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Java island

Java (Jawa) is an island of Indonesia and the site of its capital city, Jakarta. Once the center of powerful Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, Islamic sultanates, and the core of the colonial Dutch East Indies, Java now plays a dominant role in the economic and political life of Indonesia. Home to a population of 130 million in 2006, it is the most populous island in the world. Java is also one of the most densely populated regions on Earth.

For everything and everyone

On Java is 'the woman with the bottles' familiar appearance. Regularly she appears along village roads and in the streets of the big cities, her bottles full of brightly colored liquids in a selendang (carry cloth). Who thinks this lady is a representative of a local lemonade factory is wrong; her bottles contain jamu, traditional healing Javanese herbal drinks.
Normally the medicinal drinks are prepared at the sellers home, and are sold house to house. The bottles are carried in a bucket with water to keep them cool. Her customers don't know the composition of the drinks. They also don't order a special drink or mixture. The 'woman with the bottles' only sells tonics for healing widely spread diseases like colds, headaches and tiredness.

Many Indonesians make their own jamu for their complaints. Most women in villages know a massive number of compositions for mixtures and salves. The needed materia medica are mainly vegetable. which are grown in their own garden or are substituted with dried compounds from the store. About 150 different plants are used to make jamu; from Eucaliptus to Tamarind and Acacia. Spices like cinnamon mint and sweeteners like palm-sugar are added for the flavor, since most mixtures are reasonably bitter. Mixtures usually contain not much minerals and animal products, but in some cases ingredients like copper, sufur or sulfate and even ground animal skin, tails or testicles are added.

The modern jamu-industry

About 1930 the jamu production was done in factories, mainly as a reaction to the import of western patented medicines. Products from the factory had the name to be more modern, easy to use and much more effective than the original jamu, made at home most of the time. In the beginning the factories only made jamu bubuk and standard jamu products. Soon after the Second World War strong expansion started. Jamu were made for almost every pain. These so called 'modern' jamu was not only the solution powders, but also pills, tablets, capsules , cremes and cosmetics.

The production of pre-packed jamu has become a big industry, in which about 350 factories are working which are said to produce about millons of doses a day. Well known brands as Air Mancur. Nyonya Meneer, Cap Jago and Mustika Ratu are battling for power in which lots of money is used for advertising and publicity.
The addressing names of the products - Tresnasih ('Love'), Sorga ('Heaven'), Dewi Kecantikan ('Goddess of Beauty') and Sek Hot ('Hot Sex') - are an example of the strategy that the factories have. Many factory produced jamu are not meant for healing pains, but for pleasuring the other sex.

Until 1963 the jamu industry could expand without rules. In that year the Indonesian government cold which products were allowed to be sold for jamu, which since then was described as 'native Indonesian medicine (obat asli Indonesia). With this was acknowlegded that jamu belonged to the Indonesian society and identity, but at the same time there were limitations and qualifications for the products. Since then jamu had to contain only natural and traditional compounds. With this it was not allowed to make new formulas with some traditional ingredients and new medicines.

Traditional treatment

Prepared jamuis used for virtually every illness. Globally there are four different groups in which their effectiveness is said to be very good. Some examples are little pains, viral infections, sexual arousal, menstruation problems, pregnancy and birth.

The jamu is also separated in smaller parts than the four main groups. A main split it made on the warmth of the product (from 'hot' to 'cold'), but also other features like bitter, sour and sweet are seen as important healing features. These features do not point at the taste of the medicine, but the effect that it has on a persons body. For example 'hot' ingredients are kencur and pepper while tamarind and others are 'cold' products.
Madurese women who want to become pregnant, drink 'cooling' mixtures of herbs as a stimulation of fertility. Once they are pregnant they shift to the more 'hot' mixtures , eventually with some additional 'easy-to-drink' mixtures like coconut-oil, to ease the birth. After the birth the mother is washed with water, mixed with ash from the cooking place, and is rubbed in with specially made salves; 'hot' ones for the lower body and 'cold' and good smelling for the upper body. They believe 'hot' mixed help to get rid of 'dirty' blood, while 'cold' ones are said to stimulate the production of milk.

Besides these wash- and rub-treatment. which last about forty days, the woman will be massaged, and will get various jamu drinks. This is an good example of the many different things jamu is used for.

Last revised on December 27, 2009
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