Silver trade's glitter fades

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 October, 2003, 12:00am

Bandem is a silver jewellery wholesaler and, like most of her neighbours, takes offerings to the local temple.

These days, she prays especially hard for good fortune. But such blessings from the gods seem to have disappeared since the Bali bombings, which devastated the island's tourism business.

Ms Bandem has a 200 million rupiah (HK$184,000) debt hanging over her head and struggles to make monthly interest payments of about three million rupiah.

She is not sure how her once thriving business will survive if tourists do not start returning.

'I ask God to please [not] let me not be able to pay my interest, until I'm really suffering,' she says.

Before the bombings in Kuta, 10 minibuses of tourists and retail buyers would arrive at her workshop every day, buying several kilograms of rings, bangles, necklaces and chokers.

'Now no one buys even a kilo and there are only one or two buses arriving,' she says

Ms Bandem and her family are typical of Bali's nouveau middle class. In the past 20 to 30 years, her family have gone from being tour guides and not particularly wealthy temple singers to relatively well-off silversmiths.

Thirty years ago, most of the residents of Singapadu and its neighbouring villages would have been farmers, dancers and singers.

Since then, however, as mass tourism has turned the largely rural island into one of the world's top tourist destinations, many of the villagers have sold their rice fields and vegetable plots to build dozens of silver workshops and impressive shops.

Bamboo huts and brick houses have been replaced with extensive developments and many villagers, like Ms Bandem, have borrowed money to expand their businesses.

Dozens of silversmiths in Singapadu have gone bankrupt or are on the verge of doing so.

The story is the same across the island, where tourism has become a lucrative business and where handicraft workshops, souvenir shops, hotels and cafes have largely taken over the landscape.

Thousands of farmers have given up the land to become businesspeople, tour guides, silversmiths or work at other crafts.

They have nothing to go back to now that the tourists have disappeared.

There are no hard figures to show how many people have gone bankrupt, lost their jobs or had to pull their children out of school, but evidence suggests hundreds of thousands of Balinese are struggling to survive.

A World Bank survey earlier this year estimated that a third of the island's population depended directly or indirectly on the tourism industry and predicted that more than 300,000 people would lose their jobs if foreign tourist arrivals dropped by 20 per cent.

Since January, foreign tourist arrivals have dropped 50 per cent.


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Silver trade's glitter fades

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