Mon, 07 Jul 2003

Klender woodcraft emerges as a lucrative business

Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Under the shade of a tree with the breeze in the leaves and birds chirping overhead, Muntahar was steadily carving traditional patterns of flowers on a teak cabinet.

The 34-year-old man, along with his four brothers and sisters, has been trained since he was a teenager by his father, a craftsman, in Jepara, a town in Central Java, which is internationally renowned for its wood craftsmanship.

He said that in Jepara carving skills are common among elementary school children and ordinary housewives. Therefore craftsmanship is considered not so significant there.

That's why Muntahar had to move from Jepara 10 years ago to the city, where he is one of 200 artists with rare carving skills in Klender, East Jakarta.

"Here I can make more money as a skilled craftsman," Muntahar told The Jakarta Post last week.

He was recently paid Rp 400,000 (approximately US$48.20) for one day's work, to carve a panel for a five-star hotel in South Jakarta. Not to mention his daily income from the orders he receives from workshops in Klender.

Muntahar said he charged Rp 165,000 for a complicated carving job in Jakarta, while the same job in Jepara was only worth Rp 95,000.

Klender is one of the popular places residents in Greater Jakarta can find wood-based products at reasonable prices.

In the early 1940s, it was a center for railway parts production. Today it has emerged into an area where some 6,750 people rely on wood-related businesses for their livelihoods. There are 2,011 wood-related firms in Klender, including logging bases, workshops, showrooms and transportation services.

At least 200 outlets display wooden furniture and antiques along the 4.5-kilometer road between Jl. Raya Bekasi Timur and Jl. Pahlawan Revolusi.

Visitors can find cupboards, chairs, benches, beds and tables with relatively low prices ranging from Rp 200,000 to Rp 1 million per item.

To date, the East Jakarta mayoralty administration estimates money circulating from business transactions in Klender to be about Rp 30 billion a month. The amount is seen as big enough for the city administration to give Klender special attention.

The mayoralty has plans to set up a Klender Furniture Center to further promote the area into a center for wood-based products, even more competitive than Muntahar's hometown, Jepara.

But the project has faced a challenge as local residents in Klender recently filed a report to police that accused local officials of embezzling billions of rupiah, dispersed by the city administration for the planned promotion.

The trial of the embezzlement case is scheduled to begin mid this month.

Ipung, 29, Muntahar's employer and a fellow craftsman, however, doubted the center could succeed as planned.

"If the city administration wants to compete with Jepara it should focus more on training people, because Klender lacks skilled craftsmen," he argued.

"It should facilitate something like a transfer of skills," he added.

"Workshops and showrooms in Klender prefer to order directly from workers in Jepara who are paid lower that those here," said Ipung, who owns Sentra Seni workshop.

"But what does the administration care about the art of craftsmanship? They care only about one thing ... money, billions of rupiah," he said.