The Devil’s Weed: Smoking, Indonesia and the Strongest of Links

Rarely can there have been a country so in thrall to tobacco as Indonesia.

Indeed, even the most cursory glance reveals a symbiotic link ‘twixt leaf and nation: the smoking of cigarettes informs every facet of existence is in some way. Enjoy a kopi susu or percedel in some roadside joint, or savour the sambal in a warung, or take a bus journey across the wilds of Sumatra; everywhere, everything and everywhen will there exist the pungent aroma of nicotine.

The most notorious brand, of course, is the ubiquitous kretek. Ostensibly a clove cigarette, its reach extends far further than a mere vessel of smoking. No; Kretek, as typified by Sampoerna et al., exists as an icon or a totem, a cultural signifier every bit as redolent of Indonesia as the dragons of Komodo, the stupas of Borobudur or the volcanic folklore of ancient Kelimutu.

Read more: Wisdom shared by the mute priest of Lalibela.

Its sweet odour and iconic crackle stimulate the senses, massage the synapses and create a liminal bond in a way few other substances can. So much so that the slightest aroma engenders the creation of a minute Indonesian facsimile, gathering together millennia of culture, history and conflict into a single action which forms and evaporates as the smoke catches in the wind and floats away into eternity.

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