Rastini, the salt farmer in Suwung mangrove forest
by Bram Setiawan on 2014-04-11
Tough lady: Sixty six-year-old Made Rastini boils processed seawater to produce salt in her frugal hut. Making salt the traditional way is a long and exhausting chore. (BD/Bram Setiawan)
Despite her age, 66-year-old Made Rastini of Pemogan subdistrict, Denpasar, works persistently under the city’s sweltering sun. She is the only salt farmer in the Suwung mangrove forest, one of Denpasar’s coastal areas.
“I’m not interested in other jobs, I like making salt. It keeps me healthy,” Rastini said. “Besides, this is something my family has been doing for a long time.”
Rastini works 100 square meters of land owned by a person she said lives in Renon. She used to have her own land, which reached 1,000 sqm, but sold it for economic reasons. “My sibling sold it, because the land tax was so high that I couldn’t pay it just by producing salt,” she said.
Producing salt is certainly heavy work for Rastini, but she is fortunate not to have to search for buyers. “I don’t have to go anywhere because buyers come here,” she said.
They were not just looking to buy salt, Rastini said, they were also looking to get the crusts from the production process. According to her, the crusts could be used for traditional medications.
“The crusts can be boiled with water. After it is warm, people can use it for medication, such as rheumatic therapy,” Rastini said.
Buyers are also interested in getting the residual seawater that Rastini boils in the production process. This brownish water, locally referred to as yeh siepan, is thick due to its high salinity.
“Like the crust, yeh siepan can be used for rheumatic therapy. Also, people can use it to make tofu, beautify dog fur and also to cure itching,” she said. One jerry can of yeh siepan is sold for Rp 50,000 (US$4.40).
On sunny days, Rastini usually starts salt production at 6 a.m. The first step in the process is to dig holes in the ground and fill them with seawater. Interestingly, Rastini digs by following the four main wind directions.
“It is my form of respect to the deities who guard those directions,” she said.
Afterwards, Rastini puts soil into the pools and leaves them for six hours before collecting the saline soil in several wooden baskets. When this is done, she puts them in a palungan (wooden trough) and wets them with more seawater.
At the bottom of the palungan, Rastini makes a small hole that she clogs with coconut fiber to filter the water that comes out. “The water that comes out of the hole will be boiled to make the salt,” she said.
To know how saline the water is, Rastini traditionally puts several mangrove leaves on the surface. Floating leaves, she said, showed that the salinity was sufficient. Rastini pours water back into the palungan until the required salinity is achieved.
“If the water is saline enough, although the leaves are thick and heavy, they won’t sink. Even if they sink, they will come back to the surface,” she said.
For the final process, Rastini boils the water in an aluminum pot for six hours, until it crystallizes as salt.
One kilogram of the salt is normally sold for Rp 5,000, while one large basket containing around 10 kilograms is priced at Rp 30,000.