Cigarette museum proves unlikely Indonesian tourism attraction

SURABAYA, Indonesia – The sweet, pungent scent of cloves and tobacco hangs heavy in the air as women paste, roll and snip cigarettes, their fingers flying faster than the eye can follow as tourists observe the public face of one of Indonesia’s most successful companies.

Staring down the global trend towards demonising tobacco, Sampoerna, which was snapped up by US giant Philip Morris in March for 5.2 billion dollars, proudly showcases itself at this gleaming museum in Indonesia’s second city, Surabaya.

Pegged on the rags-to-riches tale of its founder, Chinese immigrant Liem Seeng Tee, House of Sampoerna claims it is highlighting a great Indonesian story rather than glorifying smoking to the 5,000 visitors coming here each month.

"We got so many requests from university students and others to visit our factory that we could not accommodate all of them, so we built this museum," says marketing manager Hengki Setiawan.

Using the former premises of a Dutch-era orphanage that the company bought in 1932, it opened two years ago.

"We want to share with the public the history of Sampoerna, the struggle of the owner and family to make Sampoerna a success," Hengki says.

Students crouch to earnestly scrawl notes at a replica of the first handcart opened by Liem, and stroll by the framed black-and-white photographs of the business in its early years, speaking in library-hushed tones.

A fountain gurgles in the foyer, muffled by heavy red ceiling-to-floor drapes and surrounded by tasteful Chinese furniture.

Four generations on from Liem, the company has diversified into numerous industries — but the focus here is firmly on the cigarettes.

Cabinets display everything from old printing plates for cigarette packs to a book titled "Smoking is Good For You": a title perhaps meant to provide solace to the millions of smokers in the world’s fifth largest tobacco market.

According to a 2004 Ministry of Health report, 62.2 percent of Indonesian men smoked in 2001, compared to 1.3 percent of women. More than two-thirds started before they turned 19.

Most popular are kretek, produced from a blend of tobacco and cloves and named for the sound they make when a smoker inhales on them. Liem started pre-rolling them in 1934 to produce Dji Sam Soe, still one of the country’s leading brands.

Upstairs in a display room, with a view over a factory floor where hundreds of women churn out hand-rolled cigarettes, a half-dozen workers show up close how it is done. One picks up 50 sticks in her hand without needing to count.

If a worker rolls 4,000 cigarettes per day, she earns 60,000 rupiah (about 60 dollars) per week. Sampoerna has a workforce of more than 37,000 and the company booked revenue of almost 1.0 billion dollars in 2004.

"We are here to look around and learn about the management of Sampoerna, its history," says Ayu Setiarimi, one of four tourism students from Airlangga University.

"Indirectly it’s promoting Sampoerna, but in another way our knowledge is now wider about cigarettes and how Sampoerna has grown."

None of the four women smoke.

"In Indonesia, if men see women smoke they will think that maybe that’s not a good woman smoking," Setiarini says. "The perception among Indonesians, especially guys, is like that."

Indonesia and Nepal are the only two countries in Asia that have not signed on to the UN’s 2003 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which among a slew of other measures, requires signatories to impose restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion when it comes into force.

"If they put their logo there, it means promotion," Hakim Sorimuda Pohan, an MP working on tobacco control, says of the museum, which he has not visited.

He tells AFP he believes it would not be allowed if Indonesia signed on to the convention — but fears are rife that employment would drop off as a result, so he says it is unlikely to be signed anytime soon.

Museum general manager Ina Silas says that no complaints from anti-smokers or health authorities have so far been received.

"We have to prevent this, so that’s why we have policies about people being of a certain age," she says. Visitors aged under 18 must be accompanied by their parents.

A swish cafe where company logos are prominently displayed and an art gallery with changing exhibitions are other drawcards the company hopes will lure visitors, who do not pay for admission.

