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An Expat’s Guide to Indonesia’s Traditional Treatments

Taking care yourself as an expat can be difficult. Long hours working hard and even longer hours spent in traffic can take a toll on anyone’s health. For those looking to stay healthy in the most natural way possible, or those hoping to fully immerse themselves in Indonesian culture, traditional treatments can be the way to go. Can millions of fans and centuries of use be wrong?

Jump Into Jamu

Jamu is one of Indonesia’s most prominent traditional treatments. Found across the country but particularly popular in Java, these tonics can include everything from honey and milk to flowers, leaves and eggs with each ailment to be treated by a particular mix. Traditionally, jamu vendors are typically women in traditional wear moving between villages and towns treating as they go. Today, jamu sellers often have shopfronts in markets or busy streets, or can even deliver on motorcycle. The tonics have strong roots in Indonesian history and culture, with royal families in Yogyakarta and Solo particular fans. It is believed to have developed with the influence of Indian and traditional cultures over 1300 years ago.

Throw Back a Tolak Angin

Tolak Angin, the seemingly ubiquitous yellow sachets lovingly drunk by Indonesians and adventurous expats, is the most famous of the mass-produced jamu, or herbal tonic. The concoction is a popular cure for masuk angin, literally ‘enter wind’ best characterised as a common cold, with Financial Times reporting in 2014 that Indonesia consumes around 58 million sachets of the stuff a month. The brand started out as a small family business decades ago before now boasting a factory and 4,000 employees.

A recent brief foray into the US market saw the Food and Drug Administration give the product a thumbs-down and banned it from sale, but that appears to have had no effect on Indonesian users who still turn to the bright sachets at the first hint of a sniffle.

Shirts Off For Kerokan

Kerokan is perhaps one of the most startling sights to any newcomer in Indonesia. The habit of using a rupiah coin dragged repeatedly in short, sharp lines across the back of a masuk angin sufferer is bewildering – but a tried and true method, according to its millions of adherents. Kerokan is practiced across Asia although known by other names, such as gua sha in China, and can also be seen in expatriated Southeast Asians living in the West. While conventional science has not been able to yet prove the claims, common wisdom among practitioners says the process of repeatedly scraping the back draws out toxins from within the body.


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