Thu, 11 Mar 1999

Rice steamers, heirloom 'kris' sent to the pawn shop

By Gin Kurniawan and Berchman Heroe

YOGYAKARTA (JP): Three middle-aged women walked down the steep hill in Rongkop district, Gunungkidul regency. They went to the roadside and waited for hours for the bus that would take them to Wonosari, the capital of the regency, 40 kilometers away.

Their final destination: a state pawnshop.

"May I help you to get things done fast, Ma'am? What would you like to pawn?" a woman greeted them warmly as they arrived at the building.

It turned out that she was only a broker offering her services for Rp 1,000 per customer. The three women, Poniyem, 55, Sumiyah, 54 and Ngadiyah, 56, agreed. They had come a long way and they were thankful somebody was there to help.

Poniyem pawned her rice pan dandang (large vessel for steaming rice) for Rp 25,000, but the pawnshop rejected the request of Sumiyah and Ngadiyah to pawn their plates. As they did not want to go home empty-handed, Sumiyah, as well as Ngadiyah, took the rings from their fingers.

They said they wanted to buy seeds for peanuts and corn, but had no money at all because of a harvest failure.

"It was a complete failure. Everything was destroyed by rats and monkeys," Poniyem said.

It is not the first time that the harvest has failed. In the past, despite such harvest failures, she still had some money because she used to receive financial support from her children who worked in Jakarta. But it has been a long time since they last sent money and Poniyem does not have the heart to ask about it as she knows they are facing hardship, too.

"They did not even come home during this year's Idul Fitri. They said they were busy looking for a new job because the business in their former workplace was over," said Poniyem, whose husband died five years ago.

Therefore, she had to pawn the dandang. She said she would not have any problem cooking rice because she still has a small pot for cooking.

The pawnshop has apparently become a savior during the crisis as it provides instant cash for clients.

Before the crisis hit the country in July 1997, there were between 2,000 and 3,000 people who went to the pawnshop in a month. But now the number is between 3,500 and 4,000. There is also a wider variety of goods pawned.

The storeroom of the pawn shop is now no longer dominated by valuables like motorcycles, refrigerators, TV sets, radio sets or other electric ware, and gold jewelry. Now household articles and kitchen utensils worth a few thousand or tens of thousands of rupiah dominate the scene.

There are also heirlooms like kris (ornamental daggers). But not all heirloom kris can be pawned because only those with in- laid gold are eligible. "We do not assess the magic power of a kris but only consider its gold content," said Joko Suryanto, head of the pawnshop. A gold plated kris could fetch between Rp 5 million and Rp 10 million.

Joko is also picky about household articles and kitchen utensils. "If we accepted just anything, we would be overwhelmed."

A dandang is among the kitchen utensils accepted. Almost every household has such a dandang, which is used on a special occasion when they need to cook a large quantity of rice.

In one month 500 is the average number of dandang taken by the shop. The assessed value of a rice cooker is dependent on its weight and type. Rice cookers covered with soot are valued at Rp 10,000 a kilogram, while new ones fetch Rp 15,000 a kilogram.

The Gunungkidul pawnshop accepts all kinds of cloth. Among the most-pawned are sarongs and kain jarit (a piece of loose batik cloth used to wrap around the body from the waist down), bed sheets and kebaya (traditional blouse).

"Every month we accept an average 1,500 to 2,000 pieces of cloth," Joko said.

The cloth is priced at between Rp 15,000 and Rp 40,000.

People pawn household articles not only during the monetary crisis. Joko said it also happens during long droughts and in times of hardship before harvests. They redeem their goods after the harvest. "Usually people pawn their goods to buy water or cattle feed, but now they do it to buy food for themselves," he said.

Joko said that initially the office allocated Rp 3.5 billion in 1998. In reality it had to provide Rp 4.44 billion. He admitted that his agency once ran out of funds in meeting the demands of the great number of clients. He asked for more funds from the head office, but was informed that funding was temporarily suspended. That was why he had to apply the system of queuing for clients wishing to pawn their goods. With this system clients had to wait until other clients came to redeem their goods. Previously clients had to wait a quarter of an hour at the most to get cash. Now the waiting time was one to two days. The system has been implemented from the middle until the end of 1998. "Now we do not have any problems because the main office has been allocating funds again," Joko said.

He said that there are some people who did not redeem the pawned goods, but that number was relatively small. He said that the items which were not redeemed were mostly gold, which was pawned when the price rocketed to more than Rp 100,000/gram. At that time, the exchange rate to the dollar was almost Rp 20,000. Now the rupiah is about Rp 9,000 against the dollar and gold is Rp 70,000/gram.

"We have suffered losses of tens of millions of rupiah because of the huge amount of gold which has not been redeemed," he said.

Why do people like to go to a pawn shop instead of a bank? The clients said it is because of simple procedures. They only need to hand over the items to be pawned and they can get the cash. The pawnshop also applies low interest, between 1 percent to 1.5 percent a month, or 3 percent to 4.5 percent per three months.

"We won't go to a bank because of the high interest and in any case we might not be eligible to get a loan. What's more, the procedures are complex," Poniyem said.

At the banks, the interest rates on credit are more than 40 percent a year. There used to be soft loans for small scale traders, but the procedures were arduously complex, and now the program has been stopped.