Singaporean businessman given 'royal servant' status by Indonesian court for economic contribution to city of Solo

Mr William Marie Chong, founder of invesment management company Lions of Asia Group.
Mr William Marie Chong, founder of invesment management company Lions of Asia Group.PHOTO: SOLOPOS

JAKARTA - A Singaporean businessman has been honoured with the prestigious status of "abdi dalem", or royal servant, by Indonesia's court of Surakarta in Solo for his contribution towards the city's economy.

Mr William Marie Chong, founder of invesment management company Lions of Asia Group, was inaugurated on Monday (May 2) at the Surakarta court, or Kasunanan Surakarta Hadiningrat, in a ceremony steeped in royal Javanese culture and tradition.

Donning a batik sarong, a traditional blangkon cap, and yellow-and-red sash draped around his neck, he told reporters: "This is the first time I wear this traditional cloth. (I) feel like a king."

His royal Javanese name - given by the Surakarta king Pakubuwono XIII Hangabehi - is Kanjeng Raden Aryo William Mario Chong Adinagoro.

Palace official Winarno Kusumo told The Straits Times that the title is reserved for the royalty's "closest friends".

"It's an expression of the King's appreciation towards various contributions, from improving (the) economy and developing (the) culture of Keraton (palace)," he said.

While the Surakarta court is recognised as one of the country's heritage institutions, the Surakarta royals exercise no influence or leadership roles in the city or provincial administration.

A total of 230 individuals are being granted the special statuses, including 30 foreigners, Mr Winarno said, adding that Mr Chong was not the first Singaporean recipient.

Mr Chong told Solopos news website that he was "very honoured and very blessed" to be given the title, and vowed to hold programmes to improve the economy and welfare of the locals.

One way is to promote Solo's "fantastic range of culture", from dance to batik, to be "seen and respected by the world", he said. "There's much to do."

"The title means I'm very honoured. By the grace of God that I got this title, and that I must not disgrace the title, I need to do something," he said.

"And because the royal family has already blessed me with this, I feel that it is my own moral duty to do something for the Surakarta people, for the King of Solo, especially to the royal family," he added.

Mr Winarno said those given the status are expected to attend the royalty's special ceremonies, but foreigners need to attend at least one, as they might be limited by physical distance and work commitments.

"Once the status given, it will be forever. We will never take it back so, it is the burden of the individual to uphold his own glory," he added.

aarlina@sph.com.sg