POST D: Kretek cigarettes

Indonesia’s smoking rates are increasing while the rest of the world is decreasing their tobacco habits (Rakhmat & Tarahita 2018). This fact is compelling as Indonesia is a nation made up of 18000 different islands that have many different cultures and languages. In these numerous cultures the tobacco industry is an integral thread tightly woven into the fabric of Indonesian history. 

Kretek cigarettes are made of tobacco, cloves and a mixture of spices called “sauce”, which creates a distinct flavour apart from regular tobacco (Tarmidi 1996). Smoking kretek is a strong habit in Indonesian culture. Next to the government, the kretek industry is the second largest employer in Indonesia (Arnez 2009). Kretek was created by the Javanese in the late 19th century (Tarmidi 1996). 

The earliest known beginning of the production of kretek was circa 1880 in northern Central Java. Kretek was mainly smoked by the regional and financially disadvantaged farmers in Central and East Java and by taxi drivers in the city who were also poverty stricken (Tarmidi 1996). Kretek cigarettes became popular only after they industrialised them by adding filters and mechanising the process. Packaging became more attractive in the 1970s and were used by high income earners when they were released (Tarmidi 1996). 

Map of kretek tobacco plantation regions

The Karanganyar and Wanurejo villages are at the base of the Menoreh Hills, 5 kilometers from the Borobudur temple and depend heavily upon farming and tobacco plantations for the villagers livelihoods (Kanki et al. 2015). While Indonesia produces 300,000 tonnes of tobacco per year and an estimated 524 billion cigarettes predicted to be produced by 2020 (Indonesia-investments 2015), still the nation heavily relies on tobacco imports from China as it struggles to meet a growing demand.

In South Sulawesi betel chewing was a common practice in 1900 but by the 1950s it was replaced by cigarettes. Betel chewing was replaced due to the influence exerted by multinational companies over Indonesian and Melanesian cultures (Arnez 2009). However in the 21st century kretek has increasingly been replaced with betel chewing once again (Arnez 2009). 


Borobudur Temple was part of the Heritage listed sites to launch a campaign with received technological assistance from Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) .



Arnez, M. 2009, ‘Tobacco and kretek: Indonesian drugs in historical change’, ASEAS-Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 49-69.

Happystock, Borobudur Temple, Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia, Adobe stock, viewed 27 November 2019, <>.

Indonesia-investments 2015, Indonesia’s Tobacco Industry Remains Dependent on Imports, newsite,  viewed 27 November 2019, <>.

Kanki, K., Adishakti, L.T. & Fatimah, T. 2015, Borobudur as Cultural Landscape: Local Communities’ Initiatives for the Evolutive Conservation of Pusaka Saujana Borobudur, Kyoto University Press

Tarmidi, L.T. 1996, ‘Changing structure and competition in the kretek cigarette industry’, Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 85-107.

Zulfikar Rakhmat, M. & Tarahita, D. 2018, As the rest of the world quits, indonesia’s smokers increase, newsite, AsiaSentinel, viewed 27 November 2019, <>.




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