The eventful history of the Lim family
The 1920s and 30s were the heyday of the port town of Sibolga on Sumatra on the Indian Ocean. The city has a history of rise and fall. There was one Chinese family that particularly distinguished itself in Sibolga. That was the Lim family, they were active as entrepreneurs and community leaders.
This family also has an eventful history. In 1996, the Indonesian writer Sitor Situmorang wrote down his memories of his childhood in Sumatra in his book De Oude Tijger (The Old Tiger). About Sibolga he wrote:
The city of S. originated in a fold of the mountains on a beautiful, quiet bay. The view is always a pleasure for the passengers of the buses that descend to the coast via winding roads. The bay, dotted with islands full of palm trees, is really beautiful. In the rich times, when high prices were offered for rubber, people came to enjoy the view. At the same time, office buildings of trading companies Güntzel & Schumacher, Geo Wehry, Henneman, Lim Hong Lap and similar names were also erected.
The only Chinese name mentioned above was Lim Hong Lap. Who was Lim Hong Lap?
There was a German writer, Karl Helbig, who knew Lim Hong Lap and wrote in 1949:
Lim Hong Lap, a wholesaler I became known to during my stay in Tapanuli. He was the head of the Chinese colony in the port city of Sibolga. He is one of those patricians whose family worked for generations in impeccable purity and exemplary efficiency on Sumatra, and the richest in the entire community.
Lim Hong Lap (circa 1900-1947) was the sixth son of Lim Kim Tjai. Various companies were started together with his brothers Lim Hoh Eng, Lim Hong Hoh, Lim Hong Tek and Lim Hong Poan. The most famous company was the Auto Dienst (Transport Service) over Sumatra, abbreviated A.D. Lim. From 1931 to 1942, the 45 Lim buses continuously traveled over Sumatra for the postal and passenger transport. A.D. Lim was a household name. In addition, the Lim family owned a passenger ship, a sawmill, a rubber and oil factory, an ice cream factory, a cinema and a plantation. Most companies as mentioned in the Handboek voor Cultuur- en Handelsondernemingen in Nederlandsch-Indië (Handbook for Cultural and Trade Companies in the Dutch East Indies) were in the name of Lim Hong Lap, he was also the driving force behind many activities. Lim Hong Lap was also mentioned as representative of the Dutch trading company Linde Teves Stokvis from Semarang. In addition to business functions, the Lims were also active as community leaders. For example, the oldest brother Lim Hoh Eng was appointed by the colonial administration as Lieutenant of the Chinese in Sibolga and thus the official representative of the Chinese population in the city. Another brother, Lim Pie Goan, also held this position for a number of years.
In March 1931, after the termination of the Lands Automobieldienst (National Automotive Transport Service) between Fort de Kock (nowadays Bukittinggi) and Pematang Siantar, mail and passenger transport was outsourced to the Lim Hong Lap company in Sibolga. This could be read in Het Nieuws van den dag voor Nederlandsch-Indië (The News of the Day for the Dutch East Indies) of 3 March 1931. For an amount of Dutch guilders 3489 per month, this car service was allocated to the lowest subscriber Lim Hong Lap for 1 year. For this amount, the Lim company had to take care of the mail and people transport over Sumatra for one month. (In 2018 this would be € 67,413.53 per month). A number of decent seats had to be present in the buses. In the following years, the contract was renewed annually. The Lim buses drove in three days from Fort de Kock via Sibolga to Pematang Siantar. From Pematang Siantar the mail could be transported by train to Medan. Furthermore, there was a so-called express service from Fort de Kock to Medan once a week, during which day and night were driven. It didn’t always go well, in 1939 a Lim bus with thirty passengers between Tarutung and Sibolga, got off the road where a number of passengers, the exact number of victims was not mentioned, were killed. Due to the lack of police cars, the Lim cars were also used for the transport of prisoners. Part of the route went straight through the Bukit Barisan mountain range, a mountain road with more than 1000 turns. So it was not an easy process. The Sumatra Post wrote in 1937:
The transport service between Fort de Koek and Medan is maintained in an excellent manner by the Chinese bus owner Lim in Sibolga, who also carries the mail between the two places according to contract.
The transport service was active until the Japanese time.
Ship Hong Hoat
In addition to the bus company, the Lim brothers owned the passenger ship “Hong Hoat”, which operated a regular service between Sibolga and Nias. The ship had the brothers built in 1927 in Tandjong Priok near Batavia (now Jakarta), but it only sailed for six years because in 1934 the “Hong Hoat” stranded. Fortunately no passengers were killed. A few months before the tender for the construction of the ship Hong Hoat, another company of the Lim family went up in flames. This was the oil factory and sawmill in the name of Lim Hong Tek that burned to the ground in 1927. The damage amounted to no less than Dutch guilders 50,000 (in 2018:
€ 1,050,094.28). This news not only made the newspapers in the Dutch East Indies but also local newspapers in the Netherlands such as the Haagsche Courant and the Nieuwsblad van het Noorden of 15 March 1927.
