Turning Snails into Souvenirs: Batam, North Sumatra

A group of housewives in Nongsa district, Batam, Riau Islands, have found a way to covert restaurant trash into cash — snail shell tourist souvenirs. Most restaurants have gonggong snail on the menu, so there are plenty of shells around. The housewives of Batam turn these into flowers, animals and other attractive shapes. Nobody really remembers who was the first to create the shell souvenirs. But, nowadays gonggong shell handicrafts can be found in almost every souvenir shop in Batam. Gonggong — believed to be found only in Riau — has a soft texture and is believed to contribute to health and vitality. Most tourists, visiting the islands, never miss a chance to try it.

A group of eight housewives in Nongsa district have been turning gonggong shells into attractive handicrafts, including pencil cases and books, since June 2006 as Fadli writes.

Zainab, who leads the Melati Craft Group in Nongsa, said that an early attempt to start a tempeh cracker business didn’t pan out.

Assisted by the city of Batam, the women then turned to the shells because of their availability.

“We hope … we can offer interesting souvenirs for tourists who visit Batam,” she said.

Zainab said it wasn’t particularly easy designing shell handicrafts at first. It demanded great care and patience and at first many housewives lacked confidence, she said.

However, after training and a lot of trial and error, they are now proficient at creating attractive souvenirs.

Zainab added that at first there were four groups of housewives developing the handicrafts, but now only her group remains.

Zainab explained the steps in creating the handicrafts. First, collected shells have to be cleaned without breaking them. Then, they are soaked in water mixed with chlorine for three days to get rid of the fishy smell.

After they are dry, gonggong shells can be colored as required and arranged into flower formations or affixed to other items.

“We use a compressor to spray paint the shells in order to get a soft beautiful color. We also formulate many kinds of colors to create magnificent results,” Zainab said.

She added that the handicrafts made by her group had become well-known among locals and tourists who visit the island. She said her group gets many orders from various institutions and hoped the Batam administration would help promote the handicrafts outside of Batam.

The group of eight women can earn around Rp 5 million (US$550) a month from selling their products.

Aisyah, another Melati group member, said they each usually make a profit of Rp 300,000 per month, depending on the orders received, who also emphasized the importance of the city’s promotion efforts.

Handicrafts that are produced by this group are usually sold for between Rp 60,000 and Rp 600,000 per item, depending on the size and complexity of the design. They also sell various mini-souvenirs for between Rp 5,000 and Rp 6,000 each.

Zainab said the problem now was finding enough capital to expand production.
The entrepreneurs hope they can develop their skills and produce more creative items as original Batam souvenirs.