The Art of Cloves

Published: Garuda Inflight Magazine, September 2011

The islands of Maluku are known in English as the Moluccas, however they are perhaps best known by the name that European traders gave them back in the day: the Spice Islands. These picturesque islands are covered in a rich vegetation that encompasses rainforests, sago and rice plantations and, of course, those legendary spices, which include nutmeg, cloves and mace, among others. Cloves were once one of the world’s most valuable and expensive commodities, by far exceeding the price of gold in the seventeenth century, and they ultimately provided the impetus for the Dutch colonialisation of Indonesia.

The Village of Waimahu in South Ambon is not particularly famous as a clove-producing region, as most clove production actually takes place in North Maluku. Thanks to Uncle Maku and Aunt Ot’s perseverance and enterprising spirit though, this village is now set firmly on the tourist map and has become much loved for its best known product: clove handicrafts.

That’s right, the spice that (in Indonesia at least) is most strongly associated with keretek cigarettes, can also be transformed into stunning works of art. Proof indeed, if any were needed, that true artistic creativity can produce something worthwhile out of any raw material. Maku and Ot’s works have made it all the way to Europe and their customers range from an Israeli man who ordered a mosque and a church made from cloves, to Europeans who order clove sailing boats, flowers, buildings, puppets and dolls.

Maku told us that he typically spends his entire day making a single small item, such as a doll or a boat. Larger handicrafts obviously take much longer. “The order from Israel, for example, for the mosque and church, took me three months to complete,” Maku explained. Prices for these curios vary, from IDR 75,000 for a small item, to IDR 1,000,000 for a medium to large piece.

Maku and Ot create their masterpieces using simple tools and traditional methods. The cloves are first submerged in water overnight and then dried without being exposed to sunlight. Next, the cloves are arranged like Lego blocks and then knitted together using needles, threads, wires and even bamboo. It’s a highly time-consuming process but the results are stunning, one-of-a-kind, completely hand-made novelties that are also fragrant to boot! Furthermore, these clove handicrafts show how simple, natural products, under the right management, can be turned into items that are far more useful and less damaging to public health than traditional, Indonesian cigarettes are.

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