Sampoerna bought the premises in 1932, turning it first of all into a theatre visited by Charlie Chaplin the same year. Founding Indonesian president Sukarno also used it to make a series of speeches in 1938.

"This has really become one of the tourist destinations — in Surabaya, there are not so many places to visit," marketing manager Hengki concedes.

"We want House of Sampoerna to become the new icon of Surabaya … The kretek is very Indonesian."

Dutchman Willem Van Schendel is among the 1,000 foreigners streaming through the door each month, and he sees it as something akin to wine company museums in France.

"Of course there’s a trend in the world now to focus on the health issues, the health hazards of smoking, but for alcohol it’s the same thing and for me it’s not very different — and I’m a non-smoker," he says.

"I think it’s very well done."

Representatives from new owners Philip Morris agreed, Hengki says, so no changes are planned for now.

Indonesia faces more disasters unless government reforests: activists

JAKARTA – Landslides and flash floods which may have killed hundreds on the Indonesian island of Java this week will be repeated unless the government reforests denuded areas, activists warned Wednesday.

Sixteen people were confirmed dead but up to 200 were feared killed after tons of mud slammed into a village in Central Java Wednesday, while at least 57 lives were lost in floods that swept through four East Java villages Monday.

Java is one of the world’s most densely-populated islands. Rampant illegal logging as well as conversion of land for farming has left its forest cover area, both natural and plantation, at just 11 percent, activists say.

Togu Manurung, from Forest Watch Indonesia, said he expects similar disasters to occur more frequently on Java, as about 30 percent coverage is required for ecosystems to function normally.

He said heavy rainfall on land that has been largely deforested meant that its ecosystem lacked capacity to regulate the water, particularly on a mountainous island like Java which is home to many volcanoes.

"I’m foreseeing that this same kind of problem potentially will happen more and more in Java, and also outside Java, due to the heavy forest degradation that has happened in Indonesia in the last 25 years," he told AFP.

Indonesia loses about 2.8 million hectares (6.9 million acres) of forests each year — among the highest rates in the world — and a government program aimed at replanting three million hectares in five years was neither enough, nor being carried out properly, he cautioned.

"In my opinion it should be the government’s top priority to do reforestation, replanting and the rehabilitation of degraded land and deforested areas," Manurung said.

The long-running involvement of corrupt military and government officials was "the root cause" of ongoing deforestation, with big-time financiers paying impoverished farmers to clear land, he said.

Manurung said overcapacity in Indonesia’s wood processing industry created insatiable demand, with the gap between capacity and legal wood production at about 40 million cubic metres each year.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a decree earlier this year ordering 18 government institutions to work together, which was a start but still not enough, he added.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia forestry campaigner Hapsoro also called on the government to take swift action, labelling both of the latest disasters man-made.

"We can look forward to another disaster if they don’t stop (deforestation) and if they don’t reforest areas with original species to make new natural forests," he told AFP.

"This is a sign for the Indonesian government to be more serious… this island needs to recover."

Earlier this week Chalid Muhammad, chairman of prominent Indonesian environmental group Walhi, blamed deforestation for the flash flood tragedy at Jember, an area surrounded by coffee, tobacco and tea plantations.

"Floods on Java are closely linked to the worsening condition of forests on the island," he told AFP.

"Unless action is taken to address the problem, we can imagine what will happen to Java in the future. The government must make a breakthrough to save Java island, where 65 percent of Indonesia’s population live."

Indonesia, home to more than 220 million people, has already endured numerous tragedies blamed by environmentalists on deforestation.

In 2003 more than 200 people were killed when flash floods tore through Bahorok, a popular riverside resort in North Sumatra. Some officials denied deforestation was the cause of that tragedy.

In February last year, more than 140 Indonesians died when a garbage slide buried more than 60 houses in a village southwest of Jakarta after days of heavy rains.

In two separate landslides on Java in 2002 and 2003, a total of 44 people were killed. Deforestation was blamed for one of them and cited as a possible cause in the other.