Micky Indra from Pithecanthropus Bali

Micky Indra from Pithecanthropus Bali

One fine day in January, we visited Masa-Masa, Jalan Subak Telaga NO.9, Banjar Manyar, Ketewel - Gianyar, to meet Mr. Micky Indra, founder of Pithecanthropus -Bali — one of the companies that sells fashion products and Indonesian cultural artifacts. Before entering the parking area, a relaxed atmosphere from a shady tree that shaded the road greeted us. The sky was slightly overcast, but it didn't affect our warmth when we met Mr. Micky Indra.

Wearing a white t-shirt, Sembagi Batik shirt, jeans, and neat, simple hair, Mr. Micky greeted us with a smile and laugh. Our conversation flowed smoothly, from the history of Mr. Micky Indra's thoughts and business travels to the never-ending exploration of Indonesian culture. "Come on, come on, have some coffee; while we're chatting, let's relax and drink coffee," said Mr. Micky, immediately starting our conversation.

When I hear "Pithecanthropus," I always remember the pre-history lesson about the discovery of a skeleton in Solo by Eugene Dubois, "Pithecanthropus Erectus." The skeleton's age is estimated to be 700,000 to 1400,000 years ago. What is the connection between the name Pithecanthropus and the discovery of this skeleton, or could it be further explained as the spirit behind the name Pithecanthropus, which feels ancient, archaic, and antique?

Before building Pithecanthropus, several friends from Japan and I discussed looking for a concept first. After a lengthy discussion, we finally met, re-discovering Indonesian culture. Then we come to the question, where does Indonesian culture begin? That's how Pithecanthropus Erectus appeared - an ancient Java man considered the first Indonesian human to be cultured.

But there is something funny: most of my friends from Japan find it difficult to pronounce the name Pithecanthropus; some say Pithe, Pithecan. Indo people are even more excited about PT (referring to Limited Liability Companies). Because it's hard to call it, people keep remembering Pithecanthropus.

How long has Pithecanthropus been present in Bali, and can you tell us about the history of its business? Then, how about the company's ups and downs? It would be interesting for young people to learn from the stories and experiences of a long-lived business.

Initially, I worked as a Batik agent at one of the well-known Batik companies in Indonesia around the 1980s. The Indonesian government made a national costume, Batik, as Indonesia's cultural identity at that time. Batik was used once a week at that time. There is a lot of Batik production for officials, which is only worn by older people. Young people don't want to wear Batik; it gives the impression of older people, officials, and old-fashioned people.

From the concept of Indonesia's culture re-discovery, I want to know how to get young people to want to wear Batik so that the impression of being old when wearing Batik will disappear.

Pithecanthropus has been in Bali since 1990. Apart from exploring Batik, I also explored Indonesian culture. What is our culture? The more I study, the more I encounter. For example, regarding fabric, not only Batik, there is weaving (tenun) and songket. The materials vary from wood bark to animal skin; the manufacturing techniques vary, and the coloring comes from roots, leaves, roots, bones, and others.

Until now, Phitecanthropus friends and I continue to dig and explore, never ending.

Why did you choose to build a business in Bali?

Bali can develop as it is today partly because of the Balinese people's character, which is different from other ethnic groups. Firstly, Balinese people are very open, they incredibly are. Then, Balinese people are very artistic. They absorbed other cultures from outside and adapted into Balinese art.

So, before the independence era, many foreign artists came to Bali. Then, there was a painter's genre called Young Artist in Ubud, because they studied with foreigners.

I never get bored living in Bali. Very relaxed, artistic, and thoughtful.

Regarding Batik's exploration, how far has the process and work been carried out? Remember that Batik in Indonesia has a variety of colors, motifs, and characteristics, and each region has its own Batik.

Before starting the business, I was not interested in Batik; I spent a long time in
Singapore and Malaysia. I know about Batik in Malaysia but am not interested in it. But when I went to Indonesia to start a business, that was the first day I fell in love with Batik. 

My livelihood and several friends, I came to Solo to see the production. Almost one village does Batik. They have done their business in a modern-industrial way but still do it with their own hands. I saw women gathering together to work on Batik. One village is working, and rows of people are making Batik using canting. At that time, Java was still excellent; when I walked through the town, I could still hear the faint sound of gending or campursari from the radio they were listening to. Those were the most beautiful days for me.

