Tucked away just a few meters behind the crowded Jl. Pegangsaan Timur in Cikini, Central Jakarta, the Cikini Flower Market might look like an ordinary pasar, but its line of kiosks contain more than a half-century of the history of religious and celebratory culture in Indonesia.
At least 28 florists, some of whom have been in business since the late 1960s, offer a wide variety of flowers brought from nearby cities. Some of the flowers are imported from countries as far away as the Netherlands. The humble market sells flowers from single roses to flower boards worth millions of rupiah.
Agus Maskup, 49, said he remembered the first time he saw small stands beginning to sell flowers when he was a kid growing up in the neighborhood. Nowadays, he is working for four different florists at the market. His job is to design wreaths and flower boards, as well as to set up flower decorations.
“I grew up in a house right there beside the market,” he said, pointing at what is now a government building across from his stall.
Buyers visit his stall for all kinds of purposes. “Some want to have their places decorated for weddings, baby showers or funerals. Some want to send flower boards and bouquets to congratulate their acquaintances. Some others simply buy a couple of roses to brighten up their homes,” said Agus.
Despite the proliferation of technology, which enables people to send greetings in a matter of seconds from the screens of their smartphones, the market has managed to survive because of the country’s long-standing culture of sending flower boards.
The tradition is still going strong today. Last week, citizens sent thousands of flower boards to Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama as a show of support, turning City Hall into a colorful jungle of blooms.
Nowadays, people send flower boards to convey congratulations for various occasions, such as weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. People also use flower boards to send condolences to funerals.
Flower boards have become a social symbol for Indonesians. If an event has a lot of flower boards, it often means that the event is festive.
Most modern flower boards are made of Styrofoam covered in painted foam sheets, but in the past flower boards were made of heaps of leaves easily found on the streets. The leaves were glued to plywood and laced with tahi kotok (Mexican marigold) leaves.
In the past, flower boards were known in the Dutch language as steekwerk (stitching).
Another vendor, Ahmedina Juanita Putri, 37, said she remembered when her parents used to make flower boards out of leaves.
“Today, my stall still offers that sort of flower board, but for a much higher price,” she said.
A regular Styrofoam-based flower board, she said, would cost about Rp 500,000, while customers would have to pay from Rp 1 million to Rp 3 million for the leaf-based or flower-based ones.
Selling flowers has been the bread and butter of Putri’s family, which has been in the business since 1993.
“My parents put me and my three brothers and sisters through college just by selling flowers,” she said.
According to 21-year-old Ajrina Diva, a college student from Depok, West Java, who frequents the market to bulk-buy flowers for her online florist, any customer who wants to buy flowers must have good haggling skills.
“Flowers sold here can get really expensive sometimes, especially during Valentine’s Day or Christmas. Plus, if you are really keen on paying a lower price for the flowers, you could get them for half the initially offered price,” said Diva.