Sorcerers’ stones are not the exclusive domain of fantasy characters like Harry Potter. In Indonesia, the gemstones known as batu akik are valued both for their beauty and for the special powers they are believed to possess. Not only are these stones thought to contain mystical forces, traders of the gems employ all sorts of smoke-and-mirrors tricks to attract buyers, who in turn go to serious—and often rather strange—lengths to ensure the mystical potency of their precious gems.
“Cut, Shape and Polish Stones”: the wording of the sign that hangs above Sasongko’s kiosk in Yogyakarta is rather prosaic. But spend some time talking to this expert and you’ll realize that the world of stones is a rather bizarre one. Sasongko, who graduated from the prestigious Indonesian Institute of Art with a degree in sculpture, has spent sixteen years polishing stones for his clients, who often come to him with precise instructions. “They even tell me not to touch their stones with my left hand,” Sasongko says. As an old hand at fusing stones and disentangling the meandering veins of their grain, Sasongko charges around Rp70,000 to turn a hunk of rock into an object of beauty. He says that most of his customers revere their stones and take care to protect them. There are some who wrap them in cloth, and some who never let another hand touch them. Others believe their stones may only be viewed during certain brief intervals of time.
“For the Javanese, having a batu akik is one necessary element of a full and complete life,” says Tyas, a gemstone connoisseur. “The selection of a stone is related to one’s day of birth. The process is very much tied to the world of primbon—Javanese fortune telling manuals. For example, if one was born on the Javanese day of Monday Kliwon, one must use a white stone with specific properties.”
Pak Ridwan Kooswanto, who has been a stone polisher and dealer in Yogyakarta for seventeen years, says that most of his buyers will inquire about the special powers of the stones that catch their attention. To satisfy them, he photocopies pages from Javanese horoscope books which give advice about appropriate stones based on zodiac signs and other factors. “If people ask me which stones are best for them, I give them this photocopied information so they can choose for themselves,” he explains.
First published in Latitudes Magazine