The impressive entrance of the Colonial Exhibition of 1914, complete with the Semarang city-virgin

In 1914 Semarang hosted an exhibition unparalleled in the East Indies. It was held from 20 August to 22 November. In these days Semarang was a city in full development. All productive powers and organising talents of a prosperous colony and an emerging city had been brought together in one vast exhibition.

In the months before this event the press had covered it elaborately. No trouble or expense had been spared in bringing it to the attention of the public. An exorbitant 1,3 million guilders had been spent on the organisation. Albert Hahn, a famous artist, designed an attractive poster, which had a circulation of 40,000 copies and was seen all over the East Indies.

The First World War broke out three weeks before its opening. This bad news cast a chill over the exhibition. Still there were 300,000 paying visitors. The organising committee, 'Hoofdbestuur der Vereenigde Koloniale Tentoonstelling Semarang' clearly stated the purpose of the exhibition: in 1913 it was the 100th anniversary of Dutch Independence. The Government and the business community seized this opportunity to celebrate this in a grand way and at the same time to propagate the achievements of the Dutch in the East Indies.

The intended purpose of the Colonial Exhibition was to give an overall picture of the development of the East Indies. The exhibition would show what had been achieved and what was still to be achieved. It comprised colonial government, agriculture, trade, industry, transport. At the same time it intended to show Dutch and foreign industries to what extent it had met and to what extent it would meet all requirements and needs of the East Indies. Only then it could commemorate the centenary of Dutch Independence in a worthy and respectful manner.

The exhibition ground was at the Pieter Sijthofflaan, in the grounds of Randoesari, owned by Oei Tion Ham, the renowned Chinese businessman. The grounds were dotted with exhibitions stands and pavillions 1 (pavillons 2), illuminated by gas and electric lamps. Especially the electrically illuminated entrance gate was admired by all and sundry. The exhibition had the following themes: colonial government, agriculture and horticulture, home produce, foreign produce, trade and industry and finally: women. This exhibition followed the example of the 1813 Commemoration of Dutch Independence, in the Netherlands where 'women' had been one of the themes.

The official opening had been scheduled for 13 August, but it had to be postponed to 20 August because of the outbreak of the First World War on 1 August.
Governor-General A.W.F. Idenburg was to inaugurate the exhibition, but at the time this was deemed unwise in view of the tense international situation. Mr H.J. Hovink, Director of Ministry of Agriculture, Trade and Commerce took his place. Mr Idenburg visited the exhibition at a later date.

Another high placed visitor was the Soesoehan ( sovereign) of Surakarta. However, the overall number of visiting foreigners was disappointing due to the tense political situation in Europe.

There were many exhibits from Japan, China, Australia, British India, French Indo China, America and also from Syria, however, European countries stayed away.

The number of visitors remained below expectations: all in all 320,896 day and evening tickets and 2,324 day passes had been sold. The entrance fees are interesting and clearly show the then prevalent norms and values in the East Indian society:

Entrance fee, afternoons, Europeans and foreign Orientalsf 0,50 ( 0.22)
Same for children of Europeans and foreign Orientals under 10f 0,25 ( 0.11)
Same for Nativesf 0,10 ( 0.04)
Unfortunately, it is not known from which countries or regions the visitors came. It would have been interesting to know if visitors from higher classes in Javanese society also paid only f 0,10.

Another remarkable aspect is that the poster, representing a Javanese bride. It had been designed by the artist Albert Hahn, who was famous for his caricatures in 'Het Volk', a socialist paper.

Another remarkable fact is that in the commemorative book of the Exhibition there is an article by H. Sneevliet, a radical socialist who was to be expelled from the east Indies some years later. In 1914 he was Secretary to the 'Semarangsche Handelsvereening', Semarang Trading Association, and an advocate of colonial economy.


Translated by: Marianne van Rees Vellinga

(Source: Brommer, B., Semarang Beeld van een stad, Asia Maior, Purmerend, 1995, page 29)