Chicago in 1893 was perhaps the most exciting city in America. Several years of elaborate preparation culminated in the World's Columbian Exposition, which was held from May 1 to the end of October. Its organizers envisioned it as the biggest and best in the history of expositions placing special emphasis on educational features, such as the latest developments in science and industry. Cultural exhibits, such as the Java village, represented peoples from around the world.
The Java village was a reconstruction of a village from West Java, complete except for the lack of lush tropical vegetation. The village fence enclosed homes for the West Javanese (or "Sundanese") participants from the villages of Sinagar and Parakan Salak. On the front porches women demonstrated the art of batik, weaving techniques, and embroidery. In the center of the village stood a mosque where the faithful were called to prayer by a large bedung (drum). Free coffee, tea, and cocoa were dispensed from a teahouse. Strolling through the village one heard the melodies of the angklung orchestra (tuned bamboo rattles), or for 25 cents one could enter the theater for various Sundanese and Central Javanese performances.
The 1,000-seat bamboo theater reportedly had more than 82,000 patrons during the exposition's run. The theater fare included chamber concerts with ensembles of suling (flute), kacapi (zither), and tarawangsa (fiddle). In the evenings, the gamelan accompanied performances of two types of wayang, the masterful narrated plays of puppetry and human dance, relating heroic episodes from the Mahabharata or Ramayana epics or the Panji cycle.
The music and people in the Java village were described as "the most popular" of all on the Midway. According to one report, "They were most interesting, these gentle Javanese, and, in certain ways and habits and view of life, quite unlike any other people in the world, so far as the Fair afforded an illustration. There was... a certain individuality which showed itself even in their music, which, with its sweet deep tones, was in pleasant contrast to the shrill clamor of the Plaisance all about."