PON Papua

Exploring Merauke's iconic crocodile leather crafts

Exploring Merauke's iconic crocodile leather crafts

A seller shows a bag made of crocodile leather in Merauke district, Papua province on October 12, 2021. (ANTARA/Yogi Rachman/uyu)

Inside a house on Haji Kasim Street, Merauke district, Papua province, in a room filled with tools, craftsmen are busy sewing several square-shaped objects with the distinctive texture of processed crocodile leather.

The house serves as a workshop where Khusni Hidayat produces many types of valuable crocodile leather products, assisted by two workers who are also his relatives.

Their skillful hands can create many fashion accessories such as bags, belts, wallets, and shoes.

In fact, their products have become icons of the easternmost city in Indonesia. It is not difficult to find a shop that sells them in Merauke district.

However, making products from crocodile skin takes a long time as processing the raw materials into high-value products takes special skills.
Related news: Conservation office calls for a halt to crocodile-catching contest

The process

Processing crocodile leather involves a long list of processes, starting with buying raw materials, Hidayat explained.

The materials are usually obtained from Papua Jaya Cooperatives, which is fostering 62 craftsmen groups in Merauke district, he informed.

Next is the tannery process, which involves cleaning the crocodile skin using chemicals and preparing it for drying, Hidayat said.

The drying process takes up to two weeks as the craftsmen still use the traditional drying method without the use of any machines, he informed. Then, the raw materials are ready to be made into products, he added.

Hidayat – who is also the owner of Rizky Leather Shop on Irian Siringgu Street – said that making crocodile products takes different amounts of time depending on the intricateness of the item.

"For instance, we can make 10 wallets each day. However, it does not comprise the painting process," Hidayat explained.

The coloring process involves the use of a special paint that is suitable for the material, he said.

Completed crocodile leather products are sold for prices ranging from Rp50 thousand to tens of millions of rupiahs, he informed.

Meanwhile, another craftsperson, Wika, said that crocodile skin can cost Rp50 thousand to Rp70 thousand per inch.

"However, the leather has not been tanned. If it has been tanned, it will be more expensive due to additional charge," he added.

In addition, the owner of the Charisma Leather shop said that the advantage of crocodile leather products is their durability and they also do not require any special care.

"The wallets can be used for up to 10 years without being damaged. The color may fade; however, it can be repainted," Wika explained.

Furthermore, genuine crocodile leather products acknowledged by the local government come with a hologram sticker that says ‘Genuine and Certified Crocodile Leather Products fostered by Papua Natural Resources Conservation Center (BBKSDA)’, he added.

The hologram guarantees that the raw material was obtained from legal crocodile breeding sites, he said.

Related news: Indonesia hosts convention on international trade in endangered species

 

Legality

Although Merauke district has a large population of crocodiles, it has no breeding site to supply the demand for raw crocodile leather in the district.

Hence, craftsmen still rely on supplies from outside the region, for instance, from Jayapura city.

In addition, permits for processing crocodile skin cannot be easily obtained as the crocodile is a protected animal, based on Government Regulation Number 7/1999 concerning Preservation of Plant and Animal Species.

The regulation places crocodiles in the CITES Appendix II category, which is a list of species that are not threatened with extinction, but may be threatened if their trade continues without regulation.

Moreover, the Indonesian government has issued the Forestry Ministerial Decree Number 2827/Kpts-II/2002 concerning the Designation of Freshwater and Saltwater Crocodiles as Hunting Animals in Papua Province, which regulates the utilization quotas of the reptile for entrepreneurs, breeders, and exporters.

Hidayat -- who has been in the business since 2007 – said that craftsmen in Merauke district, who are members of the Papua Jaya Cooperatives, get the raw materials from breeders in Jayapura city.

"Every year, we have to propose the number of our demand to get the allocated crocodile leather. There is a quota of 3 thousand pieces of materials per year if I am not mistaken. That is how we can have the hologram tag," he explained.

However, he did not deny that there are craftsmen who do not buy raw materials from the breeders but obtain raw materials from local communities who hunt the reptiles in the wild.

Related news: Papua's PON expected to boost SME growth: govt

 

PON effect

Crocodile skin craftsmen said the designation of Merauke district as one of the host clusters of the XX Papua National Sports Week (PON) brought them huge profits.

The district -- which was the host of seven sports comprising fencing, wushu, wrestling, chess, women's soccer, road race, and motor cross -- was visited by many contingents from provinces across Indonesia amid the implementation of the national sports event.

Many of the athletes and officials shopped for crocodile leather souvenirs in the region, the craftsmen said. Their visits managed to revive the economy of the local micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), they added.

Bank Indonesia had estimated that the implementation of XX Papua PON will help the region’s economy grow by 1 to 1.5 percent as 10,066 athletes and officials were expected to attend the event.

Hidayat said that before XX Papua PON, the income of most of the craftsmen had declined due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There has been a lot of demand amid the implementation of XX Papua PON. My colleagues (other craftsmen) are also overwhelmed by the demand. We gained no profit amid the pandemic. However, now it has been increased, thus it has sparked our working spirit,” he added.

Crocodile leather products from Merauke district have potential as one of the leading creative economic industry sectors, if they are managed properly.

The craft has been a source of livelihood for many people, including raw material providers, craftsmen, and shop owners.

Therefore, crocodile skin craftsmen need better support from the government to develop their business and gain national and global attention.

Related news: PON seen boosting Papua economy by 1.5 percent: official
 

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