Tag Archives: Jogjakarta

Anti-drug murals in Jogjakarta

To the foreign observer, the Indonesian attitude to drug use may appear to be, well… inconsistent.

On the one hand, according to the World Health Organisation, there are 95 million ‘active’ tobacco smokers in Indonesia. Indonesian cigarettes are the cheapest in the world, mostly due to low levels of government taxation and regulation. Tobacco advertising and sponsorship can be seen just about everywhere you look. Attitudes to smoking are generally very relaxed (though this is changing, slowly), and there are very few public places where smoking is not permitted. It’s a huge and politically powerful industry, and the wealthiest individuals in the country are tobacco moguls (according the ‘Forbes Rich List’ 2018.)

In 2014, the National Commission on Tobacco Control stated that, nation-wide, 660 people die daily due to tobacco use.

At the other extreme there are, according to the national narcotics agency (BNN), less than 1 million people who are addicted to illegal drugs (‘narkoba’). A total of 4 million people are said to have tried illicit drugs at least once during their lives – with cannabis and amphetamine use being most common.

The BNN has estimated that, across the country, 33 people die daily due to use of narkoba. By a statistical coincidence, this is exactly 5% of the death toll from smoking.

But it is the use of illegal drugs that has been declared to be a ‘national emergency’. Capital punishment is in place for traffickers, and laudable (if occasionally hysterical) public health campaigns are in place to discourage illicit drug use.

Here in Jogjakarta, there is a concrete wall running a couple of hundred metres along the length of Gang Gatotkaca. It marks the boundary of a large technical high school (SMK Negeri 2 Depok – Sleman). Students from each of the school’s subject divisions have painted anti-narkoba murals along the wall.

These murals are very creative – variously graphic, cartoonish, funny, clever, simplistic – and in some cases quite moving. Interestingly, like much of the ever-present tobacco advertising billboards, many of the messages are spelt out in English.

I photographed them when we were last here, back in November 2016. But they are still there, their messages just a little faded.

Napza [Narkotika, Psikotropika dan Zat Adiktif lainnya] No Thanks. Stembayo sembada tanpa narkoba
“Drugs? No thanks. STEMBAYO [the former name of the school] is good/capable without drugs”

Build future without drugs

Narkoba? Ngoleleleng po?
“Narcotics? See it?” [Javanese language]

Kreatif tak perlu zat adiktif
“Creativity does not need addictive substances”

Say no to drugs

Peringatan: Narkoba membunuhmu
“Warning: Drugs kill you” [paraphrases the warning now printed on cigarette packets and advertisments]

Dunia indah tanpa narkoba
“Beautiful world without drugs”

Everyone gets lonely when using drugs

Bentengi dirimu dari narkoba
“Fortify yourself from drugs” [Note the inclusion of ‘rokok’ (cigarettes) in the display]

Life is short. There is no time to drugs. Say no to drugs.

Jauhi narkoba
“Stay away from drugs”

Jauhi narkoba. Hidupmu berharga.
“Stay away from drugs. Your life is precious.”

STEMBAYO tanpa narkoba.
“Our school without drugs”

Stay cool without drugs.


Setan. STEMBAYO enak tanpa narkoba.
“Devil. Our school is nice without drugs.”

Drugs can kill you.

Life is more beautiful without drugs.


The Pemulung of Piyungan

As part of our most recent month of training in Indonesian language and culture at the Wisma Bahasa school in Jogjakarta, we got to go on two half-day ‘field trips’. Because we had already been all the ‘standard’ tours on offer at least once (the Kraton, Borobodur, Prambanan, Pasar Beringhardjo, Kota Gede, Imogiri etc) we were asked where else we’d like to go.


So (of course!) we nominated the Tempat Pembuangan Akhir (TPA) – the local garbage disposal facility and landfill site. After some efforts to dissuade us (“It smells REALLY bad!, you know” “It’s muddy, filthy, and unsanitary!” “You’ll need to wear a mask”) it was agreed, and Mas Anof kindly consented to accompany us there.


The TPA has been in operation near the village of Piyungan, about 16km southeast from central Jogja, since 1995. The site, which covers 13 hectares, is the final site of waste disposal for the city of Jogjakarta, as well as the adjacent Kabupaten (districts) of Bantul and Sleman.

It was constructed in three stages, with a total planned capacity of some 1,300,000 cubic metres. That’s a big heap of garbage. Due to the sheer volume of accumulated waste at the site, and also because of its location amongst some (rather scenic) limestone karst formations, it’s known as the ‘Gunung Sampah’ (the ‘Garbage Mountain’).


