Re-imagining freedom as elderly female porters: A study of buruh gendong at Beringharjo traditional market of Yogyakarta

Gilang Mahadika, Setiadi Setiadi


This paper expects to reveal the struggle of elderly female porters or buruh gendong who mostly had a historical background of working in industrial production (factory) but ended up being self-employed at Beringharjo traditional market of Yogyakarta. They used to work as factory workers. However, most factories collapsed in the aftermath of the 1997 economic crisis, especially in Southeast Asia. These older people from peri-urban (and rural) areas with lower-class status ended up in urban areas to be self-employed and became precarious workers. Therefore, the research questions are how they cope with the income uncertainties only to meet their daily needs and still desire their children to have a better living condition. Observations and interviews were done with 25 elderly female traditional porters as the research methods from 2020. They are primarily in the age range of late 50-80 years old. The results show that income uncertainties and social insecurity bring about precariousness. Buruh gendong have to work every day only to make ends meet. However, these conditions could also open up alternative perspectives that they often found themselves liberated from the control of industrial production. They do not work for capital owners or bosses; they work for themselves (self-employed). They are free or more flexible on working hours, but, at the same time, they have to accept their insecure employment. Buruh gendong also have desires for their children to be able to achieve a higher education level. Eventually, the desires are mostly unfulfilled; their children get unfortunate work and still live barely.


elderly female; uncertainties; economic crisis; self-employed; precarious workers

Full Text:



Ahn, S. G. (2000). The truth behind the asian financial crisis: Panic or cronyism? Pacific Focus, 15(2), 89–103.

Booth, A. (1998). The Indonesian economy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: A history of missed opportunities. Macmillan Press Ltd.

Chadijah, D. I., Wijaya, M., & Soemanto, R. B. (2019). Industrial relations between ojek online drivers with PT. Gojek Indonesia Branch of Surakarta. Journal of Islamic World and Politics, 3(2).

Cook, S. & P. J. (2014). Poverty, inequality, and social protection in Southeast Asia: An introduction. Journal of Southeast Asian Economies (JSEAE), 31(1), 1–17.

Cruikshank, M. (2013). Learning to be old: Gender, culture, and aging. Rowman & Littlefield publishers, Inc.

Elson, R. E. (1997). The end of the peasantry in Southeast Asia: A social and economic history of peasant livelihood, 1800-1990s. Macmillan Press Ltd.

Federici, S. (2004). Caliban and the witch: Women, the body and primitive accumulation. Autonomedia.

Furnivall, J. S. (1948). Colonial policy and practice: A comparative study of Burman and Netherlands India. Cambridge University Press.

Gago, V. (2017). Neoliberalism from below: Popular pragmatics and baroque economics. Duke University Press.

Graeber, D. (2011). Debt: The first 5,000 years. Mellville House.

Hadiz, V. R., & Robison, R. (2005). Neo-liberal reforms and illiberal consolidations: The Indonesian paradox. Journal of Development Studies, 41(2), 220–241.

Hammersley, M., & Atkinson, P. (2007). Ethnography: Principle in practice. Routledge.

Han, C. (2012). Life in debt: Times of care and violence in neoliberal Chile. University of California Press.

Hardt, M. (2000). Empire. Harvard University Press.

Harms, E. (2011). Saigon’s edge: On the margin of Ho Chi Minh City. University of Minnesota Press.

Kadir, H. A. (2017). Komparasi munculnya liberalisme ekonomi di Indonesia dan Burma. Lembaran Sejarah, 13(2), 163–185.

Kadir, H. A. (2019). Economic practices of “Mama-mama Papua” using shifting cultivation system: Case study in Sorong and Maybrat regencies--Western Papua. Indonesian Feminist Journal, 24(4), 24–46.

Kasmir, S. (2018). Precarity. In The Cambridge encyclopedia of anthropology.

Kleist, N. (2017). Introduction: Studying hope and uncertainty in African Migration. In N. and T. D. Kleist (Ed.), Hope and uncertainty in contemporary African migration (pp. 1–20). Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group.

