>Features – August 07, 2004 (Jakarta Post)
Fathuddin Muchtar, Contributor, Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta
Creativity often comes when you are just about to give up.
Margono, 60, of Surodadi village in the mountainous area of Ponjong, wanted to build a house. However, there were no bricks in the area. The villagers couldn’t afford them and, in any case, the road to Surodadi was too steep to lug bricks up.
He thought of building with other flimsier materials, such as bamboo. No good. He wanted a home that could withstand all weather conditions, the harsh wind and the scorching sun.
Finally, it dawned on him, he could use breksi pumis or awat rock, as it is locally known, of which there is an abundance in Pojong.
In fact, the rocks were everywhere. Margono took a handang (large, deep pan traditionally used to cook rice) and a ganclung (machete-like knife) to cut the rock into the desired 100-by-25-by-10-centimeter bricks.
That was in 1974. Six years later, people began to notice that Margono’s house was standing the test of time. They were envious, even.
One by one, their wooden and plaited bamboo houses were replaced with fine awat brick ones.
“Bricks made of awat rock are strong, last longer and are cheaper than clay,” Margono said.
What a contrast to some 25 years back, when a fire could easily have swept though the village, taking all the villager’s houses with it.
Umbulrejo, also in Ponjong, is another isolated village, seemingly at the top of the world.
Head of Umbulrejo village Sumardi said the problem was that wood and bamboo were prone to termite attacks, particularly after the rainy season. Thus, the villagers had spent much of their time repairing their houses with new boards or plaited bamboo.
When he heard about Margono’s house, Sumardi was very interested. Awat bricks, which had initially been used just for houses in Surodadi, became a popular building material in the area. In Wanglo, Plalar and other villages, the people began to make a living by producing bricks.
“Actually, it’s just 10 years since they started quarrying awat,” Sumadi said, adding that there were some 320 heads of families in the region made a living that way.
In a day, a worker can produce five to seven awat bricks that sell for Rp 2,500 a piece.
Buyers mostly come from Gunungkidul and the neighboring cities of Surakarta, Purworejo, and Purwodadi in Central Java.
Most agree that awat brick houses are economical. To make a house of seven by 11 meters, for example, one needs some 600 awat bricks, as the bricks are bigger than clay or concrete ones.
“If you use clay bricks, you are also going to need a lot more sand or cement to join them together,” Hardi Suwito, a resident of Surodadi, said.
Another benefit of awat bricks is that they can be used for flooring. With precise cutting, one doesn’t even need to use cement. They just need to arrange them on the floor according to the desired pattern.
“Without cement, they look even more artistic. They look natural and unique,” said Samhudi, whose has an awat brick house.
So promising is the awat brick business that a South Korean firm is planning to invest in it, through Jakarta-based company PT Shatya Bhuwana Sejahtera. The firm has promised to invest some US $54 million, with the start of quarrying scheduled for November.
“By inviting investors, we hope the economy here will grow stronger,” said Sumadi, adding that the area would no longer be isolated now that it boasted such a sought-after product.
The question is, to what extent will locals continue to actively participate in the business, and to what extent will the local community benefit? Equally important are the possible environmental repercussions.
Local environmental activists have expressed concern over the presence of an outside quarrying company in the region. Yet, locals are adamant that the once-barren area has finally become a fruitful one.
They may be right. However, Dewi Titisari of Gadjah Mada University’s school of geology strongly suggests that an Amdal (environmental impact analysis) of planned business activities is needed.
“Without an Amdal, there is a real risk of landslides, or other damage to the environment that could reduce water resources in the region,” Dewi Titisari remarked.