Listening to heavy metal music, growing his hair long and undertaking adrenalin-inducing trips, Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo enjoyed a pretty typical adolescence.
Born in Surakarta on June 21, 1961, to a middle-class family of entrepreneurs, Jokowi is the eldest of four and the only son of the late Noto Mihardjo and his wife, Sujiatmi Notomiharjo. Within the family, Jokowi assumed the role of the man of the house.
“As a child, he was very responsible about whatever was entrusted to him. He watched over his sisters and as he grew older, he also watched over his nephews and nieces,” Sujiatmi said at her home in Surakarta, Central Java, recently.
“We have always been able to count on him,” she said.
The young Jokowi’s determination was also reflected in his decision-making. Even though he always discussed his thoughts with his parents, particularly his mother, the final decision was always Jokowi’s to make.
“We usually made suggestions but in the end, he was the one who made the decisions. He knows what he’s doing and once he believes in something, nobody can stop him,” she said, citing one example when Jokowi chose mountaineering as a hobby.
“When he was a student at UGM [Gadjah Mada University] in Yogyakarta, he often went mountain-climbing with his friends. I was worried and often tried to stop him but he said I shouldn’t worry and he continued anyway,” she said.
“When he grew long hair, I told him I didn’t like it but he said I was too old to appreciate his hair style,” she said. “His eldest son, Gibran, did the same thing a few years back and Jokowi told me he hated it,” she added, smiling.
Although he was raised in an entrepreneurial family, in which his grandfather, father and uncle were all furniture businessmen, Jokowi grew up in a modest home on Jl. Ahmad Yani, Surakarta.
Sujiatmi denied reports that said the governor once lived in a shanty house on the riverbank, and that he was once relocated by the city administration.
“We lived there from the time Jokowi was in kindergarten. The house was indeed a few hundred meters from a river, but it is located on a street and it is our own house,” she said.
After his own business took off, Jokowi built a new home on Jl. Plered Raya in Banyuanyar district, about a 10-minute drive from the old house, which was still inhabited by his relatives.
Jokowi built two homes in the same compound — one for his mother and another one for his own family. Surrounded by a high wall, the compound measures approximately 1,000 square meters with the houses separated by a small garden and a connecting gate.
When The Jakarta Post visited recently, there was no luxurious furniture or any high-end decorations inside the compound. Judging from the well-maintained garden and an extensive use of wood, the occupants clearly cherish nature.
Hanging on one of the walls was a picture of Jokowi and Megawati Soekarnoputri, the chief patron of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
From an early age, Jokowi had dreamed of becoming a successful entrepreneur, not a politician, according to his mother.
After graduating from UGM’s forestry school in 1985, Jokowi worked at a state-owned company in Aceh for about two years, only to realize that his true calling was to become an entrepreneur.
“He said he couldn’t stand working for other people. He wanted to run his own business and, therefore, he did,” Sujiatmi recalled.
Before actually launching his own company, Jokowi worked at his uncle’s furniture company to gain some insight and know-how.
After about a year and a half, he decided to establish his own furniture factory. Sujiatmi recalled that she gave him Rp 65 million (US$5,6030) as initial capital to launch the business in 1987.
But things were not always easy.
At the outset, Jokowi was deceived by a buyer who never paid for his order and made off with the furniture, leaving Jokowi without any capital.
“He was very naïve — he thought nobody would do such a thing. And that was not the only time. That’s why he is very careful when placing his trust in people,” Sujiatmi said.
After years of struggle, his enterprise finally took off. Jokowi managed to expand his business and received orders from a number of countries, including those in Europe and the Middle East. It was during this time that he received his popular nickname.
One day, a French buyer complained to Jokowi about how many men named Joko he had met in Indonesia.
To differentiate him from the other Jokos that he knew, the buyer nicknamed him Jokowi, a moniker that Jokowi immediately liked and that later, became a kind of good luck charm.
Jokowi met his future wife, Iriana, who was a friend of his sister’s, while at university. Soon after he graduated in 1985, they tied the knot.
The couple have three children. Their eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming, 25, is a catering boss in Surakarta; while their second child, Kahiyang Ayu, 22, is a food science and technology student at Sebelas Maret State University (UNS) in Surakarta. Their youngest child, Kaesang Pangarep, 18, is currently studying at university in Singapore.
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