Teak: Indonesia’s Precious Wood

Published on Gili Life

Wood is a fascinating material, unparalleled in its beauty and functionality. Whether burnt for heat, carved for construction or worshipped as sacred, wood is no ordinary material. Mankind has exploited its countless properties for thousand of years; even today, wood remains one of the most valued natural materials available. Naturally protecting from heat, light and electricity, wood provides support, shelter, shade and coolness as well as warmth. Wood floats, is light and strong; it can amplify, absorb and produce sound. Some types of timber are naturally fire resistant; some are soft and flexible enough to be easily bent and carved. Wood is a live element; it ages with time and reacts to the surrounding environment by shrinking and expanding according to temperature and humidity. For these and other amazing qualities, wood has always been regarded as a unique material having a special status. In many cultures, trees are a symbol of stability and strength and the wood originating from these trees often carries a similar, strong symbolic value. The qualities of wood have also been the reason for its indiscriminate use; nowadays, this once widely and cheaply available resource has become a pricy material that is more and more rare.

Out of all the hundreds of species of hard wood, teak is one of the most precious and valued. Also known as “Iron Wood” for its unparalleled strength and durability, it is a great building material for houses and bridges and its floating properties make it an ideal material for boats. Being snow, water and fungi resistant, it is widely used for outdoor construction and it is not rare to find buildings built in teak that are many centuries old and teak beams of over 1,000 years old!

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The Plant

Native to India and Myanmar, Teak, is a slow-growing tree with a brownish gray bark, a spreading crown and opposite leaves that can be 50cm long and 23 cm wide. It generally does not grow in coastal areas but prefers low hills below 1,000 mt. It produces a drupe fruit (fleshy with stony seed) and its wood typically retains a strong and aromatic fragrance.

Did you know?

Muna in South Sulawesi is historically known for its cultural and economic ties with the teak wood industry. On the island, monuments have been erected to majestic teak trees and roads have been named after this precious species of tree.

The different meanings of the word jati (teak)

Jati-diri is used in Bahasa Indonesia to mean “identity”, “personality”, “the true, authentic self” or, most accurately, “the essence of self”. “Sejati”, is taken to mean “pure”, “true”, “original”, “genuine”.

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Illegal deforestation is a big issue in Indonesia! Always verify the source of the timber you buy!!

The World Resource Institute reports that in the past 15 years Indonesia has lost about 1.3 million hectares of forest annually, 40% of which were primary forests. This is about the size of Europe! Kalimantan and Sumatra are the islands in Indonesia with the largest forest area and the ones most affected by deforestation. These islands are also the native regions of orangutans, whose population has drastically decreased due to habitat loss. Being a big island with a big forested area, Lombok has also suffered from indiscriminate illegal logging. In fact, in spite of the forest moratorium established in 2011 and aimed at limiting deforestation, no much effect in forest clearing prevention have been recorded. Most of the forest clearance is due to agriculture, namely to make space to palm oil plantations. Deforestation has a dramatic impact on a variety of factors: it increases greenhouse gas emissions, causes habitat loss for millions of species and has uncountable chain effects on our lives as well. No trees means greater risk of landslides and flash floods and higher temperatures.

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