24 Nov 2020


Jenal (45 years old) dan Wiwin (42 years old), are a couple who live in Kampung Pasir Peer, Dusun Cibungur. This family has been for decades working as Palm Tree farmer. The family owns many palm trees, but they currently only tap 9 trees. Out of the 9 trees, they can produce 7 sticks of palm sugar, and each stick contains 10 pieces of palm sugar, with each weighs around 1.2kg

Tapping the palm sugar has to be done at the right timing, which is very early in the morning, when the whole process has to be done before the sunrise, and later in the afternoon the same before sunset. It is crucial to be on time in picking up the juice as it can turn into vinegar and alcohol due to fermentation.

Jenal claims that his expertise in tapping and processing palm sugar has been passed down for generations from his predecessors.

You can start tapping palm sugar when the tree is already 5 years old, and the tree will produce the most juice when it is around 10-20 years old. Each tree can produce 15-20 liter of juice daily (morning and afternoon). When tapping the tree, it is important to cut only the male flower stalk. The drips of the juice is then accumulated inside bumbung/lodong (bamboo trunk with length at 1-1.5 meter). The existing palm tree around were not originally planted by humans, but rather thanks to the help of the skunks who fancy the fruits of palm tree (kolang kaling). Within the skunk digestion, the seeds go through its digestive enzymes which enhance the fertility of the seeds once they are released, practically anywhere the skunk is pleased; hence the scattered locations.

Jenal mentions that tapping Palm Tree is not for everyone, because it requires not only craftmanship, but also patience and persistence. These farmers climb up and down the Palm Tree only by using a bamboo stick that has small holes on it (sigay), enough just to fit in their big toes. Therefore, while they climb up or down the tree, the only things that support their whole-body weights, the tools and the tapped juice are these small little holes that can fit only their big toes, not even the whole foot.

Palm tree farmers have always been working individually, unlike coconut and palm oil which are usually done communally and professionally in a big piece of land; and for that very reason, the well-being and safety of palm tree farmers are not guaranteed. As I’ve mentioned, most of these palm trees grow in a steep mountainous area where the track is extremely slippery during dawn and after raining; not to mention climbing up the also slippery bamboo ladder (sigay) will be a tremendous challenge because practically one big toe must support the whole body weight, tools, and the tapped juice. One tiny mistake could possibly cost their lives. Who to say that we can always perform our job at a 100% capacity anytime, and that’s not even considering the uncertain environmental factor such as lighting during rain.



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