Sun, 11 Jun 2000

Long wait is over for Lombok handicraft makers

By Ahmad Junaidi

MATARAM, Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara (JP): The island's handicraft makers are breathing a deep sigh of relief after several months when they felt the life was being choked out of them.

Foreign visitors are slowly coming back to Lombok after last January's sectarian riots which devastated the local tourist industry.

After a long hiatus, sales are being made in local villages renowned for their handicrafts, especially pottery, wooden handicrafts, items using pearls and textile weaving.

In Banyumulek village, Kediri district, the residents, most of them women, begin making their various types of pottery -- from vases to jugs -- early in the morning and keep working until late at night.

One of them, Hadijah, has her hands full juggling work and demands of the home.

At 5 a.m., after helping her only son, 5, take a bath, she leaves him with her mother and rushes to work.

Except for breaks to grab a bite to eat and pray, she does not stop working until midnight.

"So many orders now," Hadijah, a divorcee in her 20s, sighed as she shaped a small pot from a lump of clay on a potter's wheel.

She said the pottery was bought by the village cooperative, which sold them across Lombok and neighboring Bali island at double the price.

Her earnings were about Rp 200,000 a month after her gross income was cut by Rp 100,000 to buy materials, such as the clay, which costs Rp 10,000 for 100 kilograms.

Her face darkened with sadness when she told how the orders suddenly stopped after the rioting which ensued from a religious gathering on Jan. 17. Shocking images of cars being vandalized and homes ransacked flashed around the world.

"There were no jobs for a month and several weeks after the riot. No orders, and the pottery remained unsold in the cooperative's shop," she remembered.

Banyumulek women have been renowned throughout history for their pottery making.

In the village, tourists are able to witness the entire process of pottery making, from the molding of the clay to when it is put into the kiln for firing. They also can buy the finished pottery at much cheaper prices than in shops.

Lombok Tour Guide Association executive John Suryono said the village cooperative was helped by the New Zealand government in marketing their products.

In addition to New Zealand, the pottery is exported to Singapore, the Netherlands and Australia, John said.

He said the fact that most of the handicraft makers were women was simply a case of demographics.

Most of the villagers are women as most of the menfolk have become migrant workers, particularly in Malaysia.

John also noted that in Kediri district, with a population of about 300,000, there were 4,000 divorcees aged between 12 years and 18 years.

Traditional weaving also brings in tourists. Visitors, especially foreigners, watch with interest the weaving process, which is demonstrated in several art shops in Rungkang Jangkuk village, Cakranegara district.

Shop owner Rabiah said she sold about Rp 2 million of bed covers, sarongs and carpets each month.

Before the riots, she averaged the same amount in sales every day.

"Although it's still small, I hope we will be able to get back to the sales we had before the riots," she added.

A group of about eight young women, some of them wearing Lombok traditional black dresses, weaves tenun ikat in her shop. Most of the traditional textile is dominated by the colors yellow and brown.

The price of a bed cover ranges from Rp 40,000 (US$5) to Rp 200,000 while a sarong costs between Rp 20,000 and Rp 50,000.

Rabiah said her shop's income dropped to nothing a few weeks after the riots, with her workers taking home no pay as their income was based on the textiles they made.

Another art shop owner in the village, Murad, said his income from exports was not affected by the riots, but the amount was smaller than retail sales.

"We still export our handicrafts, but it's not significant compared with retail sales," said Murad, who sells wooden handicrafts.

Not only did the riots affect shop owners and big businesses, but also traveling handicraft vendors, such as Manaf, 25, who usually operates at Kuta beach in West Lombok (not to be confused with the popular Kuta beach in Bali).

The father of one son said he was left without work after the riots because there were no tourists on the beach.

There are a few tourists now, but nothing like the numbers of the past. He said that on Saturdays and Sundays, he was able to sell some pieces of ikat, mostly to local tourists.

"Only a few foreign tourists come here. We are able to sell the ikat at a higher price for them," he said.

Unrest in Lombok was bound to rock the economy of the island, where tourism is a huge source of revenue.

Last year over 300,000 tourists visited, but the riots tarnished the images of pristine beaches, sprawling hotels and smiling locals. About 11 churches and 20 houses were burned or vandalized; some of the wrecked buildings are still standing as a reminder of the recent violence.

At least 1,144 residents of Mataram and other towns on Lombok fled their homes for the safety of Bali.

With business at a standstill, some hotels and restaurants were reportedly forced to fire some of their employees.

Minister of Tourism and Arts Djaelani Hidajat, during a visit to Lombok last month, said he hoped security could be maintained on the island.

"But it also depends on the people. The government has shown it's intention to improve the situation on the island," Djaelani, who was accompanied by State Minister of Investment and State Enterprises Development Rozy Munir, told local leaders and Muslim clerics in a gathering here.

Djaelani invited 37 foreign ambassadors on the three-day visit to ensure them the island was again safe for tourists. Hadijah and Manaf hoped they were convinced.