Arsip Kartografi Republik). These materials were mostly produced by Dinas Topografi TNI-AD (Topographical Service of the Indonesian Army). The independence, or republic, period inventories are organized both by institution (4. Inventaris Arsip Periode Republik) and by individual (5. Inventaris Arsip Perorangan). The institutional documents comprise collections from 1945 to the present, including materials from the Cabinet of the President, the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Religion, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Defense, and so on. The individual holdings include the personal collections of prominent individuals, such as Kartini, Frintz Laoh, Mohammad Yamin, Sutan Mohammad Rasjib, Djamal Marsudi, and others (For the complete list of independence period documents, see here.

A large collection of photos (5. Inventaris Arsip Foto), documentary films (6. Inventaris Arsip Film Dokumenter), and sound/voice recordings (7. Inventaris Arsip Rekaman Suara) from both the colonial and independence periods can also be found at ANRI. The photo inventory is organized regionally and institutionally. The documentary films are separated by both topic and the organization that produced the film. The sound recordings and oral histories are organized chronologically and institutionally.

Finally, ANRI has an inventory of microfilm (8. Inventaris Arsip Microfilm). The microfilm collection appears random and contains materials from the VOC up to the independence period. Within the microfilm archive is a collection of Memories van Overgave (MvO) from across the Dutch East Indies, which is of notable interest to researchers of the colonial period. MvO are the memoirs or statements written by the outgoing governor or resident of a region once their term in office had ended. The purpose of the MvO was to provide an overview to the incoming governor or resident of political events, places, people, development, resistance, or other occurrences of considerable importance for the regional government. It was hoped that the MvO would ease the transfer of power from one administration to the next, and inform the incoming head of office of important local matters. Most MvO include descriptions of local geography and political boundaries and borders, local demographics, economic development and production, transport, regional political administration, and relations with local village heads, neighboring districts, and the central government.

The MvO reports are not only on microfilm, but also many of the original reports can be found in the colonial period archive. ANRI has also compiled series of MvO from certain regions into volumes that are for sale in their library. In addition to the MvO volumes, ANRI has produced numerous archival source publications containing small collections of materials. These volumes can be useful for researchers who want high quality copies of original source materials ranging from VOC documents to colonial period reports and oral histories that have been transcribed and annotated.

The collection most useful for my research on the environmental history of Sumatra was the Inventaris Arsip Algemene Secretarie Seri Grote Bundel Ter Zijde Gelegde Agenda in the Archives of the Netherlands Indies Government. This collection has a wealth of materials, including communications between foreigners and the office of the Governor-General of the East Indies. Among these materials, I found correspondence between foreign plantation owners in Aceh and the colonial government discussing violence on plantations and complaints of racial discrimination by Japanese owners. The most important materials for my study in this collection, however, include communications between C.R. Carpenter, a prominent primatologist and Harvard professor, and the Governor-General regarding his 1937 study of orangutan populations in Aceh, as well as materials outlining Theodore Roosevelt III’s attempts to gain permission to personally hunt a Javan rhino for the collections of the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1939— a request that was ultimately denied by the Governor-General due to the almost-extinct status of the rhino.


ANRI is open to all Indonesian citizens who hold a government issued personal identification card (KTP) and all foreign researchers holding a government-issued research permit (surat izin penelitian), which is sponsored by the State Ministry of Research and Technology (MENRISTEK). In order to enter the reading room and access materials in ANRI, all foreigners must present their research permit to the receptionist at the front desk. Other researchers I have spoken with have noted that the receptionist at the front desk only asked for an identification card. I, however, was specifically asked for my research permit. The receptionist returns the form of identification after the visitor returns the visitor badge and locker key. Upon being granted admission into the reading room, staff will issue the researcher a visitor badge and a locker key. Personal items, such as backpacks, bags, food and drinks, and phones must be stored in the lockers. Researchers are permitted to enter the reading room with a laptop computer or tablet, books and notebooks, and writing utensils. Scanners and cameras are not permitted in the reading room. Photos are not allowed and archive workers monitor the room to ensure that researchers do not take photos of archival materials.

On the first visit to the reading room, archivists meet with the visitor at the sign-in desk and request a copy of identification (passport and research permit for foreign visitors or a KTP for Indonesian citizens) and a letter of support or recommendation from the researcher’s institution. The archivists will then consult with the researcher to orient the visitor to the collections and provide tailored advice for locating materials specific to the researcher’s project. Many of the archivists are able to effortlessly switch between English, Indonesian, and Dutch.

