'Mbok jamu' has been part of Jakartans' daily life for years, but their numbers are dwindling. (JG Photo/Jurnasyanto Sukarno)

Jakarta’s Last Surviving Jamu Sellers


MARCH 07, 2018

Jakarta. Last November, Indonesian beauty queen Kevin Liliana wore a costume called "Mbok Jamu and Ancient Secret Potion" – a fancier version of the kebaya and sarong outfit of Javanese women who sell "jamu," a traditional herbal drink – to win the Miss International 2017 crown.

These "mbok jamus" sell their herbal concoctions door-to-door and have been part of Indonesians' daily life for years, but now it's getting harder to find them roaming the streets of Jakarta with their signature bamboo basket (where they keep their jamu bottles) and plastic pail (where they wash their dirty cups).

The Jakarta Globe managed to find and talk to five jamu sellers in Jakarta as they went about their business on Friday (02/03).

The women typically wake up at 2 a.m. every day to make their jamu before heading out to pound the streets after dawn.

They charge only Rp 3,000 (2 cents) for each cup of jamu and earn around Rp 100,000-Rp 350,000 per day.

Here's a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of Jakarta's last surviving mbok jamus.

Suginem in Kebon Kacang

Suginem has been selling jamu for 20 years around Kebon Kacang in Central Jakarta. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

58-year-old Suginem has been selling jamu in the Kebon Kacang area in Central Jakarta for over 20 years. Her daily route includes an extended stop at the famous Tanah Abang market, the biggest textile market in Southeast Asia.

Wearing only rubber flip-flops, Suginem walks around the narrow side streets and alleys of Kebon Kacang from 7 a.m to 9 a.m., earning around Rp 150,000 every day.

Suginem's most faithful clients are the porters of the Tanah Abang market.

"My best-selling jamu is kunyit asem [a citrusy blend of turmeric and tamarind]. The porters like it because it keeps them fit to lift heavy things all day," she said.

Sri Suryani in Sudirman

Sri Suryani still tours Jakarta kampungs to sell her jamu even though she now has an online shop on Instagram. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

After 15 years of selling jamu on the streets, 47-year-old Sri Suryani now has her own online shop on Instagram and Tokopedia called "Jamu Maknyus Sri" (Sri’s Delicious Jamu) managed by her daughter, a doctor at Medika Pertama Hijau Hospital.

Sri's daughter came up with the idea for the online shop because other doctors and nurses at her hospital kept ordering her mother's jamu.

Sri still goes out every day to sell jamu. From 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., she has a spot at the outdoor canteen attached to the Sampoerna Strategic Square Building on Jalan Jendral Sudirman. Her regular customers there are mostly office workers.

Then she returns home for lunch and a nap before touring the kampung around her house from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

"Rent is so expensive in Jakarta. If I only sell jamu in the morning, I won’t have enough money to save after paying rent," Sri said.

Lastri in Ciledug

Lastri's regular customers are office workers. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

66-year-old Lastri lives in Ciledug on the outskirts of Jakarta but sells jamu in the city. She has been selling jamu since she was 16 to help her mother.

Since Lastri is the oldest daughter in her family, she was forced to leave school after sixth grade and help her parents make a living instead.

Now that all of Lastri’s own children are married, she actually doesn’t have to work anymore. But she's only cut her work hours and still earns up to Rp 300,000 per day.

"My children told me that I should continue selling jamu because it's like an exercise for me, if I stop, I get sick. So, I keep doing it," said Lastri, who can be found from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Jalan Mesjid I Karet Tengsin behind Menara Batavia.

Sidar in Sawah Besar

For Sidar, the use of a cart instead of carrier makes it easier to travel and bring spare bottles. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

44-year-old Sidar wakes up at 3.30 a.m. and makes her jamu concoctions with help from her husband, who peels and chops turmeric to make her kunyit asem and kunyit tawar (plain turmeric).

After helping Sidar, her husband begins his own job as a courier delivering auto spare parts.

Sidar, unlike most other jamu sellers, puts all her jamu and her equipment in a cart instead of a bamboo basket.

It takes her 10 minutes to ride her cart from her house in the Karang Anyar kampung in Central Jakarta to her customary spot in Pasar Baru market. She also sells jamu to her regular customers around Sawah Besar.

"Thank God I've been getting more customers now. Apparently because my jamu tastes better. I even have customers who used to go to another jamu seller around here," Sidar said.

Nani in Pasar Baru

Nani said that there are many jamu sellers like her from Karang Anyar neighborhood in Sawah Besar, Central Jakarta. (JG Photo/ Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

This is not Nani’s first interview. The 53-year-old said she often gets approached by high school and university students who want to take her photos for assignments or for their personal collection as she goes about her business in Pasar Baru market.

Nani has been selling jamu in the market since 1995. Back then the market was more crowded since there weren't so many luxurious malls in Jakarta.

Nani's customary spot is in front of the Bucherri shoe store – not far from Sidar – but she also roams around the area to find her regular customers. Nani earns around Rp 100,000 per day.

"From 2000 till around 2010, I also sold snacks, gorengan [assorted fritters], lontong [rice cake], ketan [sticky rice] and duck eggs. They'd all be sold out by 11 a.m. I used to have to bring spare jamu every day back then. Now, not so many people come here anymore," Nani said.