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 will reveal a symbiotic link betwixt leaf and nation; every facet of existence is in some way informed by the smoking of cigarettes. Enjoy a kopi susu or percedel in some roadside joint, or savour the sambal, or take a bus journey… everywhere, everything and everywhen will there be 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 mere smoking. 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. Its sweet aroma and iconic crackle stimulate the sense and massage the synapses in a way few other materials can. So much so, in fact, that the slightest aroma engenders the creation of a minute Indonesian facsimile, its millennia of culture, history and conflict forming and evaporating as the smoke catches in the wind and floats away into eternity.

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