That atmosphere is gone now, it's too busy, noisy, and crowded everywhere.

In your opinion, how is Batik related to Indonesian culture?

Indonesian culture is not only from the various ethnic groups that live on the island of Indonesia. There are also European influences, Chinese influences, Dutch influences, Arab influences, and Indian influences. This is reflected in Batik because there are European, Chinese, Dutch, Arabic, and Indian Batik.

Every period in Indonesia, batik changes. From Indonesia before independence to independence. We can study Indonesia's historical record through Batik. Dutch immigrants usually use Dutch Batik because of marriages between Dutch people and Indonesians, as well as Chinese and Arab Batik.

In Batik, there are also prohibited motifs that are only worn by royal nobles and cannot be worn by ordinary people; there is merchant batik, which ordinary people use. There are even Megawati batiks, Suharto's downfall, and others. Not to mention the coastal and mountainous Madurese Batik, we can see the geography of where we live from the Batik. In coastal Madura are pictures of marine products, fish, seaweed, shrimp, and other marine products.

So, from Batik, we can learn about Indonesia.

Since we were talking about Batik, which region of Batik do you like the most up to now?

What do I like most?

Palembang Batik.

Palembang batik is different; it's in my collection. His name is Jepri; some people say it is also Jupri. Some people say Jepri is a motif, but it's the trader's name or the brand of cloth being sold at that time. The quality is excellent. Jepri's motif is a bird, but it's small; the bird becomes a silhouette because of the influence of Islam, where drawings that contain animal elements are not permitted.

One of Pithecanthropus' ideals is learning from the past and contextualizing it in the present. Can you explain this premise in more detail?

I explored Indonesian culture in the past and studied it to be compatible with today, especially for young people. Of course, not all of them are successful, but one strategy is to invite young designers to create work together. Look at Batik and then express it with a youthful spirit.

Many Pithecanthropus products have historical value, from clothing and home goods to fabric collections. What is the curation system for selecting this product? What is the regulatory system so that it can be present in stores?

That's right, so it's like this... After digging deeper, Indonesian culture is not just batik or textiles you know, there are also accessories, hats, necklaces, studs, bracelets, and others, and it turns out that Indonesian people are very fancy.

But in general, there are two methods. First, we make a T-shirt. We create the design together with the designer. All of our designs must have an Indonesian Cultural nuance. One of them is batik, or then other designs such as masks, for example.

Second, objects that have historical value about Indonesia. Not only from tribes in Indonesia. For example, there was a migration to Indonesia by Chinese people bringing jars. The jars are then part of Indonesian history because of the history of Chinese trade with Indonesia.

What was the state of Bali tourism when you started doing business in Bali?

Around 1990-1996 (before the monetary crisis), many Japanese people traveled to Bali. I also had many business partners from Japan at that time. In the past, they used travel groups for holidays. When Japanese people go on holiday, they usually buy many souvenirs. Just one person can buy 25 clothes. Their culture is like that, and friends must get souvenirs.

There are two choices for Japanese people: Hawaii and Bali. Young Japanese people don't want to go to Hawaii because it impresses their parents, so they choose Bali. They fall in love not only with nature but with the people, too. There were many marriages between Balinese and Japanese at that time. In Kuta, there is a street called Sakura Street because many Japanese people came to Bali, settled, and then set up businesses there.

That's why, in the beginning, I collaborated a lot with friends from Japan; some had an academic background, and there was also a window display.

Let me tell you a little, Mr. I used to work as a "susuk" delivery person, a commission earned by tour guides and drivers when the guests they invited shopped at a destination shop. The increase is 40-50% (massive), obtained from spending calculations. How does Pithecanthropus respond to this? Of course, this has something to do with advanced business competitors, sir. Hasn’t it?

If that number is too high, it will confuse traders about lowering standards or raising prices. There should be a more moderate figure; the traders still maintain good quality, and the ushers also get sufficient income.

Indeed, in tourism, once you get a high score, they (tourists) will never return.