In addition to the many people who live and work in the area, the TPA is home to hundreds of cattle, who feast on the waste vegetable matter, leaves and tree prunings that get dumped there. They roam freely over the site, and are remarkably healthy-looking – considering their diet and habitat. They are owned by the families who live and work at the site.

One owner told me that they sell the meat from the cattle at the public markets. We were instantly attracted to vegetarianism.


People and cattle mingle freely across the site, seemingly oblivious to each others presence.


A steady procession of trucks and utilities arrive, each loaded to the brim (and above) with garbage.


As each load is dumped, groups of workers arrive to sort through the load, looking for bottles, recyclable plastic and paper – and anything else that might be of value. They are usually referred to as pemulung (scavengers), but it may be more respectful to call them pengumpul barang bekas (collectors of used goods).

I don’t know how many pemulung currently work at the TPA – but back in 2007 there were 225.


They only get paid for what they collect, so they work with speed and efficiency, without a lot of ‘workplace chatter’. There are roughly equal numbers of men and women, and (pleasingly) we didn’t see any children. Most of them wear the conical Javanese ‘caping’ hat as protection from sun and rain, and most are very sensibly kitted out in gumboots. Many wear gloves, but all carry a short pole with a hook on the end to pick up recyclable plastic and paper, which is then dropped into a large bamboo basket.


Each pemulung gives her or his collected stuff each week to a particular ‘skipper’ (juragan), each of whom may ‘oversee’ between 10 and 20 pemulung. The juragan recruits the workers, many of whom come from Pantai Baronan, on the far east coast of the Jogjakarta region.


jogjakarta_tpa_20161215_105We were told that a good pemulung can make a ‘reasonable’ amount of money in a day, enough that they don’t have to work every day to get enough for subsistence living. And if you didn’t have to work there every day – why would you?

We found out later that they can earn around Rp600,000 to Rp700,000 per month (around AU$70 – just over $2 per day). That’s if they are fit and healthy, which is not always the case.


There is no sick leave, superannuation or holiday pay. Possessing no capital resources, little or no formal education, and no control over the prices they are paid for their work, they have little or no opportunity to escape from this workplace.

The work is also dangerous. On 21 February 2005, an ‘avalanche’ at the another landfill site (Leuwigajah, near Bandung), buried 71 houses and killed some 143 pemulung and others at the site.


At first we were quite reticent about photographing the people at work, thinking that they might feel shamed or disrespected by being pictured doing such a dirty and menial activity. The negative connotations of ‘poverty porn’ came to mind.


But no-one declined when asked to be photographed, and some seemed to rather enjoy the attention.


Mostly, though, everyone was so focussed on their work that they largely ignored us, apart from responding to the usual greetings, and asking the ‘where-are-you-from’ type questions.


The pemulung actually provide an important service. It’s estimated that 20-30% of the waste dumped at the TPA is recycled (including that portion which is eaten by the cattle). Without this reduction to the volume of waste the landfill would have exceeded capacity several years ago.


It’s good to see what happens to our waste after we throw it out, and it was a fascinating, shocking, thought-provoking, outrage-inducing experience to visit the Jogja TPA. And yes, it is a smelly place, and our clothes (and especially shoes) needed professional cleaning before they could be worn again.

Wayang kulit

Back in Jogja for another month of Bahasa Indonesia tuition. Déjà vu sekali!


Over the years, we’ve attended several performances of that most Javanese of artforms, the wayang kulit, or shadow play.  (A closely related form of wayang kulit is also found in Bali – as in the photo above).

In the wayang kulit performance, a master puppeteer (Dalang) sits behind an illuminated cloth screen (kelir), and tells stories using the shadows cast by the large number of two-dimensional, semi-articulated puppets that he has arrayed in front of him.


The stories told are mostly derived from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, with many characters and narratives added to the Indonesian versions of these classic Hindu epics. There is drama and pathos, good vs evil, romance – and a large amount of broad rollicking humour, with the Dalang adding in references to contemporary events. The Dalang is supported by a gamelan orchestra, and the performance, which will go for many hours without a break, is bound to contain something of appeal to every member of the audience.


Audience members, sitting in front of the screen, greet the appearance of each new character with gasps, hoots of delight, sighs etc as appropriate. They recognise the shapes, and they know the names and personalities of every one of the dozens of characters, and their place within the overall narrative. Some of the characters are perennial audience favourites, such as the powerful Bima and the comical Panakawan servants, led by the god/clown Semar.

