Flora & Fauna
Volume 88 | May 2012
insidesumatera.com | tourism & lifestyle magazine - Maestros from Jambi
Maestros from Jambi
Selasa, 28 September 2010 | 10:30:29
Maestros from Jambi
by. Tikwan Raya Siregar
Apart from the rainforest, the Kerinci highlands, the Muaro Jambi Temple Compound and the deep waters of the Batang Hari river, the Province of Jambi is unremarkable. However, there is a much deeper and interesting story behind Jambi, the extraordinary stories of some amazing maestros.
Before beginning my story, I must pay homage to Ms. Amelia Masniari, better known as “Ms. Jinjing”, who has written 4 bestselling bookss which tell their stories through the eyes of a buyer of first class international objects. In her brilliant blog, I managed to find some clues that there were hidden pearls in the city of Jambi and a place called Kuala Tungkal.
This couple is pair of cheerful maestros. Their names: Tina Sofa and Mitra. Using their initials, they formed the company; “T&M” which was developed in an old house on Adityawarman Street Nr. 9, Thehok, Jambi. An unremarkable sign hangs outside the house. The narrow workshop is protected by shady trees next to the house, like an abandoned pavilion.
In the 4 by 7 metre building, 7 tailors work carefully. Here many different kinds of reptile skins are measured, cut, made into patterns and sewn to make ready-to-wear bags. Some of the snake skins have been folded and sorted into various sizes. I see the skin of an 8 metre python being prepared to be transformed into bags, wallets, belts and souvenirs.
Perhaps this story is an unhappy one for animal lovers, however, Mitra and Tina are ethical businesspeople in that they have permits to buy snakeskin and obey the quotas for the use of snakeskin in Jambi Province.
Tina and Mitra are at church when arrive at the “snake house”. They arrive half way through our tour, and immediately invite us to take a look at their collection. They don’t have a formal exhibition room as yet, just a room where a number of hangers and cheap vitrines are located. There are European women’s bags, wallets and belts made of reptile skins in a number of colours. It is difficult to imagine that these products were produced in Jambi by a couple who in a previous incarnation sold martabak (a kind of pancake) and went bankrupt.
The bags and accessories are so soft, sewn with precision and give an impression of luxury. Although “T&M” is only known to a limited number of people, a number of socialites and collectors of animal skin products are amongst their loyal customers. Instead of buying branded products, isn’t it more prestigious to collect original fashion items straight from the producer?
In the last few years, snake hunters in Jambi have sold their catches to collectors and penyamak (curing and chemical process). The price was dictated by the hunters, based on supply and demand from Jakarta. They sell to grocers in Jambi who sell it on to buyers in Jakarta.
“The buyers always look for imperfections in the skin. If there is just a tiny whole, they will knock the price down. We often made losses. Then I started to travel to Jakarta and follow the distribution trail. It turned out that the small imperfections which knocked the prices didn’t really affect the bags made from the material. The pattern can be adjusted to the imperfections which can just be cut away,” comments Mitra, who began the skin business after his martabak business went bankrupt.
Mitra and Tina know that the best quality reptile skins are exported to the fashion industries in Europe. The snake skin from Jambi is then made into branded bags worth up to hundreds of thousands of millions of rupiah. In Europe and America, the top celebrities wear them. Then the wives of our politicians, rich wives, and top celebrities happily buy snakeskin bags made from Jambi snakeskin in countries without rainforests where the snakes can reproduce quickly. The products then become products from Italy, France, Switzerland, and so on. It is easily forgotten that the skin originally came from Jambi at a cheap price.
Mitra and Tina decided to go against the flow. Why couldn’t we make our own bags from skin that we’d cured ourselves? With the help of his wife, who knew more about fashion and women’s taste, Mitra looked for an expert curer of reptile skins. In Indonesia there are only 4 experts in treating animal skins, and one of them agreed to move to Jambi with Mitra. Since that time, they have developed a business which produces the smoothest reptile skin in Sumatera, as well as producing high quality end products due its strict quality control.
Nowadays, by selling bonafide snakeskin bags for Rp 3 to 5 million, Tina and Mitra are in the process of saving billions of rupiahs of Indonesian foreign exchange that usually gets lost to foreign fashion designers.
If you have the opportunity to visit their workshop in Jambi, you will have the opportunity of observing the curing process and see python skins of up to 18 metres in length. These special skins are not for sale, they are part of a house collection to be shown to guests.
Another story about a couple of maestros. In the outskirts of Kuala Tungkal, about 150 km from the city of Jambi, there lives a civil servant and his wife. The husband has only finished junior high school. Since finishing school at the school of agriculture in Jambi, he had lived an unremarkable life until he created his own product in his house on stilts surrounded by coral washed by the tides. He created a product one of its kind in the world, perhaps in the whole world. A cordial called Sirup Pedada Marquado.
Al Akhmar and Renita, live in an unnumbered house on KH Dewantara Street, Canal II. Three giant palm trees grow in front of their house. From the road to their house, there are a number of decorative plants and a collection of trees, providing a calm atmosphere. A small, drying pool has been dug in the midst of this garden, and has become a mud pool for the children.
We are greeted by Akhmar. He tells us his wife is busy at wirit (Quran reading circle). He himself disappears into the house immediately after telling us this. A few minutes later, he reappears carrying red wine-coloured drinks. “This is the syrup you’ve been looking for,” he says as he gestures for us to drink.
