Pucung handicraft industry boosts villagers' lives
By Singgir Kartana
YOGYAKARTA (JP): Pucung village has improved, thanks to the efforts of Sihono, who helped transform the simple village in Sewon district in Bantul regency, eight kilometers south of here, into a bustling statue-making center.
The former pedicab driver who worked in Yogyakarta was inspired to start the business after he saw a tourist carrying an old wooden statue. He thought he could make the same statue as well, and rushed into producing them after learning the high price one statue could fetch.
As soon as he returned home, he started making a statue, an exact copy of the one the tourist was carrying. He was satisfied with his work and decided to produce more. On that day alone, he carved several statues without much difficulty.
The next day he tried to sell the statues to his passengers, who were mostly tourists. For days he continued until a tourist asked Sihono to produce a relatively large number of them. Despite his simple tools, Sihono managed to meet the order.
"I forgot how many statues I made for that order, but it was more than one hundred," recalled the father of two.
He received so many orders that he had to leave his job as a pedicab driver. He also hired some people to help him create the statues.
For the statues, he was using kayu jawa (java wood) as raw material along with kayu mahoni (mahogany) and kayu jati (teakwood), which were specially delivered from the Gunung Kidul area in Yogyakarta.
In less than two years, his statue business developed fast and it changed his life. He renovated his house, bought a color TV and new furniture. He also purchased more equipment to produce better quality statues.
His success made his relatives and neighbors want to try their luck at the same business. One by one they followed in opening a statue-making business.
Five years after Sihono started his business in 1992, 30 families were involved in statue-making and enjoying the same success as Sihono.
There are about 40 statue-making centers in the village where 217 families live. Each center employs more than 600 workers, who are mostly locals or those coming from neighboring villages.
The economic crisis experienced by this country was greeted by joy instead of fear by the villagers.
"We even prayed to God that the exchange rate increased to Rp 50,000 to a U.S. dollar," joked Gito, one of Sihono's workers.
The villagers were happy with the crisis because 99 percent of the old wooden statues they created were exported to countries, such as Australia, France, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and the United States. The monthly turnover was estimated at about Rp 800 million.
Thanks to the wooden statue business, the village now looks better. It used to be a simple village with no asphalt streets and the villagers lived in simple bamboo huts.
Now, the village has paved streets and the houses are no longer made out of bamboo, while the villagers own motorcycles and cars.
"Ten out of every 40 craftsmen now have cars and they almost all have cell phones because it's been difficult to get fixed telephone lines from the phone company. Phones are vital to our business," said one of the craftsmen, Handoyo, 30.
The successful and promising statue business has attracted many housewives to get involved. Some work so hard, that it is difficult for them to find time to watch their children and make sure they do their homework. As a result, some children have received low grades in school.
"This year, there were 20 elementary school students from this village who failed to get good grades. The mothers of those students happen to be involved in the statue-making business with Sihono," Handoyo explained.
One of the mothers admitted she had not paid attention to her child's studies due to her demanding work. "But what can I do. I need the money for my family. This is what I can do while there is still a chance," said the woman.
The village's prosperity has also lured the arrival of a playstation game center. Although there is only one game center at the village, it has attracted most of the children.
"During a meeting in the village office, we found out that the presence of the playstation center has caused serious concern among the villagers. But we haven't been able to make a policy regarding the matter yet," said Pucung village head Jumakir.