April 20, 2023
JAKARTA – As Idul Fitri approaches, more and more fireworks will start blasting off in the country, a diversion that can have a dark side.
Big holidays like Ramadan and New Year’s Eve are always welcomed by bursts of fireworks, not least in Indonesia. But they have become so common that many seem to overlook their risks, which may even cause the death of loved ones.
Days before Ramadan started in March, a deadly firecracker blast killed one person and injured three others in Magelang regency, Central Java. Several weeks later, more injuries started popping up in Jepara and Kebumen, the latter resulting in the death of a 17-year-old boy on April 12. In response, Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo issued a warning.
“I’m asking the public, ahead of Idul Fitri, especially these last 10 days of Ramadan, to please stop playing with firecrackers,” Ganjar said on Wednesday, as quoted by Kompas.com.
Ganjar asked revelers to opt for replacements. However, firecrackers are so ingrained in Indonesian culture that separating them from holiday nights may seem unthinkable.
For 16-year-old Haura, firecrackers have always been a family tradition. Almost every New Year’s Eve, her family gets firecrackers to blast off on the front porch.
“I like the ones that are not too noisy but have a big burst in the air,” the Bandung high schooler said on April 9.
Though she generally liked them, she drew some lines.
“Our family never gets them for the evenings leading up to Idul Fitri since [there’s always] takbiran and shalawatan [laudation of God’s greatness] around the house,” she said.
Firecrackers vendors, who are mostly found on the streets or at markets during Ramadan or in December, also spoke of the longevity that firecrackers have had in Indonesian culture.
“I’ve sold firecrackers every year since 2003. […] My family also did. This is a business that has been passed down,” 30-year-old Rustamaji, or “Aji”, said on April 4.
Aji, who resides in Kebon Jeruk, West Jakarta, and sells firecrackers on the street near his house, said business tended to boom during Ramadan and before New Year. He and his colleagues could double or triple their investment, which was typically around Rp 1.5 million.
“[This is] because everyone buys firecrackers, especially parents who buy them for their kids,” said Aji, who runs a reflexology shop during the firecracker off-season.
He named the many varieties of firecrackers he sold, from fountain-shaped bursts of sparks to ball-shaped explosions, adding that people who were afraid of big blasts could always opt for sparklers.
There is good reason to be wary of the colorful explosions. Firecracker-related injuries are actually quite common.
“It was the night before Idul Fitri and the whole family had come together. All the kids were playing with firecrackers outside. My brother, who was 6 years old at the time, had this wild idea to just light a firecracker himself,” said 23-year-old Khairunnisa Dwita “Dudu” Lestari about an incident that occurred in 2008.
Her brother, who had entered elementary school that year, got too close to the firecracker’s fuse while it was lit.
“His clothes caught fire, and it got to his stomach, near his belly button. He then ran around trying to put out the fire,” Dudu recalled on March 28.
After the young boy was calmed down and the fire was put out, his father administered an ointment for the burns for several days.
“Thankfully, it was not a fatal burn, […] He was traumatized for some time, avoiding firecrackers at all costs and even scared to hold a sparkler. But the fear goes away with age,” Dudu said.
Meanwhile, for 24-year-old Muhammad Fadhil from Banjarmasin, Kalimantan, a firecracker blast once resulted embarrassment that was far worse than any physical pain it caused.
“I was in fourth grade, and usually every Ramadan my family would do tarawih [Ramadan evening prayers] at the mosque behind my housing complex. But I went to another musholla (prayer room) so I could avoid the prayers and just play with my friends,” Fadhil confessed with a laugh on March 28.
With firecrackers on hand and a river near the musholla, the kids had the idea of throwing the firecrackers into the river.
“Maybe so that there would be a bursting water fountain when it exploded, who knows? So we threw the firecrackers in the river, but nothing happened. When I moved my face closer to the river to check whether the firecrackers were lit or not […] that’s when they exploded,” Fadhil said.
“My face was unbelievably hot, red and itchy, but at the time I was just shocked and totally embarrassed, so I just laughed it off,” he said. Some ulcers appeared on his face the next day.
While Fadhil eventually grew out of the fear of fireworks that resulted from his shock by the river, some people, such as 24-year-old Zulfan, never get over their fears after such incidents.
“When I was little, my friends and I played with firecrackers a lot, and one time, we played catch with them,” the Bandung-based graphic designer recounted, sounding regretful about his elementary school experience.
Eventually, a firecracker exploded in his hand before he could throw it back.
“It didn’t leave a terrible scar, more like a cigarette burn, thankfully,” he said. “But it was quite traumatic for me. To this day, when I smell a wisp of firecracker gas I just instantly go on alert as a reflex.”
Regardless of the danger it might pose, many children are still eager to play with firecrackers.
“I’m not scared of firecrackers,” Haura’s 7-year-old brother Arraya said on April 9. “I’m more scared of sparklers since the fiery sparks get on your hand.”
After trying out his first firecracker experience during this fasting month, he decided he wanted to try more – with caution, of course.
“I can’t wait to light up some more firecrackers with my cousins,” Arraya said excitedly.