The History of the Marabunta or Schouwburg Building

Joseph Army Sadhyoko – Historian

The Marabunta Building in Semarang’s Kota Lama Area, looks antique and unique with the decoration of two giant ant statues on the wall. Formerly, it was called the Schouwburg Building. In Dutch, Schouwburg means theater or theater.

Nobody knows exactly when it was built. But the archaeologists from Balar estimate that the Schouwburg building was built after the demolition of the Kota Lama fortress in 1824, in line with the development of residential areas in the city of Semarang and the Daendels postal road. This building was built with the aim of providing entertainment for residents of the area, which at that time were dominated by Europeans.

The building, whose  capacity reaches hundreds of spectators, is also equipped with a stable at the opposite, which was intended to ‘park’ the horses which at that time became a mode of transportation commonly used by Europeans. The number of horses that are often moored there results in the smell of stinging dirt, so the main entrance of the building was also named as the ‘Gang Tai’.

In the era of Dutch colonialism, Stamboel comedy was often held in this building. Stamboel itself is inspired by ‘Istanbul’, which refers to the name of a city in Turkey the homeland of this type of comedy before it was widespread to mainland Europe. Stamboel is a theater similar to a circus in Europe, adopted in the Dutch East Indies. The Stamboel Comedy was oftenly performed there, so the name of the street in front of the main building was also known as Komedistraat.

In addition to comedy, there were also often performances of music and songs from famous musicians and singers, as well as various dances, ranging from traditional  to erotic ones. There is one legendary Dutch-born artist who had also performed erotic dance there, namely Mata Hari.She was originally known as an erotic professional dancer, in her journey of life, she was later involved in various high-classed prostitution scandals that served a number of European political elites. She was even suspected of being a double espionage agent for Germany and France during the first World War. The story of her life became more legendary because it ended tragically, as she was sentenced to death.

During the second World War, or more precisely, during the Japanese occupation which was then connected to the war for independence, the Schouwburg building fell into miserably condition. Slum and broken here and there, because it’s not used anymore and lacked maintenance.

In the post-independence period, Diponegoro VII Military Command received the right to use this building. The management of this building was then handed over to the Marine Ship Expedition (EMKL) company called Marabunta and was a retired Military Enterprise by Diponegoro VII Military. Marabunta itself is the name of a ferocious giant ant species. This building was then given the same name and its name is represented visually by the giant ants statues on the wall. The rest of the building in the south was preserved. Rescue and maintenance of this building was continued under the Diponegoro Foundation, until the end of the 1960s.

The intact part of the building was once a bar or cafe for visitors to relax after watching performance in the main building. In its original form, the stage faced north with a whole oval building. This saved southern side is now being developed to support tourism in the Kota Lama Region, Semarang. Now, the building serves as an Indies-styled theater that can be used for staging cultural arts and is also rented for wedding receptions.

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