The Jakarta Post
Seated in a small, dust-laden shed in Klungkung, Ketut Yastini and her husband, Made Buda, are hard at work making buttons from coconuts.
Since the early morning, Ketut has been cleaning out the remains of coconut meat from the shells, sanding the outer husks and preparing the shells for her husband. As Made marks out round forms on the shells, Ketut polishes buttons to ready them ready for market.
Ketut and Made are among a handful of people who continue to produce the buttons, which are bound together to make wanci platters for Hindu offerings that are sold to markets in Klungkung or to dealers.
The prospects for the couple's business, however, are grim. 'There used to be 40 families or more here in Koripan village making these buttons for plates and also buttons for clothing,' Ketut says. 'Now there are just four families left doing this handicraft.'
She continues. 'There is no work, because the price of coconut shells has gone up so we can't get shells anywhere. This half bucket of shells is all we have left.'
Ketut and Made have three children. It is clear from her tone that she fears for their future.
In the past, Ketut and Made could churn out 150 buttons a day. While the items were sold for less than a cent each, the money was enough to keep the family going.
'Coconut shells have gone up from Rp 300 (26 US cent) to Rp 500. We can only source them from Karangasem. There are no local shells anymore,' Ketut says. 'We go around on the motor bike hunting for shells, but come home with an empty sack.'
Raising prices is not an option, she says. 'People won't pay. It's really difficult to make a living from this and we have no other skills.'
Meanwhile, at the home of Wayan Cidra nearby, huge barrels send heavy smoke into the atmosphere. Wayan uses the drums as ovens to convert waste coconut shells into the special charcoal called arang that is used to barbecue foods ranging from sate to corn to chicken.
Unlike his friends Ketut and Made, who are facing hardships, Wayan and his family can make a reasonable living through coconut shells. He sells his arang for about 50 cents a kilogram and can produce up to 50 kilograms a day.
'I've been doing this for the past 15 years or so,' Wayan says sitting on his verandah as smoke wafts from the drums. 'Before the Bali bomb, I was making buttons out of coconuts and I saw others using the left over shell to make charcoal, so I started doing this.'
'Back then, I was making a good living selling buttons for clothing down in Seminyak, but overnight everything fell apart with the bomb,' Wayan continues. 'I'd go down to Seminyak and Kuta and there was no one there. So now it's just the charcoal.'
Wayan has hit on a product needed by people who cook and sell food, so his business has remained strong, despite the jump in the price of coconut shells. 'People need this coconut charcoal to cook with. They can't use other types of coal because they give off ash when burning. Coconut shell charcoal does not make ash and it burns at a high, steady temperature.'
He has a steady stream of customers. 'I can carry a 30-kilogram sack of charcoal on my motor bike. I go around Klungkung and Gianyar to sell my charcoal. My bike is already ancient ' a 1992 Honda Grand that I bought in 1998. But with my bike, even though it's old, I can sell more of my product, because I can take it to my customers,' says Wayan, patting the seat of the bike as its stuffing falls out.
Wayan's day starts early. First, husks are seared in a high flame fire. Then, coal is placed into his oven drums to make a low heat that smokes the charcoal, drying and hardening the shells.
This part of the process takes a good three hours, says Wayan. In the meanwhile, he relaxes with his family.
With polishing, coconut shells turn a silky, deep chocolate color that makes them attractive to button makers and to those making handicrafts for the tourist market, such as Ibu Eka.
At the famous Gunung Kawi temple in Tampak Siring, Eka sells lampshades delicately carved from coconut shells by her son, Made Andi, using engraver's tools.
The shy 25-year-old has a small, shady workshop in the family compound. 'I started carving these about five years ago. I learned the art from my ancestors. For generations, my people have been carving coconut shells.'
Made can make up to three lanterns a day, each of which can be sold for about $2. It's good work for him, according to Eka. 'When he was younger, he didn't want to stay in art school. He used to fall off his bike a lot and we were worried what type of job he could get.'
'Making the lanterns is something he enjoys and that he can make a living from, so I am happy and proud of him,' Eka, who has offered her son a ready market at her Gunung Kawi kiosk, says.
With ingenuity and hard work, Wayan, Ketut and Made are proof that every part of the coconut can be turned into income, right down to their shells.
' Photos by J.B.Djwan
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