In the rush to develop the urban, are we forgetting our connection to the rural landscape? Can village revitalisation programmes hold the key to growth?

Papringan Market in Temanggung, Central Java. Photo courtesy of Spedagi/NOW!JAKARTA

For many who live in Indonesia’s villages, particulary the youth, the ultimate aim is move to a city, secure employment there and put down roots. Their villages are rendered places to just visit on holiday. But for Singgih Susilo Kartono, a brief stint away from his hometown of Temanggung, a village in Central Java, convinced him to return and improve the lives of his neighbours and community at large.

During his final year as a student of Product Design at Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) he developed an interest in community and village affairs, which fueled his graduation project—developing radios from local material.  In 1994, he left his job at a woodwork company in Bandung and returned home for good. There he started his own company, Magno, producing wooden radios. The company is run by dozens of young people in the village. Over time, it gained international recognition and is marketed to Japan, the United States and Europe.

“I look at my life as a sort of cross roads between the urban and rural,” Singgih says. “I live in a village but I can connect to the world via the internet. Moreover, I can enjoy a quality of life which is far better than those who live in a city. I want to inspire young people to live and work in their village,” he adds.

Clean Up Day activity which bring people together.
Playing traditional Games and Riding bamboo bike, Spedagi.

Singgih strongly believes that big changes start from something small. He invokes the words of a designer from Italy, Ezio Manzini, who summed up the future in four words: Small, Local, Open, and Connected (SLOC) which involves living in small communities, using local resources, being in an open, inclusive community and being connected globally. Based on these ideas, Singgih then summed up the current situation of the world in the industrial era, BGOC (Big Global Open Connected) and in the pre-industrial era, SLCI (Small, Local, Closed, Isolated). Singgih saw an interesting pattern between the two, that they left out “big” and “global”, but still invented useful goods which overcame the limits of not being open or connected. Singgih calls the post-industrial revolution era “CyRal” (city and rural), a blend of the pre-industrial focus on the rural and the industrial focus on the city.

I can enjoy a quality of life which is far better than those who live in a city. I want to inspire young people to live and work in their village.

–  Singgih Susilo Kartono

According to Singgih, Indonesia and other developing countries are now heading towards the industrial era which he believes isn’t the right step. Indonesia will always be imitators and when the country gets there, that era may no longer exist, the idealist says.

Following the success of Magno radio, in early 2013, Singgih created a bicycle from bamboo, Spedagi (Sepeda Pagi-Pagi or morning cycling). He was inspired by a similar bicycle created from bamboo by Craig Calfee. He decided to use the raw materials readily available in the village, and noted that it was unfortunate that an advanced, western nation had come up with the idea despite not having easy access to the material.

Indulging traditional food.

Spedagi bamboo also triggered the start of the Spedagi Village Revitalisation, a social movement which aims to bring the village back to its basic level as a sustainable and independent community.

“Small communities will play an important role in the future and we don’t need to create a new small community, we just need revitalise it. The small community is actually a village. Almost all countries are basically villages which turn into cities which result in villages experiencing degradation. If a country is like a tree, villages are the roots. Globalisation grows from the roots, but the roots are firm. The world will be healthy if the countries are healthy; the country is healthy if the villages are healthy,” Singgih explains.

Spedagi also organises creative and inspirational projects, such as Pasar Papringan and ICVR which involves village communities. Pasar Papringan is an outdoor market in a bamboo forest in the hamlet of Ngadiprono. It was created to preserve and revive the abandoned bamboo forest. The market operated on its own special schedule, opening every 35 days or selapan (market day) in the Javanese calendar. A spectacle of sound, colour and flavour, the myriad stalls draw thousands of locals and visitors to its uniquely rural setting each year. Fresh farm produce; healthy, MSG-free food and beverages, bamboo handicrafts, specialty coffee, and grooming and massage services are all on offer.

Spedagi is bike made by bamboo as a frame. 
Exploring village by bike.

ICVR (International Conference on Village Revitalisation) is probably the first international conference on rural crafts and rural development that combines seminars, workshops, excursion and performance.

Singgih said that the Spedagi movement works on something that is actually the main task of the government. The government has great power in terms of regulation, authority, funds and human resources, but they don’t have the passion and tend to be rigid and not as creative, he says. Singgih hopes that along with government and other parties, he can create “Coolaboration” (cool collaboration”, as the theme of the ICVR 3 that will be held from 22 to 25 November).

Sari Widiati

Sari Widiati

Sari has been an arts and culture enthusiast for many years. She has written extensively on the arts, travel, and social issues as Features Writer at NOW! Jakarta.