Sun, 06 Feb 2000

Under the shade of paper umbrellas in Juwiring village

By R. Agus Bakti

KLATEN, Central Java (JP): Despite the modern age they live in, some of the residents of Juwiring village, Klaten regency, still make umbrellas from used cement bags, a tradition that has been going on in this village for many years.

No wonder the village, which offers its beautiful panorama of a wide extent of rice fields, is also dubbed a "village of umbrellas".

Pak Jaya, 61, one of the umbrella makers, said in this village, or to be exact in part of the village called Gumantar, there used to be a time when umbrellas were made in almost every house.

"As for myself, I make umbrellas out of necessity, not just because I want to keep the tradition going," he said.

He admitted that the demand for Juwiring umbrellas was lower than before because of the presence of cloth or plastic umbrellas.

It is unknown when exactly umbrellas from used cement bags were first made in Juwiring. According to reports, however, during the Dutch colonial time, Juwiring was already known as a place where umbrellas were made. The 1950s was the heyday of umbrella-making in Juwiring as the demand for paper umbrellas was very high.

Today only a few umbrella makers keep their activities going in Juwiring. The continuity of umbrella making in Juwiring is up to these people now.

"As there are so many factory-made umbrellas in the market today, one must be patient and creative to be able to make paper umbrellas," Pak Jaya said.

A paper umbrella is made manually. For this you need used cement bags, bamboo and wood, along with glue, thread and some other materials.

All the raw materials are easily available. Used cement bags can be had from construction sites, each one costing about Rp 300.

Bamboo and wood are available in Juwiring. Bamboo forms the spokes of the umbrella. Wood is used for the pole and the handle. The wood must be of good quality, and that from the waru (beach hibiscus) or mlinjo (Gnetum gnemon) trees is preferable.

The bamboo spokes are arranged into the frame of the umbrella with thread holding the spokes together. Once the frame is ready, it is covered with the used cement bags. Glue holds the paper to the spokes.

Every day Pak Jaya makes five umbrellas. His wife and children usually help him. "It all depends on the size or the type of the umbrella. If an umbrella is made to order, it will take quite a while to finish," he said.

According to him, the most difficult thing is the arrangement of the spokes and holding them together with thread.

A used cement bag is enough to make two medium-sized umbrellas or four small ones, he said.

One kodi (20 pieces) of medium-sized umbrellas costs between Rp 70,000 to Rp 100,000. "The prices are not fixed. I'm quite flexible," he said.

Despite competition from factory-made umbrellas, Pak Jaya does not have any problem with the marketing of his product. Vendors from Surakarta, Yogyakarta, Klaten and Semarang come to his house to buy his umbrellas.

What is attractive and unique about a Juwiring umbrella is that it is not plain but has something painted on it.

It is because of the paintings that Juwiring umbrellas survive until today. Juwiring umbrellas, therefore, are no longer used as a means to protect one from the rain and sunshine, but today are used to decorate rooms.

Herry Wibowo, an umbrella maker of the young generation in Juwiring, said that an artistic sense was needed when one painted something on an umbrella. It is this artistic sense that has given the umbrellas their added value: they can fetch higher prices and look more beautiful.

The paintings have different motifs, just like with batik, for example plants and animals. The paper or cloth chosen for these umbrellas, however, is of a better quality.

"An umbrella for the interior decoration of a room has a different shape to an ordinary one," Herry, who learned the skill from his father, said.

Umbrellas with motifs painted on them are now exported. Herry's umbrellas are quite popular among umbrella collectors in Europe and the United States.

Decorative umbrellas are usually made with a number of layers.

A pair of these umbrellas can be sold from between Rp 125,000 to Rp 450,000. "But it all depends on the size and the number of layers. More layers will entail higher prices," he said.

Juwiring is a village far from the madding urban noisiness. It is quite easy to reach from Yogyakarta or Surakarta. If you take a bus going the route of Yogyakarta-Surakarta or the other way round, stop at Delanggu. Juwiring is about 4 kilometers to the south of Delanggu.

It is quite an achievement on the part of umbrella makers in Juwiring that their products can survive in this modern era. To Pak Jaya and Henry, this is something they can be proud of.

They are even optimistic that their products can survive in the future, especially as some of the younger generation are learning the craft.

To Herry, making umbrellas allows him to foster mutual respect among the young, especially when they receive a lot of orders and have to work overtime to fulfill them. They believe their village will continue to be known as "a village of umbrellas".