The stories can be a bit opaque to the foreign viewer, as they are told in the Javanese (or Balinese) languages.


We have enjoyed watching the wayang kulit shadow puppet performances, but until our recent visit to the village of Gendeng (just south of Jogjakarta) we hadn’t realised just how much effort, time skill and creative art goes into making the flat puppets themselves.

As with most of the ‘traditional’ material arts of Indonesia, there is no meaningful boundary drawn between craft and art, or between the skills of creation and construction, as is (erroneously, IMHO!) applied in the West.

The workflow begins with a whole skin from a water buffalo (kulit kerbau). Buffalo skins are stronger and more even in thickness than those from cattle. The best ones are imported from the region of Toraja in South Sulawesi.

In the photo above, Pak Suyoto, who is a specialist in skin preparation (proses pengolahan kulit perkamen), removes the hair and outer layer of hide from the tautly stretched skin. [These scrapings of hide – minus the hair – are later deep fried with a mixture of garlic and salt and eaten as a snack. Surprisingly tasty!]

The skin is soaked, cleansed and cured (sometimes for years) in preparation for making the puppets. By this stage it is clean, stiff and translucent.


Pak Daldek prepares a full size drawing of the puppet to be created drawn onto paper (or, in this instance, a photocopy of a drawing!), and places it below the (now-translucent) sheet of buffalo hide.


Working on the floor, Pak Daldek uses a set of variously-sized hole punches (mostly shaped like heavy duty nails) and cutting blades to cut out the main features of the puppet design.


Transferred to a workbench, the details of faces, body, and the articulated limbs are carefully added to the puppet until complete. The precise design of each character (angles, lines, placement of holes) is codified, and must be memorised and carefully applied by the maker.


At another bench, the specialist painter or pelukis wayang (Pak Parjio) applies water-based inks by brush. The pigments are water-based, and are (or were?) all traditionally derived from natural materials – lampblack, blue from indigo, white from burnt bones, yellow from ochre and red from cinnabar – all fixed in a medium of egg-white. Commercial pigments may be used nowadays. In the better quality puppets, gold is applied not by ink but as gold leaf.


Some of the complicated patterns which are painted on include really finicky details.


Pak Suprih is the master puppet-maker (Empul Wayang in Bahasa Java) and owner of the workshop the we visited. He began making wayang kulit in 1974, and studied as an apprentice with two other masters of the art/craft – Ba Pudjo and Pak Sagio.

In the photo above, he is attaching the finished kulit to a finely turned and split length of buffalo horn, which is used by the Dalang as a handle during performances.


Above are front and back views of a finished Gunungan shadow puppet (which we bought from Pak Suprih…). The Gunungan (‘Mountain’) or Kayon (‘Forest’) is a special puppet – indeed the most important one of the entire wayang performance. It is the first and last puppet used by the Dalang, and it is also is employed during performances to indicate major natural destructive forces like fires and storms. A second, ‘female’ Gunungan is also used in wayang kulit – the one above is the (slightly smaller) ‘male’ Gunungan.

On its front side it features a tree of life (a banyan tree in gold leaf), with monkeys, birds and other animals in its branches. In the middle is the blue face of the demon Kala (‘Time’). There are two doors below, at the top of stairs guarded by monstrous guardians, which lead to heaven. In total the puppet represents the totality of heaven and earth, and all living and/or sentient forms of existence.

The reverse side shows symbols for fire, water and air. It is dominated by the face of the demon Kala – representing time, or the forces of destruction in the universe.



Ramayana Ballet

When we were in Jogjakarta back in July, we had the pleasure of (again) attending a performance of the Ramayana Ballet. It was held in the grounds of the 9th Century Hindu temple at Prambanan, 17km east of Jogja along the road to Solo.

With the towering temples in the background, it was a wonderful, and wonderfully appropriate, venue for the performance of this mythic saga. Here are a few highlights.


The Ramayana is, in every sense, an epic. The ‘ballet’ – which perhaps more of an opera, with equal proportions of music, dance and theatre – just includes some of the best-loved and key scenes of the massive story.


There’s pageantry, strong characters, gamelan orchestra music, martial arts and acrobatics, romance and drama. No wonder that this Hindu epic remains the most popular and well-known folk story in Muslim Java.