Chinese officer Lim Hoh Eng
The eldest brother Lim Hoh Eng was appointed Lieutenant of the Chinese in Sibolga in November 1918 and thus the official representative of the Chinese population in the city. He remained Lieutenant until August 1926, when his brother Lim Pie Goan was appointed until 1933, after which Lim Hoh Eng became Lieutenant again until the Japanese invasion in 1942. The Lieutenant was charged with, among other things, the tax collection of the Chinese population. He was also involved as a representative of the Chinese community in social organizations, such as the Emma Flower Committee for Tuberculosis Control in Sumatra. The Lim family also contributed to this by showing free children’s shows in their cinema, with the benefits going to the Emma Flower Committee. When a large fire broke out in Sibolga in 1934, Lim Hok Eng was chairman of the committee for financial assistance for the victims. Committee members were the Indonesians Soetan Manukar and Mohammad Djalal’ddin. The money was collected by means of a goods lottery. The committee was an initiative of the Chinese and the indigenous people in collaboration with the colonial administration.
Gambling was – especially among the Chinese – a popular pastime. In order to be allowed to gamble, a license had to be applied for, at the head of the local administration, in Sibolga that was district officer Bartstra in the 1930s. With a license it was possible to gamble for a certain number of days, at a certain place. It was a form of indirect taxation because every license application had to be paid f175. So it was lucrative for the local government. A license to hold Poh and card games (often for 5 or 7 days) had to be applied for by the Chinese lieutenant. How popular gambling was was demonstrated by the fact that in the 1936, 37 and 38 years, countless permits were applied for. A remarkable location for the Poh and card games – as stated in the permit of April 3, 1936, when playing during the day – was in the Chinese cemetery in Sibolga. Hereafter the house 37 was mentioned in the Chinese district I in Sibolga.
In 1933 there was a Catholic school, an Islamic school and a Chinese school in Sibolga. Teaching in Dutch was given in all schools. Three years later, a private Dutch Chinese School was added. This was due to competition between the Catholic school and the Chinese school. In 1938 district officer Bartstra wrote the following about this:
In Sibolga there is a Rooms Katholieke Hollandsch Chineesche School (H.C.S.) (Roman Catholic Dutch School Chinese) which is connected to classes for native children in parallel. The school has around 450 students. The pastor and the lieutenant of the Chinese are fighting a battle for the Chinese youth, who the pastor of the Catholic H.C.S. wants to have while the Lieutenant prefers the children to go to the Chinese school. Both the Pastor and the Lieutenant occasionally express their annoyance about the devious methods used by the counterparty to get the children to school.
Unfortunately, there was no more information to be found about the “devious” methods of the pastor and the lieutenant. There is, however, a photo of a large group of people in front of the house of the Lim family, on which a pastor can also be seen. So the photo shows the lieutenant and the pastor fraternally united. This photo was taken on February 25, 1933 on the occasion of the official (re) appointment of Lim Hoh Eng as Lieutenant of the Chinese. Next to Lim Hoh Eng sits the highest administrative official from the Tapanoeli district, resident J.W. Th. Heringa and wife.
Overall, the affairs of the Lim family went well until the Japanese invasion in March 1942. Then everything changed. The entire fleet of 45 cars was confiscated by the Japanese. The Lim family fled to their plantation Paal Opat near Padang Sidempuan, so that the daughters would not be caught by the Japanese soldiers and abused as comfort women. Business stagnated completely, the car service had stopped, the factories were no longer running, the cinemas were closed, the economy practically stopped between 1942 and 1945.
Lim Hong Lap died in 1947, he was succeeded by Lim Hong Kuan. In 1949 the Lim family bought 3 more buses with around 25 seats and 1 passenger car. But the transport company was no longer a success in the 1950s. The costs could not be covered. After 1965 it became even more difficult and the majority of the Lim family left Sibolga. The descendants now live throughout Indonesia and abroad. The 1930s were the heyday of Sibolga and therefore also of the Lim brothers.
Dirk A. Buiskool
 Situmorang, S. De oude tijger UItgeverij De Geus, 1996: 91.
 Helbig, Karl, Paradies in Licht und Schatten Springer 1949: 175,176. With thanks to Klaus Eberhart.
 Memorie van Overgave (Memorandum of Transfer) J.W.Th. Heringa 1936: 224.
 De Sumatra Post 15-12-1937.
 Archive fam. Lim. With thanks to Armand Lim.
 Regeerings Almanak voor Nederlandsch Indië 1919-1942. With thanks to Marcel van Lenthe.
 Archive fam. Lim. With thanks to Armand Lim.
 Memorie van Overgave J.W.Th. Heringa 1936: 186.
 Memorie van Overgave H. Bartstra 1938: 44.
 With thanks to Mrs. Khoe Kim Kheng for her information.
For a complete list of sources you can contact the author.