The story of the djati table

This djati table originated from alumnus Willem G.J. Zwart (1895-1945, Tropical Forestry 1919). He had it made from a 400-year-old djati tree (teak tree), which was felled in 1934 at the Tjepoe forestry (Cepu) in Central Java, where he was working as a chief forester at the time.

In a letter to his parents he wrote: “From the forest came a tree that was 400 years old and, which is very rare, still completely intact inside. I had a thin disc sawn off of it and had it made into a table. The tree was already growing before the Dutch arrived in the Indies. Such lads are becoming rare.” A local Javanese craftsman, a furniture maker, has modified the top and provided it with a base. He probably looked at the photo of a table from a European magazine. The design is in the style of Art Deco with possible influences from the Amsterdam School.

Saved from the Japanese occupation

Just before the Japanese occupation of the East Indies, Willem Zwart, gave the table for safekeeping at the Forestry Services (Bosdienst) head office in Bogor (Buitenzorg), where he was working by then, as a precaution. During the internment of the Dutch, one could only take what one could carry. Houses and their contents were confiscated by the Japanese.

Willem died in an internment camp in 1945. His widow repatriated with her children to the Netherlands in January 1946. When the Dutch administration returned to Bogor, she asked the Bosdienst if the table was still there. That turned out to be the case, but could she prove that the table belonged to her, they asked her? She could, by naming details about a deviation in the table top. The furniture maker in Tjepoe had not liked a whimsical cove in the table. That is why he had cut it out and had skilfully replaced it by a weld. Neat work, although it was not the intention of the client.

In 2021, the surviving heirs found a worthy destination for the table through a donation to Wageningen Environmental Research, the successor to the Forestry chair group, via the University Fund Wageningen.

The life of Willem G.J. Zwart (1895-1945)

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Willem G.J. Zwart, born in a traditional family in the small town of Breukelen, studied Tropical Forestry at the Agricultural College in Wageningen. In 1920 he left with his bride, Coba Bartels, and his diploma in Agricultural Engineering for the colony of the Dutch East Indies. There he worked for the government in the development of the country as a forester (forest manager). Willem worked in a number of forestries for djati forests (teak wood) in Central Java. Back then, life was still very primitive. Periodic multi-day inspection trips were then still done on horseback and a letter to or from “home” took at least five weeks. During his career he rose to the position of chief forester and was technically, administratively and financially responsible for the proper management of the forests belonging to the Tjepoe forestry (Cepu). Willem's career continued with an appointment in 1937 at the Forestry Services head office in Bogor. After the occupation of the East Indies by Japan in 1942, Willem and his family were interned in separate camps. Willem died there in 1945.

Knowledge as a legacy

In addition to the djati table, he also left behind his knowledge about forestry in Indonesia. His manuscripts on this subject, which also found their return to Willem's heirs after the occupation, have resulted in various publications. His bibliography was published, entitled: “Indonesian Forestry Abstracts: Dutch Literature until about 1960”, written by WUR researcher C.P. van Goor. The many publications written by Willem have been given a place in the Abstracts. In Indonesia, a team appointed in 1984 by the Minister of Forestry has published two volumes: "Sejarah Kehutanan Indonesia" (History of Forestry in Indonesia), also drawing on Willem's work, including a dissertation on the development of Indonesian forestry.


Van Goor, C.P. (1982) “Indonesian Forestry Abstracts: Dutch Literature until about 1960", Centre for Agricultural Publishing and documentation. Wageningen.

The information on this page comes from memories and documents of the descendants of Willem: Helena G.F. Zwart en Willem H.I. Zwart.