Portraits from the market

corn grinders
One of the most enjoyable ways for me to get in tune with a local community is to visit the public market. Markets are hubs of life: you see what people eat, what they wear, how they interact. Oh, and it’s a good place to pick up fresh provisions- yes, that too. I steal away early one morening to the market in Geliting, and find it full of pleasant meetings and new discoveries.

For all the modern products and trappings that have worked their way into Indonesian life- everyone has a cell phone- it is refreshing to see something as visibly traditional as the ikat sarongs, present in force. This woman was waiting for her corn to be ground. Agriculture is dominated by many small farms- not large agribusinesses- and corn is a common crop, along with rice.

The market runs between the waterfront and the main road, with the back side being very practically used for the fish market. Small boat pull up with their catch, and organized sellers have their fish arranged for sale in small stalls. These men were selling shark. They couldn’t tell me what kind, but then again, I’m not articulate in the local terms for different shark species. At least they are selling the meat, and not just finning them for the insatiable Chinese market…such a destructive practice that has been the norm in what weve seen.

Fish sellers, Geliting market

I tried to be subtle about eavesdropping on this group but I was so curious. The man and (I’m guessing) his wife, left and right, were bargaining over the chicken. A sale ws not made.


One of the hallmark accessories for women here are ivory bracelets. Traditionally, they really were made from ivory- elephants still live in a few corners of Indonesia, and the tusks came here through trade. Most of the bangles I see appear to be man-made materials, but a few classics remain. I stopped to talk with this woman, to ask if I could take a photograph of hers, and learn a little more about them. Buying a few bunches of the greens she had for sale to break the ice and elicit a smile, she was happy to pose and show off her bracelets for me. They were passed from her mother, and will go to her daughter.

Market portraits

I love this photo and want to give her a copy, but realized too late that she not only does not know her address (postal service is kind of an anomaly) but is illiterate (I had handed her my notbook to write down her name/village). Since we sail away later that day, there’s no practical way I can get one to her. Maybe made into a postcard?

In the covered area where dried fish are for sale, these women buy patterns for dying ikat.

Ikat patterns for sale

Every once in a while, I see something that gives me tremendous faith that we aren’t doomed to kill our planet with plastic. Here in Geliting, an enterprising tempe seller has wrapped his blocks of the fermented soybean staple in banana leaves instead of plastic. I am uplifted! He is a little surprised by my somewhat over the top reaction, but in a country where little bits of plastic packaging seem to be everywhere, it gives me hope. This is the perfect packaging for the fresh tempe, which must be eaten within a couple of days anyway.

Tempe in banana leaves

I wandered past the bags of home grown tobacco, probably looking like quite a tourist with my camera hanging over my shoulder. This man asked me to take his photograph behind his piles of dry tobacco leaves, and was near theatrical in his posing. He wanted to be sure I captured him with smoke coming out of his nose… OK.

Market portraits

I wander over to buy a sticky rice cake and some of the mud-thick Indonesian coffee for breakfast, and find a band set up and performing at the end of a row of stalls. It’s dissonant at first to my uninitiated ears, but the different tones and rhythms soon find a ribbon of sound that weaves into my senses. I’m transfixed by the woman who stops to dance alonside them. This is uncharacteristic of the highly restrained Indonesians, who would place higher value on aloof appreciation than her unabashed and impromptu participation, and she gets a few stares…myself included. I am transfixed.

Impromptu performance

Here, there’s a wild abundance of ikat patterns for sale. This man walked me through motifs, from birds to boats to houses and people- the most popular is the flower, and I’m told a particular one is emblematic of the area. The intricate patterns are the hallmark of womens sarongs, while men’s are more restrained plaids of blue and black with more simple white motifs incorporated through ikat.

Gorgeous ikat for sale

3 Responses

    1. I use the word loosely… you are absolutely right! There were many for sale… come carried almost lovingly in the arms of their (inevitably male) owners, many under woven cages that looked like bamboo bell jars.

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