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Cochinchina - Expo Paris 1931

Cochinchina at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1931
© G. L. Manuel Frères
Architect(s) : Sabrier

Cochinchina is essentially an agricultural country, one of the world's leading suppliers of rice, and particularly favourable to other crops, such as rubber, which develop favourably there. Its indigenous population, in contact with France for 70 years, is the most evolved of those of Indochina; finally, the uniformly flat soil of this country offers little in the way of pictures. In short, Cochinchina offers the visitor to the Colonial Exhibition little interest from the point of view of exoticism and local colour; on the other hand, it is the richest country in the Indochinese Union, in the process of rapid economic and social development.

The Cochinchina pavilion therefore presents the physiognomy of this country as it has just been summarily sketched. Its exterior symbolises a modern country that is moving closer to the West, whose architectural style it has adopted, while reminders of Asian architecture evoke its geographical location and its past.

The pavilion essentially consists of a large hall at the entrance from which one enters a vast lounge or rotunda decorated with a ceramic fountain from the Bienhoa School of Art. This room is dedicated to the evocation of the French effort in Cochinchina, which is symbolised by a large painted tryptic, whose execution was entrusted to the Devambez company, and whose three panels evoke the three main terms of this effort: assisting, educating, enriching the native. On the wall of this room, large maps of Cochinchina treated in bright colours, give the public the indication of the land and river communication routes and the distribution of the main crops. These maps are completed, at the entrance of the pavilion, by a large talking map on which are represented by appropriate images the main crops, industries, characteristics of the fauna, of the population, the various modes of activity of Cochinchina.

On each side of this exhibition, two vast rooms are specially devoted to the major crops of the colony: rice and rubber and to the main cities and centres of Cochinchina. The cities of Saigon and Cholon in particular are shown in the form of maps, photographs and plans, showing their particular physiognomy and the efforts made in the field of colonial town planning.

The entire back of the pavilion is occupied by four large dioramas which evoke the most characteristic aspects of Cochinchina and which are devoted to: rice growing, hevea growing, urban life (Tan Dihn market in Saigon), and indigenous rural life (arroyo under the palms, a typical Cochinchin landscape).

But the traditional aspects of indigenous life are not forgotten. It is represented in its two main aspects: religious life evoked by beautiful lacquered and gilded wooden altars, the work of former students of the Thudaumot art school. There are three such altars: the altar of the ancestors, i.e. the family altar with its tablets recounting the merits of the deceased, always present in the memory of their descendants; the altar of the communal genius, dedicated to the glory of a great man who became the protector of the village, this is the one that appears in the communal pagoda; and finally, the Buddhist altar, which is, strictly speaking, the religious or cultic altar for the followers of the Buddhist religion.

Rural life is recalled, on the one hand, by a reduction of a common house where we see the meeting room of the council of notables with this council in session, the notables being arranged in order of precedence, the big notables on the cot in front of the cup of tea and the chewing set, the small notables being modestly seated under their superiors, all of which is represented by finely treated figurines. On the other hand, a reproduction of an Annamite interior presents a modestly situated Annamite peasant's house. All the Annamite furniture has been meticulously reproduced on a reduced scale, this work having been carried out by the pupils of an Annamite primary school.

Numerous documents: maps, graphics or objects, especially a collection of models of Annamite river or sea boats, complete this local exhibition, as well as reduced or life-size mannequins reproducing the types of the indigenous population.

Finally, the Cochinchine Local Exhibition is completed by a demonstration which can have very happy consequences for the production and trade of rice, the main source of wealth for Cochinchine. In a pavilion adjoining the Cochinchina pavilion, an electric husking plant is operating, under the eyes of the public, which mills Cochinchine rice: this rice is sold to the public in small packages artistically presented.

Finally, the local pavilion presents numerous objects from the indigenous art schools of Cochinchina: Bienhoa ceramics, Thudaumot wood carvings, Gisdihn decorative panels, and a fine collection of furniture condensing the efforts of these three schools.

©Livre D'Or - Exposition Coloniale Internationale - Paris 1931