Kreager, P., & Schröder-Butterfill, E. (2007). Gaps in the family networks of older people in three Indonesian communities. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology, 22(1), 1–25.

Li, T. M. (2002). Local histories, global markets: Cocoa and class in upland Sulawesi. Development and Change, 33(3), 415–437.

Li, T. M. (2014). Land’s end: Capitalist relations on an indigenous frontier. Duke University Press.

Melianingsih, T., Oksapariana, S., & Sari, I. F. (2008). Eksistensi kehidupan buruh gendong perempuan di Pasar Beringharjo, Yogyakarta. Dimensia: Jurnal Kajian Sosiologi, 2(2), 39–48.

Millar, K. (2014). The precarious present: Wagelees labor and disrupted life in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Cultural Anthropology, 29(1), 32–53.

Nortey, S. T., Aryeetey, G. C., Aikins, M., Amendah, D., & Nonvignon, J. (2017). Economic burden of family caregiving for elderly population in southern Ghana: The case of a peri-urban district. Journal for Equity in Health, 16(1), 1–9.

Parwati, C. I. & Simanjuntak, R. A. (2011). Evaluasi ergonomi dengan pendekatan fisiologi dan penilaian potensi resiko cidera dengan metode quick exposure check pada buruh gendong wanita. Jurnal Teknologi Technoscientia, 3(2), 160–168.

Power, A. G. (2010). Dementia beyond drugs: Changing the culture of care. Health Professions Press.

Rigg, J., & Vandergeest, P. (2012). Revisiting rural places: Pathways to poverty and prosperity in Southeast Asia. NUS Press.

Rosid, M., & Nareswari, A. (2020). Hubungan konfigurasi ruang terhadap tingkat pergerakan pengunjung di dalam Pasar Beringharjo. Journal of Architectural Design and Development, 1(1).

Said, E. (2003). Orientalism: Western conceptions of the orient. Penguin Classics.

Simone, A. (2004). People as infrastructures: Intersecting fragments in Johannesburg. Public Culture, 16(3), 407–429.

Sopranzetti, C. (2012). Burning red desires: Isan migrants and the politics of desire in contemporary Thailand. Southeast Asia Research, 20(3), 361–379.

Sopranzetti, C. (2017). Framed by freedom: Emancipation and oppression in postfordist Thailand. Cultural Anthropology, 22(1), 68–92.

Sopranzetti, C. (2018). The owners of the map: Motorcycle, taxi drivers, mobility, and politics in Bangkok. University of California Press.

Standing, G. (2011). The precariat: The new dangerous class. Bloomsbury Academic.

Stensrud, A. B. (2017). Precarious entrepreneurship: Mobile phones, work, and kinship in neoliberal Peru. Social Anthropology, 25(2), 159–173.

Stoler, A. L. (2013). Imperial debris: On ruins and ruination. Duke University Press.

Tsing, A. L. (2009). Supply chains and the human condition. Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society, 21(2), 148–176.

UNFPA, I. M. S. N. 1. (2014). Indonesia on the threshold of population ageing.

Wolf, E. R. (2010). Europe and the people without history. University of California Press.

Zeng, X. (2018). Changing Chinese family and elder care: The practice of filial piety among ethnic immigrant families in Vancouver [The University of British Columbia].

Žižek, S. (2010). A permanent economic emergency. New Left Review, 64, 85–96.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2021 Gilang Mahadika, Setiadi Setiadi

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Simulacra has been indexed in these prominent indexing services:

Sinta 2DOAJIndex CopernicusEBSCOGoogle ScholarCrossrefDimensionsWorldcatHarvard LibraryOxford LibraryUniversiteit LeidenDRJIScilit MDPIPKP IndexROADBASEMorarefColumbia LibrarySheffield LibraryCORE


 Simulacra is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA and published by the Center for Sociological Studies and Community Development, Department of Sociology, Universitas Trunojoyo Madura, Indonesia.