Uses and Trade

The present trading channels of benzoin still have to be accurately researched. According to official regional figures, present production in North Sumatra would be of about 5,000 T/ year, of which 1,000 T are exported9. We do not know whether it includes only exports from Sumatra or also from Java and if they are reliable. Another official source gives similar figures (800-1,100 T) for benzoin exports from Indonesia to Singapore (about 90%), Malaysia, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, India, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Japan, Saudi Arabia (Silitonga, 1994, quoted by Coppen, 1995). In 1920, the district of Tapanuli alone was producing 2,000 T/ year (Schnepper, 1923). In 1931, 2,500 T/ year were exported, to Singapore, India, Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Europe and America (Koppel, 1932). It is very
difficult to trace benzoin exports to other countries, as their figures are not large enough to warrant a separate category; they are included in the “gums and resins” category. We have not checked the current figures, but our estimates, based on two field trips, indicate that the North Sumatran production falls within an order of magnitude of thousands of tonnes. If it really is 5,000 T, we wonder how 4,000 T are consumed by the national population of Indonesia, even though there are 200 million inhabitants. The use of benzoin has a long history in Sumatra, since it was already exported from there in the 8th century. Its oldest uses may be associated with shamanistic rituals. Even today, shamans in the Batak highlands, as well as in all Sumatra and Java, burn benzoin incense when they enter a possession trance in curing rituals. It is widely used in both islands in different types of traditional rituals : protection from bad spirits, rice-reaping ceremonies, rain rituals, offerings to the dead, to the house spirits, etc. Benzoin is also taken as a medicine and smoked in cigarettes, sometimes also used in rituals. The habit of smoking benzoin cigarettes is very much ingrained in Central Java, where rituals involving the use of benzoin incense are more common and frequent than anywhere else in Indonesia. We estimated the sales of a small retailing stand in the central market of a main city in Central Java to be;a minimum figure of 5 T/ year. The enquiry needs to go further to estimate the local consumption in that region. Some small local industries still make benzoin cigarettes, but these cigarettes, whether industrial or home made, are now smoked only by older people of Javanese peasant background. Industrialists expect it to die with the passing of this generation (Tarmidi, 1996).


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