That's not exactly true; there was a case in one city in Indonesia where a pedicab driver received a large commission if he took tourists to a souvenir shop. Once or twice, it felt like it didn't feel like it, but the third time, no tourists came because the price was too high.

For Phitecanthropus, the commission is small, but we maintain quality and long-term relationships; it is much more enjoyable. Because the customers come again, come again.

Why chose the Ketewel area as the center of Pithecanthropus and Masa Masa activities? Is there any particular reason behind the choice of place?

There is a lot of land in the Canggu area, but Canggu has always been expensive. Kuta is too crowded. My team and I dream of having a place close to a beach, river, or rice field area; we also want to be close to a mountain.

If it's a mountain, it's a bit far, so we have to go to the highlands. But the first time I came here early in the morning, I saw Mount Agung from a distance. There are no buildings yet, so it is still beautiful, with expanses of rice fields. On my next arrival, I arrived at 16.30 WIT, and the sun was starting to go down. I saw a temple in front of which a frangipani tree grew. The silhouette of the frangipani tree is like a woman dancing. Very cute.

Not to mention, during kite season, the sky is full of kites. Good.

Amid your busy life, is there a place to calm down or someplace to take a short break to refresh yourself from the activities?

A place for healing...

In my collection. (laugh)

While opening it and remembering the given items, this one has a story: the person who shared this collection is now dead. Every piece has a memory.

There is an exciting story about the collection of grass puppets. At that time, I still enjoyed going around looking for collections. In the newspaper, there was news of a farmer who made puppets from grass. Armed only with information from the newspaper, my friends and I went to Pekalongan. At that time, there was no GPS, you know. So, it is inevitable that we are lost. It was already night, so we rested in the car; the roadside was very dark because the lights had not yet entered the village.

But the, next day, I met the farmer. I bought all the puppets he made. But only a little because the farmer's father was having fun; during his breaks, he made puppets from grass.

I want to ask about Masa Masa. Is it related to Phitecanthropus?

Masa Masa is an extension of our dreams. Suppose Phitecanthropus is with the concept of rediscovering Indonesian Culture. In Masa Masa, today's culture reaches into the future.

In the Masa Period, there were two buildings; architecturally, these two buildings have historical value. One is a Malay-Arab house on stilts; the other is a Malay-Chinese house. The building is 200 years old. Both are houses on stilts because these buildings were built near rivers and swamps and even have ports for canoes.

Therefore, the menu at Masa Masa is a menu of Peranakan (mixed), Chinese, Arab, and Indonesian mixed.

What are the future goals for Masa Masa and Phitecanthropus?

I want to be a hub where Indonesian young people meet with foreign people (overseas) to collaborate. Become a medium for meeting and dialogue. We also have a gallery for young people to hold exhibitions. We want to be a place for young artists to work.

There are 3 Pithecanthropus stores and stockists in Jakarta, Bali, and Bandung; there are more than 10. What are your tips for working together in a team, sir? Or are there fundamental values that Pithecanthropus has to embrace the team so that they remain aligned and in harmony at work?

Firstly, I always say here (at Phitecanthropus) that it's not just a job because, in other places, people can work too. Here, the people live in culture.

Our team is excellent; at 22.00 or 23.00, we are still talking in the WhatsApp group, and the young designers are still communicating with me to discuss work details. As a family, yes.

Do you have a recommended place in Bali? For example, if your friends visit Bali, they must see that place.

As for the place, everything is good in Bali. I have always liked it. But there is one place to eat that I often visit, Warung Nasi Gonda Indah, in Kedonganan. There are grab and placing gonda there; it tastes a bit bitter. The stall owner must be clever at cooking the gonda vegetables. Otherwise, the vegetables will turn bitter. The menu also serves seafood, but in small pieces, shrimp and others.

Gonda is a native Balinese vegetable, it seems, because, in Sumatra, I only know kale.

Do you have any words of encouragement for young friends today, sir?

This is a sentence for young people. Learning by doing, studying through experience. I don't believe in studying on a table; I am a person who believes in learning based on experience. Everyone has to try; if we want to know, don't just use a textbook. It must be balanced.


Micky Indra 

Written by Jong Santiyasa

Photos by Putu Sayoga

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