19 mei 2024

Sarangan (Dutch East Indies) – Westwoud 1937

In the years before the devastating Second World War and the Indonesian National Revolution in the 1940s, some previously economically inviable areas of the Indonesian archipelago began to thrive due to Dutch technological innovation in tropical agriculture and forestry. Apart from Java, the other islands (Sumatra, Borneo, Celebes, numerous other small islands and especially the vast area of Dutch Guinea) had previously not been colonized at all.

In the 19th century the Dutch governor-general of the Indies was supported by Dutch ‘residents’ who had to supervise the local native rulers, known as ‘regents’. On Java this system worked quite well most of the times, although there were obviously various uprisings throughout its existence. Dutch rule (i.e. supervision) outside Java was less stringent and to a certain degree less important as the other islands couldn’t sustain an extensive Dutch bureaucratic apparatus yet.

Sarangan – Java

This all changed in the early 20th century when spectacular innovations in technology, infrastructure, agriculture etc. reached the Indies as well. Increasing numbers of students at the Technical University of Delft and the National Agricultural College in Wageningen caused recently graduated engineers and agricultural experts to move to the Indies. The cultivation of large area’s outside Java became priority number one: mining of raw material and the cultivation of rubber figs (ficus elastica) was perceived as extremely lucrative.

The increase of economic activity in the Indies triggered or activated other processes as well: in the Netherlands it was felt that education of children in the Indies should be similar to the Dutch system. Since a lot of Dutch people which moved to the Indies in these years had received some kind of degree back in the Netherlands, they wanted to be sure that their children would receive sufficient education as well. Besides education for European children, the Dutch government accepted an ethical policy in 1901 which had as purpose to stimulate welfare and progress amongst the native people. Education was seen as a key to unlock this process and therefore many schools for Indonesian children opened in subsequent years. I might – unnecessarily – add that the goal of educating every Indonesian child was utopian and thus never reached. In the end only children of the higher ‘regent’ classes received education and then primarily on Java.

Reverse of the card with address details

Now we should return to this particular picture postcard. Besides that it captures a fabulous view of the Sarangan mountain, a mountain which attracted many Dutch tourists from the 1930s (below you’ll find more information about this place), the sender and especially the address caught my attention when it appeared on my screen online. The card was sent to a certain miss (Mej.: Mejuffrouw) Schaper in Westwoud. This village neighbours Hoogkarspel where I grew up. Apart from this surprise, I was intrigued that before the war and revolt (card was sent in July 1937) someone who was probably related to miss Schaper lived on Java. The people of Westwoud were mainly catholic back then (I know that the Schaper family was for sure) and this collided with my views of the Dutch rule over the Indies. I thought that almost all civil servants, engineers and agricultural experts were of protestant descent. At least I didn’t know anyone from the catholic villages in West Frisia to have moved to the Indies.

So I went online and to little surprise I discovered that the sender Dirk is in all likelihood the brother of A. Schaper. After some more research I found out that Dirk Schaper had been a teacher on Java! This took away all my doubts who the sender could have been.

Sarangan Typenrader Langebalk (longbeam) postmark reading

In 1937 Dirk Schaper (1892-1962) sent this postcard to his sister Aagje Schaper (1889-1965) who then lived in the Halfweg (Halfway) inn. Together with her brother Piet Schaper (1895-1965) and her sister Catharina (Ka) Schaper (1878-1949) she run this inn from 1919 (death of her father) till its closure in the 1950s or ‘60s. The family originally came from the Binnenwijzend (small hamlet south of Westwoud), but their father quit his job as farmer because of his health. As his son Piet Schaper wrote in the Westfrisian chronicle of 1965: “In 1894 kocht mijn vader de herberg. Hoi was boer in Binnenwoizend, maar deur tongblaar, longziekte, varkenspest en houge huur en drougte kon dat niet langer. Nei m’n vaders dôôd in 1919 bin ik kasteloin worren en dat bin ik nou nag…” (Translation: “My father bought the inn in 1894. He was a farmer on the Binnenwijzend, but because of footh-and-mouth disease, lung disease, swine fever, high rent and drought he wasn’t able to continue. After his death in 1919 I became innkeeper and that’s my job still…”).

Schaper family of the Halfweg Inn in Westwoud: f.l.t.r. Piet Schaper, Ka Schaper, Mother Schaper (Maartje Snip) and Aagje Schaper (receiver of our postcard). © Het Geheugen van Westwoud

My father pointed out that Dirk, Aagje and all other Schaper family members are related to me. The grandmother of my great-grandmother Maartje van der Gulik (1897-2000) was called Maartje Schaper (1842-1915). Subsequently her grandfather was called Sijfert Schaper (1779-1829). Sijfert Schaper is our common ancestor. So after all, this philatelicly not so interesting postcard has proved to be an extraordinary postcard history- and familywise!

Café Halfweg (Halfway Inn) with allegedly father Dirk Schaper in the doorway. Picture taken in 1918 or 1919 since the rails of the famous horse-drawn streetcar had already been removed (service stopped on the 31st of December 1917). Father Dirk Schaper passed away in 1919.


Dirk Schaper stayed in Sarangan in July 1937 and I think it’s likely he enjoyed his holidays there. From the early 1920s on Dutchmen gradually found there way to this hidden gem, located on the green eastern slope of the Lawu volcano thus basically being isolated from western Java. It took until 1937 before a road was opened from Sarangan to the west. And only 10 years earlier the last kilometers from the town of Magetan to the east were only accessible by horse or foot. No easy place to reach. Which raises a question: why were the Dutchmen and other Europeans so eager to come to this mountain lake? The following Dutch account might give you the answer:

Toen de bestuurder de auto aan de voet van het hotel tot stilstand bracht, aanschouwden wij voor het eerst het meer van Sarangan. Veel hebben wij gereisd: door China en Japan, door Amerika, door de Europese Alpen, genietende van de schitterendste natuurtaferelen. Van dít oord kunnen wij echter verklaren dat het door zijn schoonheid, zijn liefelijkheid, zó’n wondere indruk op ons maakte dat we onszelf beloofden, hier onze vakantie eens door te zullen brengen. [….] Sarangan, met zijn meer, zijn eilandje, zijn omringende heuvelen en bossen, is voor ons een openbaring geweest.

Translation: “When the driver parked the car right on the curb of the hotel, we saw the lake of Sarangan for the first time. We’ve travelled a lot: we’ve been in China and Japan, in America and the Europeans alps, enjoying the very best of nature. We could state of this place though that due to its beauty and sweetness it made such a marvelous impression on us that we promised ourselves to celebrate our holidays here once. [….] Sarangan, with its lake, its islet, its surrounding hills and forests proved to be a revelation for us.”

Besides its stunning location, natural swimming pool and lush forests, one distinct feature lured many Europeans to the resort: its cool climate. At 1500 meters above sea level they could cool down there overheated bodies in the lake and its surrounding rain forests. A truly European refuge.

Sarangan – view to the northeast

For the original publication see the Dutch Philately blog by Hugo Brieffies.

Hugo Brieffies

Hugo Brieffies

See http://dutchphilately.blogspot.com/ for more articles by Hugo Brieffies

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