Labodalih Sembiring – Latitudes.nu, Februari 25, 2012
In the 80s, in towns and cities across Indonesia, the most modern toys a kid could find were arcade game machines and battery-powered, remote-controlled robots, cars, or planes. It was a daily sight, however, that outside their schools during a break, children would gather around vendors selling plastic robots, cars, and planes, as well as marbles and trading cards.
In the rural areas, most kids were content playing with cars made out of banana trees, bamboos, or tins, or wayang figures cut out of cardboard paper. Today, with Playstation rentals opening even in small villages, simple, handmade toys are a rarity. But not in Pandes Hamlet, Panggungharjo Village, Sewon Subdistrict, Bantul, just south of Yogyakarta City.
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The hamlet is known as kampung dolanan, or the playground kampong. Some of its senior citizens dedicate most of their time and energy making and selling simple toys, such as the aforementioned tin cars and paper wayang, also called angkrek, as well as paper windmills or kitiran, othok-othok, which is a toy that lets out a creaking sound when rotated, and paper birds inside bamboo cages or manukan kurung.
Pandes was already known as a producer of traditional toys since the 1930s, when Yogyakarta was ruled by Sultan Hamengkubuwana VIII. Back then, there were around 50 craftsmen and women making toys out of simple materials to be sold to children all over the kingdom. Today, that number has dwindled to seven, most of them women in their 60s.
Mbah Rejo is one of those women. “Mbah” is a common title for a Javanese woman or man, and she took the name after she married Rejo Utomo, her late husband. Rubiyah, her real name, creates the toys inside her simple, gray house and stacks them in its different corners. Every other morning, she puts the toys inside a woven basket, carries it on her back, and walks the kilometers to Gamping Market on the western side of Yogyakarta City. After sitting by the market for a few hours, Mbah Rejo then walks back home.
Not all of them do the selling themselves. Most only make the toys at home and wait for people to buy them in bundles to be resold. The makers price these toys from Rp1,000 to Rp2,000 each.
“I don’t make much selling these toys. Only really small kids want them. They usually would tell their parents to buy them one when they see me,” she said. “I get to sell enough when Pojok Budaya runs its outbond program for children.”
Also located in Pandes, Pojok Budaya, or Cultural Corner, is an organization focused on various cultural and arts programs, one of them being the education of children of early ages. Little children from one kindergarten after another come here with their teachers every week, on a program the organization likes to call “the outbond.” One of the regular activities the kids get to do here is walking around the hamlet to visit the toymakers and see how traditional toys are made. Often the teachers are the ones absorbed in the activity, studying the toymaking process with a reminiscing look in their eyes.
After a devastating earthquake hit Yogyakarta, especially Bantul District, in 2006, many of the rehabilitation programs were aimed at children. Seeing how Pandes has a long history of toymaking, several youths who later formed Pojok Budaya used this invaluable creative force to educate the children in the area. Their effort also made sure that the tradition, and memories of the good old days of being a kid, do not disappear so easily.