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The residents of Sumenep regency, on the eastern tip of Madura Island, East Java, never have the slightest concern over salt scarcities during the Idul Fitri celebration, where the festivities are flush with traditional dishes.
Unlike in other cities in East Java, the residents of Sumenep celebrate the Islamic holiday for seven days, forcing many to prepare a lot of food for families and guests during the period.
And the pride of the residents is not in the tasty food they prepare, but the salt that they produce.
The majority of residents work as salt farmers, which confirms the regency as the country’s largest salt producer.
Kalianget district, the regency’s production center, is located in the southern part of Sumenep, around 10 kilometers from the city center.
The district is usually called “the Salt City” for the quality of its high iodine salt.
“Most people here work as salt farmers, even in my family. The production is one of the biggest sources of income for the regency,” said Subandriyo, 53, a vendor at Wiraraja Bus Terminal in Sumenep.
Salt production, run by state-owned PT Garam, starts from digging hundreds of land slots of around 15x25 meters wide, which are then filled with sea water, according to Subandriyo.
The water will evaporate after the next few days, leaving only the crystals of salt in the pond. “Farmers then harvest the crystals, wash them and carry them to the production center,” Subandriyo said.
After the washing process is over, the salt is collected, creating white hills of salt around the production center. These hills of half-made salt make for an interesting landscape.
“It has become a tourist attraction,” Subandriyo said.
“The raw salt is then processed again in the factory for packaging,” he added.
The whole production process takes time, from May to November.
This year, PT Garam is expecting to produce more than 350,000 tons.
The Kalianget district is also known for Sya’ban, the month before Ramadhan, celebrations.
The period is apparently more spectacular and vibrant than during Idul Fitri celebrations, with Kalianget Port at the center of it all.
“All Madurese come out of their houses, gather and go to the beach,” said Oemar Andjilin, 79, a citizen who lives near the port.
“They expect to meet Joko Tole. They believe that if they meet him, and request a wish, he will grant them anything they ask for.”
Joko Tole is a mythical blacksmith living in Sumenep. He possesses the art of making weapons such as knifes, keris (Javanese dagger) and farming tools from clay.
Legend has it that Joko Tole also has the ability to turn people into steel. The legend may be the reason why most Madurese now work as blacksmiths, or have businesses related to steel making.
“They also believe that if a couple go to the beach during Sya’ban, they will eventually get married,” said Oemar.
Sumenep, which is among the country’s poorest regencies, has a population density of 498 people per square-kilometer. Based on the 2010 census, its total population was 1.04 million.
Aside from salt production, Sumenep is also known for its pristine beaches of Slopeng and Lombang.