“The becak (pedicab) is as much a motif and symbol of Indonesia as the silhouette of a wayang kulit puppet, or the smell of a clove cigarette.”(Admintih, 2016).
The pedicab is an integral part of Yogyakarta’s traditional culture. Stemming from the tourism boom pre 1980s, it is “employed as an important marketing tool for cultural tourism in Yogyakarta” and is in fact banned from major Javanese cities – but there it is “tolerated by the authorities” (Smithies in Dahles, H. & Prabawa, T.S. 2013, p. 242). Most of these men live in villages outside of the city, often travelling back to their hometown via motorbike (the pedicab is parked in location) or even sleeping overnight in their pedicabs to provide late service to tourists. More than any other participants in the informal tourism sector of Yogyakarta, pedicab men remain strongly embedded in their village community, with their earnings flowing back to the community they come from (Dahles, H. & Prabawa, T.S. 2013). However, given my recent visit to Yogyakarta, it was clear that the pedicab has lost its prevalence and the interests of many.
I had the blessing of speaking to one of these pedicab drivers in Prawirotaman, an area that is rich with the integration of traditional culture and modern design. Adi Tama, a 38-year old pedicab driver, points the cause of this fall towards people’s preference for convenience. With apps such as Gojek and Grab, tourists are less inclined to choose the pedicab, even when the bicycle of the pedicab had been swapped out for a motorcycle. With this decline in customers, I inquired what Adi and his fellow drivers do to cope, to which he answered “we find sponsors… we have other work.” Adi himself has 3 other jobs, 2 of them in the tourism industry, and 1 as a mobile handyman in his hometown, and is sponsored by Money Changer (they receive monthly funds for bike repair and are given packs of cigarettes, and also meat every religious holiday). The sponsorship of cigarettes is what was concerning, as “tobacco is responsible for 4.2 million deaths every year, a figure that… is estimated to reach 8.4 million by 2020” (Minh, H.V., Ng, N., Wall, S. et. al 2005, p.1) with “most smokers [coming from] lower education and economy levels” (Barkina, T., Dewi, V. K., Isnaniah. & Kirana, R. 2014, p.2). With the stresses of a declining job market, the sponsorship tips of cigarettes and the busy lifestyle of a pedicab driver, it is no surprise that these men are at risk of a low chance of cessation.
On this note, Adi details his choice to be a pedicab driver was due to the fact that he and many others his age couldn’t afford further education. He’s had to learn English, German and Dutch from tourists. He’s grateful that with the new government established 5 years ago that his children can afford tertiary education, as “education is an important predictor of being a regular smoker. Men with less education tended to smoke regularly and cease less.” (Minh, H.V., Ng, N. Wall, S. et. al, 2005, p.6).
Although the pedicab is becoming scarcer on the roads of Yogyakarta, the gentlemen behind the cab are here to stay. When asked what his plans for the future is, Adi replied “I’m saving up, I’m saving up for something else, something better.”
Admintih, 2016, Becaks, the traditional transportation in Indonesia, topindonesiaholidays, viewed 20 December 2019, <http://blog.topindonesiaholidays.com/?p=4191>>.
Barkina, T., Dewi, V. K., Isnaniah. & Kirana, R. 2014, ‘ Smoking behavior and attitude towards cigarette warning labels among informal workers in Surabaya city – East Java, Indonesia’, Advances in Life Science and Technology, vol. 21, pp.1-2.
Dahles, H. & Prabawa, T.S. 2013, ‘The case of the pedicab drivers of Yogyakarta, Indonesia’, Journal of Small Business & Entrepreneurship, vol. 26, no.3, p.242.
Minh, H.V., Ng, N., Wall, S. et. al 2005, ‘Smoking epidemics and socio-economic predictors of regular use and cessation: Findings Ffom WHO STEPS risk factor surveys in Vietnam and Indonesia’, The Internet Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 3, no. 1.