Soba ladies

Soba Handicraft, Lombok

At 41 years of age, Haryanti, better known by her producers as Bu Yanti, has a clear ambition. She dreams of having enough money to create a place in her hometown of Mataram, Lombok, that looks after elderly people.

“There are many old people in my area,” she explains. “They are poor. Their sons and daughters must leave them, and it seems like nobody cares. I want to make a foundation for old women, with a big garden where they can do things, which is more fresh and free. Otherwise, if they get sick, they will just die.”

Right now this is only a dream for Bu Yanti, who began working with Pekerti in 2006. Her group, Soba Handicrafts, is named after her first son Soba, 12, and reflects the many elements of the group.

“Soba has many meanings,” says Bu Yanti. “In Japanese it is a type of food, in Arabic it has a special meaning of ‘wind from the east’ and in Indian it is a flower.”

Soba Handicrafts makes pottery, decorative masks, homewares and accessories from a range of materials including wood, synthetic pearl and rattan. These materials used to be easy to find on Lombok, but due to their increasing demand, Bu Yanti now sources her materials from areas outside of the island, including East Java.


Soba Handicraft’s staff lives in six different villages, Banyumulek, Penujak, Masbagik, Janapria, Beleke, and Karang Genteng, and are supervised by Bu Yanti in their production, quality control and packing activities.

Bu Yanti’s skills were developed the first time she worked for a pottery centre. When the centre decided to close, Bu Yanti was given the offer of transferring to a new centre, or resigning. She was confident enough in her skills to choose the latter, and go on to create her own business.

A Soba decorative box from natural rattan, is made through the following process:

1. Rattan grass is in its raw state

2. Cut the skin of the grass from the ‘spine’ – the soft grass will be used for weaving and the spine will be saved to be used for the corners of the box

3. Cut the grass to make all strips the same size

4. The grass does not need drying but is still green during the weaving process, and will dry naturally

5. Depending on the buyer’s request, may finish the box with a shiny, non-toxic finish with a natural colour

Bu Yanti says her daughter Lila, 10, loves to visit the handicraft group in the field, especially because most of Soba’s weavers are women. Son Soba, however, is much more interested in understanding how things work, and has expressed interest in becoming a scientist.

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Pekerti successfully motivates Soba Handicraft to improve their designs, but they do come up against roadblocks. “It is difficult to find inspiration to design new products because there are no art schools or magazines on Lombok, unlike on Bali,” says Bu Yanti.

Despite this, the partnership has been beneficial overall with good payment and ease in communication with Pekerti. Most importantly, says Bu Yanti, the partnership benefits Lombok women’s health and well-being – a cause that Bu Yanti is clearly committed to.