We are introduced to the main protagonists: Rama, prince of Ayodhya, unfairly forced to live in exile in the forest.


Sita, his devoted wife, and herself a princess. She joins him in exile.


Rama’s faithful younger brother, Laksmana, who also follows Rama into the forest. The two of them are (of course) brave warriors, and rather handy shots with a bow and arrow.


And of course there are is a variety of nasty adversaries for the heroes to battle, ranging all the way along the scale of evil and strength. Chief amongst the foes is the demon Rawana, King of Langka. You only need to look at him to know that he’s a nasty piece of work. And when he speaks, he roars, growls and bellows.

He falls for Sita, and sets out to win her by fair means or foul. No, actually only by foul means.


Rawana sends a beautiful and uncanny golden deer into the forest to entice Sita. She is enchanted by it, and she sends Rama and Laksmana off to try to catch it for her. They leave her in safety, protected inside a magical protective circle. Rawana tries to capture her, but he can’t get inside the circle.


Sneaky trickster that he is, Rawana returns disguised as an elderly mendicant. Kind-hearted Sita takes pity on him, and leaves the protection of the circle – and is of course immediately captured and spirited away to Langka by Rawana.


Rama enlists the help of the monkey army, led by the white monkey Hanuman. He’s brave and clever strategist, and ultimately his assistance proves to be decisive…


En route to his kingdom of Langka, Rawana encounters, battles and defeats the bird-man Sampati. Before he dies, he reveals to Rama (or was it Hanuman?) that Sita has been spirited away to Langka. And so the scene is set for confrontation and battle.


Down in Langka, the women of the royal court perform an elegant dance for the newly arrived Sita.


With Sita now a prisoner in Langka, Rawana tries all his best tactics to win her affection. Being a violent ugly brutish boorish nasty-tempered thug, he fails. (And in any case, she is already happily married to Rama, the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu!)


Hanuman comes in disguise to the court of Langka, and reveals himself to Sita, proving his identity by showing her Rama’s ring. She pleads to Hanuman for Rama to come and rescue her.


Hanuman’s monkey army loosens up in preparation for battle. They build a floating bridge so that Rama and the monkey army can get across to the island of Langka.


Never give flaming torches to monkeys. It’s sure to end in disaster.


Hanuman returns to the court of Langka, and proceeds to set the place ablaze.


Rama and Laksmana join in the battle, and proceed to defeat Rawana’s generals one by one.


Rama and Rawana do battle in the inevitable climax. Guess who wins?


In victory, Rama is overcome by nasty jealousy, and questions Sita’s chastity while she was in Langka. How he could imagine that she could succumb to Rawana’s advances is beyond me. She agrees to undergo an ordeal by fire to prove herself to the undeserving Rama.

Of course, she comes out of the test unscathed and smelling like roses (though maybe a little smoky). Rama is restored to his rightful position as King of Ayodhya, Good has triumphed over Evil, and order is restored to the universe.

More photos from the Ramayana Ballet can be viewed on my website.

Independence Day, Jogjakarta


Chicken sate vendor, Jogjakarta

Chicken sate vendor, Jogjakarta. It was 17th August – Independence Day – and the streets and footpaths of Jogja were streaming with people out be part of the festivities for the big day. Families with little kids waving their red-and-white flags lined up to see the parading soldiers, important looking dignitaries making speeches, gamelan orchestras, brass bands and drumming troupes, acrobats and school choirs.

In amongst it all the street vendors seemed oblivious to the occasion. This woman squatted on the edge of the road, with the crowds flowing past her like a rock in the river. She fanned the embers of the coconut husk fire to cook the sate slowly, turning the skewers and looking around all the time for potential customers. The smoke wafted around, and smelt delicious, but no-one was buying.


Sweet vendor, Jogjakarta

Sweet vendor, Jogjakarta. Another fellow was hand-making sweets out of sugary paste and food dyes, shaping the goo into elaborate shapes of dolphins, swans and butterflies, before putting each one onto a stick and sealing it in a little plastic bag. I didn’t see him get any sales in the hour or so that we stood nearby, but he seemed to be totally engrossed in his craft.


Outside the Ceremony, Jogjakarta

Outside the Ceremony, Jogjakarta. The main ceremonies for Hari Kemerdekaan (Indpendence Day) in Jogja were conducted behind a high fence in the palatial grounds of the local government official residence. Hundreds of VIPs, guests and military personnel were inside, but the masses of the general public could only look in from outside the grounds.