On that day, the coastal weather is hot and dry. Anyone under the sun for more than 5 minutes will suffer dehydration. However the hot weather is soon forgotten after a few gulps of the Pedada Marquado wets our throats. I have never tasted such a taste or freshness in a syrup. Sweet and sour at the same time, a drink that can be served on even high class events…
After this, Akhmar points to a pedada tree (Soniracia acida) growing in front of his house. This tree is from the mangrove family, and has upward growing roots. The trees usually grow along the tidal line. Due to this area still being affected by the tides it is easy to find these trees as they are used to provide shade for the coral.
“This kind of mangrove tree only grows in Sumatera. It is known as a “honey pedada”, a very rare type. It has white blossoms,” explains Akhmar while picking two pedada fruits the size of an adult male’s wrist. The trees grow wild all along Sumatera’s east coast, and have become an important feature of the coastal habitat. Until this day, mangrove trees are still cut for their wood and for making charcoal.
The pedada is one of the victims of deforestation. In 1987, Akhmar and his wife were working as traditional cooks for the government of Jambi, when they began to informally research the pedada fruit. Akhmar knew that the locals in his village used the pedada in a number of recipes for rujak (Indonesian spicy fruit salad), fish recipes, and as a traditional postnatal medicine for women. There were a number of pedada trees around the village.
After finding the correct composition, Akhmar opened his business selling pedada syrup in bottles in 1995. With its positive health benefits, the syrup is now being sold in Jakarta and consumed by upper class customers. It has a high vitamin C content and has positive effects on sexual health. Besides that the fruit is obtained without damaging the trees, and therefore provides a solution for preserving mangrove trees. In Kuala Tangkul, people are beginning to be aware about the importance of protecting the trees and have started to sell the pedada fruit to Akhmar at Rp 2,500 per kg.
Due to his innovation, Akhmar has often been invited to train people in places such as Kalimantan and North Sumatera to make pedada syrup. However, until this day, only he and his wife produce and market the syrup for business purposes. Every 1 kg of pedada can produce around 8 bottles of syrup. A bottle costs Rp 15,000 straight from his house. In Jakarta, the syrup sells at Rp 75,000 only available to a limited number of customers. They have been successful in developing other products made from pedada fruit such as bread spread and dodol (Indonesian traditional sweets), however they are not producing these on a large scale.
Fadli is a bachelor. They have one month’s rent left. In their narrow bed-sit he, his father and sister start their family business. The tools for crafting gold are in the living room. There is no sofa here. Visitors are asked to sit on the cement floor. Indeed, the living room is narrow, but is filled with important people. Photos of famous notaries smile down from the fading walls. Fadli with Mrs. Ani Yudhoyono (the wife of the President), the governor of Jambi, Mrs. Jusuf Kalla, the Minister of Trade, to name a few.
We sit together on the plastic carpet. Fadli and his father, Erwin Sikumbang display their gold and silver collections here. The motifs are unique and unusual. Fadli confesses that he is interested in old traditional Jambi motives that have their roots in tradition, nature and spirituality. Some of the motives are bunga pauh from Sorolangun, kembang durian, riang-riang from the regency of Sabak, merak ngeram, bunga jatuh, ragam melayu, kwau berhias, kepak lepas, incung kerinci, bunga antelas, kapal sanggat (the oldest motif), bunga bintang, durian pecah, bunga mekar, angso duo, and paruh enggang.
The kepak lepas was a special order for Mrs. Ani Yudhoyono. His incung kerinci motive was unexpectedly chosen as the best craftsmanship at the “Pameran Mutu Manikam Nusantara” Exhibition in Jakarta in 2008, thus beating artisans from Yogyakarta and Bali. This was surprising as Yogyakarta and Bali are the traditional centres for silver and gold smiths in Indonesia.
However, his prestige has not affected his economic circumstances. Until today, he and his family keep on moving. He still sells his products by the gram, which is Rp 50,000 per gram of silver. They are amongst the around 200 silver workers who struggle to cover their rent every year. “I am unable to give people my address as I keep on having to move when a year’s rent is up,” explains Fadli.
Differing from other local silver and goldsmiths, Fadli is interested in local motifs. His designs are much smoother and complicated compared to others. Others have tried to copy his designs, but the end product wasn’t the same. The level of difficulty and detail of Fadli’s motifs is much more challenge. His designs can’t be compared to international jewelry producers, because his designs are based on an exploration of floral and cultural motifs from Jambi.
Fadli is a young maestro born to an economically weak family. His father and grandfather come from a goldsmith dynasty from the Minang area. In the beginning he wasn’t interested in being a goldsmith, but his father, who had previously worked as a driver for a travel company, forced him. From rebellion and laziness, new designs were born.
“I would like to thank Mrs. Elfrida Nino, the manager of Dekranasda Jambi Human Resources Department. She is like a mother to me. She has collected and promoted my products to a market which is more appreciative of local artwork,” says Fadli.
Fadli’s dream is to have his own exhibition room and to be able to buy more raw materials. However, for now he still has to save up. Once he tried to get a loan from a bank, and he was refused despite having proof of his previous successes. The bank said that he had to have collateral…
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