Women behind the lens: ‘The jamu ladies are passionate and proud. They remind us of collective care’ | Global development

It was still dark as I made my way to the house of Mulatsih, 40, and her mother, Giyem, 66, in Sukoharjo, Central Java, to photograph Mulatsih making jamu, a traditional Indonesian herbal drink made of roots and leaves.

At the back of her humble kitchen, Mulatsih starts her day as early as 4am, peeling and crushing jamu ingredients such as ginger, turmeric, temulawak (Java ginger), papaya leaves and sambiloto leaves, squeezing the juice into a big pot, its fragrance filling the room as it boils. Mulatsih pours the jamu into glass bottles. By 6am, her little cart is full of jamu and bags of snacks such as fried tempeh, corn fritters, onde onde (sweet rice dough balls filled with palm sugar), and even nasi uduk (rice cooked in coconut milk).

Giyem became a jamu gendong, a “jamu lady” – carrying a bamboo basket of jamu on her back – after she was widowed at a young age and needed to support her family and put her children through school.

She taught her daughter how to make the drink and now it is Mulatsih who sets off on her motorbike every morning to sell her wares. Riding around a few neighbourhoods in Sukoharjo shouting “Jamuuuu!”, she stops in front of her customer’s house, prepares the jamu in a small glass, chatting as they enjoy the drink. At noon she returns home to prepare the next day’s batch.

I grew up drinking jamu in the morning. Beras kencur and temulawak jamu are given to boys and girls because they increase appetite and reduce bloating. Kunir (or kunyit) asam jamu is popular among women for reducing menstrual cramps.

When photographing Mulatsih, I wanted to highlight the mundane routine. I wanted people see the beauty in the modesty of their homes where these jamu were made. I wanted to show the environment and the community that made them who they are, through photographs of ordinary scenes in everyday lives.

These women are passionate, dedicated, and proud of what they do, and I hope that is projected through their portraits. While self-care is the mantra of my generation, jamu tradition reminds us about collective care. These women dedicate their time, if not their lives, to making jamu affordable for everyone, so that we can take care of ourselves, collectively.

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Nyimas Laula is an Indonesian photojournalist. Follow her on Instagram. This photograph was part of a series that first appeared in Vogue