Indonesia is famous for its clove cigarette or “kretek” in local language. With its exotic scent, Kretek has significant cultural role in this country. Now, we will take a closer look on the history and social function of this unique cigarette. We will also visit a factory of one of internationally acknowledged manufacturer of kretek cigarette.
Indonesian “Kretek” Cigarette
The name “kretek” derives from the crackling sound of burning cloves which in local language pronounces as “keretek-keretek”. Unlike conventional cigarette which only contains tobacco, kretek cigarette contains tobacco, cloves, enchantment called “sauce” made from various ingredients including clove oil
Unfortunately, started October 2009, it is illegal to sell kreteks in the US. Kretek cigarette is banned by the US government, which is a blow to hand-rolled kretek industry which provides for thousands Indonesian.
It is believed that Kretek was invented by Haji Jamahri, a resident of Kudus, a small city in central Java in 1880s. Haji Jamahri suffered mild astma and to reduce his pain, he had the habit of rubbing clove oil on his chest. In his search to find deeper relieve to his discomfort, he added dried clove spices in his hand-rolled cigarettes. The invention worked, it relieved the pain instantly. However, Haji Jamahri did not have the time to market his invention commercially as he died in 1890.
Until 1930s kretek was made without specific composition of ingredients and sold without specific brand and packing. In 1930s the now-famous kretek brand started their venture such as Gudang Garam, Bentoel and Sampoerna. Today, kretek industry employs around 10 million people.
Clove Cigarette and Indonesian’s Culture
Kretek is consumed at every level in the social hierarchy, thus it functions as equalizer of society. Offering cigarettes is the simplest way to break the ice and make friends, even with strangers. It had become an integral part of
House of Sampoerna
Located in the centre of Surabaya City, the capital of East Java province, inside an Old Dutch colonial-styled compound, this building is the house of Lim Seeng Tee, the founder of Sampoerna, one of Indonesia’s most famous kretek manufacturers. This preserved historical site was built in 1858 by Dutch government and purchased by Lim Seeng Tee in 1932.
In this house, Lim Seeng Tee first began his mass kretek manufacturing activity. Lim experimented with various composition of blend of tobacco and other condiments. His experiment resulted in the birth of Dji Sam Soe, the most prestigious brand, the mother of all kreteks, the masterpiece of hand-rolled kretek. Until today, this house is still functioning as production house. It is restored in 2003 following Sampoerna's 90 th anniversary and now is open to public.
Visiting House of Sampoerna, you can watch and join (if you like) around 3,000 women in hand-rolling cigarette using traditional equipment. The worker can roll 325 sticks per hour. Various photographs, antique furniture, memorabilia, old cigarette-making equipments belonging to the family were displayed in the museum which is located in the centre of the compound, telling complete stories of the struggle and success of the family. The museum also exhibits various varieties of clove and tobacco used in the production process and a replica of Lim Seeng Tee’s first food and cigarette stall.
The museum store located in the east side of the compound offers souvenirs such as T-shirt, books, clove, mug, etc. Still in the east side, an art-deco styled café is ready to serve Asian food to visitors. The building in the west side is used as family house. A big barn in the compound is used for tobacco and clove processing and for packing and finishing.
For three generation this enterprise was a family business until Phillip Morris, a US corporation acquired this company in 2005.