Jakarta Highland Gathering, started by Gordon Benton with Java St Andrew’s Society in 1975, is one of the important events for the Scottish community in the region. Jakarta Highland Gathering is also one of the biggest Highland gatherings outside Scotland, as each gathering attracts 10,000 competitors and visitors.
Program of Jakarta Highland Gathering 1977
Although Indonesia is a former Dutch colony, links between Scotland and Indonesia stretch back to 1919, when the Java St Andrew’s Society was established. Furthermore, many of the Scots now living and working in Indonesia were brought there by the oil industry because of their expertise in offshore drilling in the North Sea.
The British community in Indonesia is not as big as the one in Singapore and Hong Kong, and there is no pipe band, but the gathering has long attracted many bands to travel there, even bands from Scotland. Apart from traditional events such as caber tossing, hammer throwing and Highland dancing and piping competitions, there are also Maori war dancers, Australian log choppers and stone jumpers from the island of Nias.
The first Jakarta Highland Gathering was held on 26th July 1975. The gathering had 60 pipers and drummers compete from Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Britain. Due to the considerable travelling costs, the competition format was changed to a quintet competition rather than a full band competition in 1976. This format has been adopted for every gathering since then. Five bands competed in 1976 and were required to play a slow air and then into a set of March Strathspey and Reel. The results were:
In the early 1980s, the gathering attracted some Scottish regiments travelling from Hong Kong, such as Gordon Highlanders and Scots Guards. In 1984, the piping competition was split into Open Quintets and Southeast Asian Confined Quintets as the gathering has become famous for bands from Australia, making it difficult for Asian bands to win. Under the judging of Peter Snaddon and James Ferguson, St Andrew’s Band from Australia won the open category, and Singapore Girl Pipers won the confined in 1984.
Jakarta Highland Gathering enjoyed its heydays between the late 1980s and the mid-1990s. The scale of the gathering was developed as a 4-day festival, with a golf competition on the first day, ‘Scotland in Concert’ on the second day, the gathering on the third day and the Kid’s Charity Day on the final day. Major Stevie Small recalled how his band played ‘Scotland in Concert’ in Jakarta in 1993:
I’m sure we played much better at the concert than we did in the competition [in the following day] because the concert was inside, so it was conditions that we were used to; the competition was outside, it was roasting hot, so the pipes didn’t do well. If I remember anything, we didn’t play very well in the competition.
Being close to the equator, Jakarta is very hot, often reaching 40 degrees Celsius during the day. Major Stevie Small MBE discussed the hot weather in Jakarta and how it affected the performance:
From Jakarta, we played golf once, and we got halfway around, and it was too hot. We just said, ‘No, this is too hot, ha-ha’ […] Yeah, gosh! That’s why the pipes weren’t good – we played the night before, that’s ruined the pipes probably.
It was hot, I remember that because it was the first time that in the Black Watch that we had played in what we called Khaki Kit, because in the Black Watch we’d always played in full dress. We competed in the world championships in 1983 in full dress with feather bonnet on, in the pipe band championships. Why would we do that? That makes no sense! But in Jakarta, we were allowed to wear white shirts, short sleeve shirts, and a leather sporran, and just socks, so it wasn’t kilt and spats and big hairy sporran. We thought this was great!
The following pictures also show both military and civilian bands wearing civilian shirts due to the weather in Jakarta.
Gordon Highlanders turning their bagpipes in Jakarta Highland Gathering 1980