The area of North Kalimantan that borders directly onto the neighboring country of Malaysia was once part of the East Kalimantan Province until it was officially established as a separate province on 25th October 2012. While the young province that has Tanjung Selor as capital city may not be as familiar to most ears as Indonesia’s other provinces, it holds some of the most fascinating wonders, away from popular spotlights. If one were to explore this young province, there is no better place to start than from the city / the island of Tarakan.
Situated just across the border from Sabah, Malaysia, the town and island of Tarakan was once major oil producing region during the Dutch colonial period. The city had great strategic importance during the Pacific War and was among the first Japanese targets early in the war. The city of Tarakan is situated on an island bearing the same name and covers a total area of 657.33 square kilometers comprising a land area of 250.80 square kilometers and surrounding waters of 406.53 square kilometers. This triangle shaped island is located about 4 km off the coast of Kalimantan.
The name Tarakan itself is believed to have originated from the language of the Tidung, a sub ethnic group of Borneo’s Dayaks, the indigenous people of this huge island. Tarakan is believed to be derived from the word Tarak meaning “meeting place” and Ngakan meaning “to eat”, thus Tarakan was originally a meeting place for sailors and traders in the area to eat, rest and trade their catch.
According to legend, the native Tidung established their kingdom in Tarakan around 1076. After moving their capital for several times during the centuries, in 1571 they settled their kingdom on the eastern coast of Tarakan . Dutch colonial interests first explored the island in 1863 when oil seepages were discovered. In 1905, and an oil concession was granted to the Koninklijke Nederlandsche Petroleum Maatschappij, a predecessor to the Royal Dutch Shell. Production continued to increase and in the 1920’s, Tarakan yielded over 5 million barrels a year, a third of the total oil production in the whole Dutch East Indies.
Although Tarakan was only a small marshy island, it played a significant part in the Second World War in the Pacific. Tarakan was an obvious target for the Japanese for two reasons: the presence of a rich oil field, and to use this as a strategic air base from which further attacks could be launched. In the first battle of Tarakan on January 11–12, 1942, the Japanese invasion fleet defeated the Dutch and took control of Tarakan. The Allies finally captured Tarakan following the second battle of Tarakan from May 1 – June 21, 1945. The Allied forces responsible for capturing Tarakan was tasked to the veteran Australian 26th Brigade Group.
Remnants of the clashes and great battles between the two forces can still be found throughout the city. Among these remnants are the Peningki Lama Site at East Tarakan where one can still see 12 cannons and 10 bunkers; the Museum Roemah Boendar (Roundhouse Museum) which was built by the Australian forces after defeating the Japanese in the second battle of Tarakan; Pillbox / Stelling Post, a place to take cover and scout for enemies, which is located at the end of the runway of the Juwata International Airport; The Australian Monument at the Kodim (Military Command Center) on Pulau Kalimantan Street, which was built in honor of Australian forces who lost their lives during the battle; The Japanese Ash Monument which is dedicated to the Japanese who lost their lives on the island; and more.
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