The Jakarta Post
Apart from being one of the world’s chief tin-producing centers, the island of Bangka Belitung, located off the eastern coast of Sumatra, has also cemented a reputation overseas for its satam gemstone handicrafts, signature jewelry not found elsewhere.
The word satam comes from the Chinese sa meaning sand and tam, bile. But the indigenous people
living in the island call satam black meteorite.
“Guides take tourists to the gemstone handicraft center in Tanjung Pandan, Belitung,” Sarmasih, Bangka Belitung education office staff member told The Jakarta Post.
The two films — Laskar Pelangi ( Rainbow Warrior ) and Sang Pemimpi ( Dreamer ), depicting
children’s struggle in Bangka Belitung, also increased the number of local and foreign tourists visiting the province, Sarmasih added.
In Door J.C. Mollema’s 1922 book titled The development of Belitung Island by the Belitung society, an engineer from the Dutch Amsterdam Academy, Wing Eston, described satam as rock from outer space that broke into small bits and scattered all over the world, including on Bangka Belitung Island.
The meteorite chips, according to Eston, penetrated the earth’s surface, creating stones bearing beautiful natural motifs, with a black hue arising from a blend of carbonic acid and manganese.
Eston called the meteorite Billitonite. The rock found in Bangka Belitung, although originating from
the same meteorite that showered other parts of the globe, has geological characteristics not found in other parts of the world.
An Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry study states that satam stones contain chemicals such as silicon dioxide, aluminum oxide, magnesium oxide and potassium oxide, besides active and supporting components for catalysis.
Firman Zulkarnain, one of the satam stone craftsmen in Belitung, said many local and foreign geologists as well as other relevant experts were interested in studying the structure of the gem further.
“Even the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] once bid Rp 1 million [US$100] for an ounce of satam powder. I have no idea what it’s for,” he claimed.
According to Belitung legends, the stones have the power to ward off poison and evil forces.
They can also be used to determine whether people are in good health, Firman said, adding that a stone placed on the palm on your hand that felt warm was a sign of poor health.
“The gem can also intercept evil energies such as black magic,” he said. “Former president Megawati Soekarnoputri once bought a satam necklace.”
Zaenal Abidin, principal of Junior High School 4, Manggar regency, Belitung, claimed gemstone
therapy had been used many times for healing purposes.
“The stone was placed on the ailing body part, absorbing poison,” he said.
These unique stones are used to make jewelry such as rings, necklaces, brooches and earrings.
Zulkarnain began his gem handicraft business 20 years ago after he lost his job with state tin mining company PT Timah.
“Losing my job was painful, but I refused to lose hope. I set up a handicraft business with my wife Rodiana, using satam stones found in tin mining areas,” he recalled.
He started making rings and selling them locally, then expanded his business to Batam, Jakarta
then abroad to Malaysia, Hong Kong and Japan.
“There have been ups and downs over the years,” he acknowledged, adding that the availability of
raw materials, various imitation stones and people’s decreasing purchasing power had given him
a few headaches.
“It’s very difficult to obtain satam,” Firman explained. “Tin miners usually find the stone by chance and sell it to me. I then make it into jewelry.”
While genuine satam stones generate vibrations of a magnetic field, Firman said, a number of gemstone vendors sold fake stones at lower prices.
“Satam ornaments cost between Rp 150,000 to hundreds of millions of rupiah.”
The price depends on the size of the stone and variations in the motif, the bigger and more attractive the pattern, the more expensive the stone.
“I have one with the motif of Arabic characters representing Allah and Muhammad. I won’t sell it,
although a businessman offered me Rp 1 billion for it.”
The younger generation of Bangka Belitung however is more interested in tin mining or working in Jakarta, than crafting the meteorite into supernatural jewelry.
— Photos by Indra Harsaputra