Remembering the Flaming Bandung Lautan Api

Bandung Lautan Api refers to the deliberate burning of much of Bandung’s southern side by retreating Indonesian Republican troops during the Indonesian National Revolution. Following the declaration of independence by Indonesia, tensions and fighting erupted in the city of Bandung between the newly formed Indonesian armed forces and Indonesian nationalist youths on one side, and Japanese and British forces on the other.

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After Japanese attempts to take control of the city were initially successful in October, the arrival of British forces resulted in continued fighting, which initially resulted in a stalemate in which Bandung was divided into the British-controlled north and the Indonesian-controlled south.

Following an ultimatum in March 1946 to militarily evacuate South Bandung, Indonesian forces conducted a general evacuation of the area involving hundreds of thousands of civilians, burning down various buildings and looting warehouses to deny British, and later Dutch, forces access to the buildings and supplies.

The loss of Bandung was a significant military and psychological blow to the nationalist government, with newly arrived Dutch forces taking control of the city from the British on April 17. Although Dutch authorities did not calculate the exact figure of losses, American historian John Smail, who visited Bandung 18 months after the event, described South Bandung as “a dead city with grass growing in its streets.” The conflict in the larger area raged on, wreaking havoc on the countryside surrounding Bandung.

During the fires, an Indonesian journalist based in Tasikmalaya recorded the events from a hill in Garut and published an article in the 26 March issue of the Soeara Merdeka newspaper titled Bandoeng Djadi Laoetan Api (Bandung Becomes Sea of Fire), but shortened to Bandoeng Laoetan Api (Bandung Sea of Fire), which is the name the event is known by today.
This incident inspired Ismail Marzuki, as well as many other Indonesian combatants and refugees, to change the last two sentences of the song “Halo, Halo Bandung” lyrics in order to be more patriotic and boost their fighting spirit against British-Dutch forces. Soon after, the song “Halo, Halo Bandung” gained popularity and became a symbol of the Indonesian people’s struggle for independence from colonial foreign nations. In 1981, a monument commemorating the event was built in Bandung. The event inspired the name of the Gelora Bandung Lautan Api Stadium, the province’s largest stadium.  

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