Seller of Traditional Medicines
In the City of Jambi

Traditional Medicines

(Obat Tradisional)

“Jamuuu, Jamuuu” … is the call that’s frequently heard on the alley in front of our home here in the City of Jambi. The person calling out is selling their daily mixture of traditional medicines—called “Jamu.”

The Javanese ladies that make the medicines are also the ones that place them into a basket and carry it around on their backs all day long. They then walk through neighborhoods calling out, “Jamu-Jamu!” This lets anybody inside the homes know that if they want to buy their medicines, they need to come right out or the lady will proceed down the alley in search of other customers.

Most still wear the traditional pointed hat (caping) that provides protection for the sun. It’s also common to see these ladies carrying umbrellas.

The ladies that make and sell traditional medicines are known by different names:

  • Mbak Jamu (the most common)
    • “Mbak” is a Javanese word that is used to call to a person who holds a lower social position. It’s common to call waitresses in restaurants and female employees in stores, “Mbak.”
  • Jamu Gendong
    • “Gendong” is the cloth sling that holds the medicine basket on their back.
  • Tukang Jamu
    • “Tukang” is a laborer, or workman.
  • Tukang Jamu Gendong
  • Tukang Jualan Gendong
    • “Jualan” means things that are sold.
  • Penjual Jamu Gendong
    • “Penjual” means a person who sells things.

When a relationship with these ladies are formed and the woman selling the medicines is older than the buyer, they are then addressed with the Javanese term of “Bukde” (with the woman’s name following that word).

Sellers of traditional medicines are now commonly using bicycles and motorcycles.

For example: if the seller’s name is Siti, people will call her “Bukde Siti.”

  • An alternate spelling is “Bude Siti” (with no letter “k.”)
    • Bukde, or Bude is pronounced: Boo-Day.
    • The Jambi word for Bukde/Bude is “Wak,” with the “k” being a glottal stop.

If the woman selling the medicines is younger than the buyer, they are then addressed with the term “Bulek.”

  • “Bulek” is pronounced: Boo lek, the “k” being a glottal stop.

Some women are now using motorcycles to sell their medicines. This pictures shows a rack on the back of a motorcycle. This rack is used to carry the medicines.

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It is believed that these medicines have the ability to heal any sickness, as well as prevent many sicknesses from occurring. These women also sell medicines that are believed to improve sexual capacity in both men and women.We prefer to not go into detail, but an article about this can be read with this link.

Even though Jambi still has an abundance of these women walking the streets every day, it is said that their numbers are dwindling. With the advancement of technology, education, and modern medicines, people have been departing from their beliefs in these traditional medicines.

Mbak Jamu with a Customer

The “Mbak Jamu” receives their knowledge of how to make the various concoctions from their mothers. This knowledge has been passed down orally through the ages. We asked if other ethnic groups are involved in the mixing and selling, but we were told that it’s mostly just the Javanese.

You can still see the ladies walking around selling their medicines, but more and more they are using bikes or motorcycles, with the medicines stacked behind them on racks.

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We were told that the medicines have no additives to preserve them and that they must be sold on the same day they are made or they will be thrown out.

We were told that the cost of the least expensive medicine was Rp2,000 ($0.21 USD). That medicine was said to be for the treatment of diabetes. The most expensive medicine was that which is derived from a ginseng and egg mixture. Its cost is around Rp10.000 ($1.04 USD).

The ingredients used to mix up the medicines are purchased locally, as well as from a factory on the island of Java that specifically prepares the powders for these ladies’ businesses.

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Do these medicines really work? Indonesians believe they do. If a foreigner has a different opinion, we recommend they keep it to themselves and don’t argue with Indonesians about the topic. Just ask questions, learn, and maintain the attitude of a student. There are many interesting things that can be learned from every culture.

Are there any health risks? If you decide to try these medicines, we recommend you use your own glass because in the above picture, you will see that the ladies carry a small bucket in their right hand/arm. That bucket has the single glass that every customer uses. They merely wipe it out after each use and rarely have extra clean water with which to wash it.

Information about Jamu being used for cosmetic purposes can be found by clicking this link.

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