There are also more jamu businesses than ever, reimagining classic jamu recipes in powder sachet and bottle form for modern convenience. “I see my part in jamu as bridging the history and heritage for the younger generation and modern lifestyle,” says Nova Dewi, founder of Suwe Ora Jamu, which offers the grab-and-go version of common jamu drinks. Vanessa Kalani, the founder of herbal blend brand Nona Kalani, whose family has been in the jamu business for four generations, has the same attitude; it’s spreading the spirit and back-to-the-basics essence of jamu. “Everyone has good intentions,” says Kalani. “It’s about coming back to nature and appreciating the environment as our ancestors did.” Indonesia, is, after all, home to 30,000 different plant species, and is among the most biodiverse countries in the world.
Further adding to the spread of jamu is the steady growth in tourism to Indonesia. Jamu is being shared with travellers more and more, from dedicated cafes, such as Solo’s newly opened Djampi Jawi, to hotels, like Bali’s Hotel Tugu, where authentic jamu workshops are on offer. “More and more, jamu is appearing in places where foreigners can actually get access to it, and participate and learn,” explains Murdaya, noting this is especially true for Bali, Indonesia’s biggest tourist destination, where coffee shop culture is thriving. She also points to the power of social media for helping the word spread globally; #jamu has over 200 million views on TikTok. “Young Indonesians are taking generations of knowledge and expressing it their way, in a way that reflects their generation,” says Murdaya.
While jamu needs to be embraced in new ways to continue to enrich the lives of as many people as possible, conserving its history and contributions to Indonesian culture is essential. In recognition, the country has nominated it for UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, which helps protect the social history and cultural impact of endangered traditions. This is essential for the ecosystem of jamu gendongs, including the local businesses through which ingredients and supplies are sourced. One such place is the legendary Akar Sari, which is among the oldest jamu herb and spice shops in Solo. It has an old-world apothecary feel, from its vintage interior to its elegant staff, bedecked matching floral shift dresses. For over 30 years, Yohana Fransiska Indayati has worked at Akar Sari, stocking its shelves and bins of fresh ingredients while prescribing special jamu powders. “I just loved the people, the environment, and the jamu,” says Indayati of what first attracted her to the job in the ’90s.
Another institution is the bustling Nguter Jamu Market in Sukoharjo, a labyrinthine indoor/outdoor emporium with rows of vendors selling myriad offerings for jamu, from fresh ingredients to household items, such as ceramic pots and handwoven baskets. Likened to a “neighbourhood bar” by Murdaya, inter-generational female shop owners have forged years, if not decades-long friendships. Take, for example, Yatmini, an 80-year-old woman who has been selling jamu supplies since 1965 through various iterations of the market. “I still enjoy working here; it’s a place to gather for family and friendship,” says Yatmini with a grin. “I’ve done this so long; I’ll do it until I die. I’m not sitting back yet.” She explains that her two jamu supply stands, which the government subsidizes to support small jamu businesses, will , eventually, be passed down to her daughter, Sunarmi, 53.
The mother-daughter pair works closely with Suwarsi Moertedjo, 74, the unofficial godmother of the Nguter Jamu Market and founder of Koperasi Jamu Indonesia (KOJAI), a cooperative dedicated to serving the jamu community. She has spent 26 years training, guiding, and supporting local jamu sellers and lobbying for better government support. While the past few years haven’t been easy, she says the challenges of COVID-19 were ultimately a “blessing in disguise,” as demand—and perhaps, even more importantly—awareness of jamu increased. “It’s the new era of Jamu in line with the concept of wellness as we know it today; physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health all have to align,” Murdaya says. “The culture of jamu as a whole, traditionally and in a modern sense, supports each of these things.”
For Moertedjo, jamu is a living part of Indonesian heritage. “I want to fight for jamu so that it doesn’t disappear,” she says. “I want it to last for generations to come.” And even for those on the cutting edge of modern jamu, the traditional jamu gendong will always represent the tradition in the purist sense. “They’re role models, a symbol of strength that empowers other women,” says Dewi. “They make sure that the story and the spirit, the culture, and the heritage are preserved.”