Obtaining Materials

There are two primary methods for searching the collections at ANRI: a digital search using ANRI’s online system on computers located in the reading room, or by manually searching the catalogs of each collection (as shown in the photo above). The online system is best for those who want to do an initial search of region, topic, or individual. The online system, however, is not comprehensive and oftentimes ends in “no items found” for even the most broad topic search. For those who have enough time, the best method for ensuring an exhaustive search of materials is to manually search page-by-page through the collections catalogs. Many of the catalogs have an index, which is useful for finding specific bundles by location, period, topic, institution, or person. A researcher might start with an online search, then move on to search the indexes of inventories of interest, and then finish by going page-by-page through the catalogs. The indexes are also not always completely comprehensive, and I often found archival bundles related to my topic that were not listed in the index by searching manually through the pages.

Materials of interest are to be requested with a form available at the service desk. Each form can accommodate numerous bundles, folders, or boxes, but must include only requests from the same inventory (from the eight listed above). A researcher cannot, for example, submit a request for film on the same form that he or she requests colonial period bundles, or independence period bundles together with photos. A separate form must be submitted for materials from each inventory. Requests will not be processed from 12:00-1:00pm and requests made after 2:00pm will generally be processed the following day.

After submitting a request form at the service desk, the researcher must then wait for the materials to be gathered and delivered by the staff working in the archives. Once the materials are ready at the desk, the researcher’s name and item request will appear on a large digital screen on the wall and a bell with sound notifying the researcher that his or her materials are ready to be collected. The stated waiting time for the delivery of materials is 30 minutes, but that goal is rarely met. More often than not, the materials arrive one or two hours after requesting them. Sometimes the materials never arrive, which means the researcher must request them again another day. I found it best to make long lists of bundles I wished to examine, and then submit numerous request forms early in the morning in order to ensure that some bundles arrived. I have heard from other researchers that the staff at the service desk did not allow them to check out new bundles until the previous ones were returned. This was not the case in my experience. The waiting time was useful for searching through the catalogs to find additional materials of interest. There is often not much the staff in the reading room can do to ensure or expedite the delivery of materials; the situation is usually at the mercy of the workers in the archives. It is recommended that researchers contact ANRI before traveling to Indonesia to inquire if the specific collections of interest will be open and available during the period that the researcher will be in Jakarta. I found during my research that collections were often under repair for months at a time and that it was not possible to access those materials while they were being improved.

The researcher is assigned a seat in the reading room once the materials arrive. There is a separate room for examining microfilm. ANRI does not permit researchers to photograph or scan materials. Instead, they will provide the researcher black and white or color photocopies or digital scans for a fee. The researcher must bookmark specific pages in the bundle to be copied with strips of paper provided at the service desk. For microfilm, the specific collections and/or page numbers on the film that are to be copied or scanned must be documented on the copy request form. The form is available at the service desk and all copies must be requested using the form. The cost per photocopied page (black and white) as of January 2015 was Rp. 1500 (0.12 USD). The fee is higher for color copies, digital scans, copies of photos, and copies or scans of maps and other cartographic works. The fee is also higher for foreign researchers than Indonesian citizens. ANRI does not have a wide-format scanner or printer and could not copy or scan larger cartographic works. They, therefore, allowed the researcher to photograph certain works with a personal camera for the same fee of printing the material. Copies of general materials and photos are fine in quality, but larger items (such as maps, charts, etc.) were quite disappointing. With regards to standard archival materials, the amount to be photocopied has to be less than 20% of the number of pages in total for one dossier. This is a daily limit, however, and the researcher can copy more of the bundle another day. Depending on the amount to be photocopied, it generally takes 3-4 hours to complete the order. If the order is placed after 1pm, oftentimes it will not be completed until the next day.

If a visitor does not finish examining documents before ANRI closes for the day, the staff will hold the materials for when he or she returns (label the materials “masih dibaca”). The microfilm room has a cabinet with drawers specifically for film that is still being examined (masih dibaca) and also for film that the researcher has finished using.

Location and Hours

For more information on the location and hours of ANRI, or food and accommodations near ANRI, please see Taomo Zhou’s review of ANRI on Dissertation Reviews here.

Matthew Minarchek
Department of History
Cornell University

Image: Photograph by author.

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