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An Ex­pat's Guide to In­done­sia's Tra­di­tional Treat­ments

Tak­ing care your­self as an ex­pat can be dif­fi­cult. Long hours work­ing hard and even longer hours spent in traf­fic can take a toll on any­one’s health. For those look­ing to stay healthy in the most nat­u­ral way pos­si­ble, or those hop­ing to fully im­merse them­selves in In­done­sian cul­ture, tra­di­tional treat­ments can be the way to go. Can mil­lions of fans and cen­turies of use be wrong?

Jump Into Jamu

Jamu is one of In­done­sia’s most prom­i­nent tra­di­tional treat­ments. Found across the coun­try but par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar in Java, these ton­ics can in­clude every­thing from honey and milk to flow­ers, leaves and eggs with each ail­ment to be treated by a par­tic­u­lar mix. Tra­di­tion­ally, jamu ven­dors are typ­i­cally women in tra­di­tional wear mov­ing be­tween vil­lages and towns treat­ing as they go. To­day, jamu sell­ers of­ten have shopfronts in mar­kets or busy streets, or can even de­liver on mo­tor­cy­cle. The ton­ics have strong roots in In­done­sian his­tory and cul­ture, with royal fam­i­lies in Yo­gyakarta and Solo par­tic­u­lar fans. It is be­lieved to have de­vel­oped with the in­flu­ence of In­dian and tra­di­tional cul­tures over 1,300 years ago.

Throw Back a To­lak An­gin

To­lak An­gin, the seem­ingly ubiq­ui­tous yel­low sa­chets lov­ingly drunk by In­done­sians and ad­ven­tur­ous ex­pats, is the most fa­mous of the mass-pro­duced jamu, or her­bal tonic. The con­coc­tion is a pop­u­lar cure for ma­suk an­gin, lit­er­ally ‘en­ter wind’ best char­ac­terised as a com­mon cold, with Fi­nan­cial Times re­port­ing in 2014 that In­done­sia con­sumes around 58 mil­lion sa­chets of the stuff a month. The brand started out as a small fam­ily business decades ago be­fore now boast­ing a fac­tory and 4,000 em­ploy­ees. A re­cent brief foray into the US mar­ket saw the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion give the prod­uct a thumbs- down and banned it from sale, but that ap­pears to have had no ef­fect on In­done­sian users who still turn to the bright sa­chets at the first hint of a snif­fle.

Shirts Off For Kerokan

Kerokan is per­haps one of the most star­tling sights to any new­comer in In­done­sia. The habit of us­ing a ru­piah coin dragged re­peat­edly in short, sharp lines across the back of a ma­suk an­gin suf­ferer is be­wil­der­ing – but a tried and true method, ac­cord­ing to its mil­lions of ad­her­ents. Kerokan is prac­ticed across Asia although known by other names, such as gua sha in China, and can also be seen in ex­pa­tri­ated South­east Asians liv­ing in the West. While con­ven­tional sci­ence has not been able to yet prove the claims, com­mon wis­dom among prac­ti­tion­ers says the process of re­peat­edly scrap­ing the back draws out tox­ins from within the body.

“Jamu is one of In­done­sia’s most prom­i­nent tra­di­tional treat­ments.”

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