Akar bahar is actually a plant root and the name means “bahar root” in the local Indonesian language. It originates from the Molucca islands, and it is processed and shaped to form beautiful and original bangles. Akar bahar is also known as “black coral” although it is actually a dried and processed plant material. The following article can be found on the Jakarta Provincial Governments Official website, and gives a clear background and history of akar bahar bangles.
Betawi masters (Jawara Betawi) were not only identical with thick moustaches, black suits and head ban but they also used akar bahar bangles as an accessory. Akar bahar (Bahar root) bangles have a specific meaning and it gives signs to whoever is wearing it. akar bahar is known as black coral. It comes from a sea plant; it spreads and lives in shells. Black coral has a long shape, when it is dried is becomes stiff. High quality black coral has a hard part like a stone. The hard part of this root is genuine, resulting from the black coral fossil which has hardened. Black coral is not a common plant because it has certain functions and purposes for those wearing it. Black coral bangles will keep the owner healthy and strong. Metaphysically, the bangle will give charisma to the owner. It is not easy to get such bangles. So, those who own black coral bangles are considered superior. Black coral is taken from the 600 meter bottom part of the sea. Before being used, black coral is dried in heat to become stiff, and then shaped into a bangle. Also, black coral is often used for rings or pipes for smoking.
An renowned antique collector, H Azis Munandar, said that such a bangle has a special meaning. Amongst the Betawi people, black coral contains symbolism. Betawi masters who were loyal to the Netherlands, the bangle was used on dfferent hands so that their symbolism and meaning would be better understood. “If a person used the bangle on his right hand, it meant he was an inside security officer. A bangle on the left hand meant the owner was an outside security officer.” Munandar explained. Munandar said, akar bahar bangles were used in the Netherlands era. Betawi people who used akar bahar as their bangles were masters.
At present, akar bahar bangles start to become extinct. Many collectors hunt it. Munandar said that he has some kinds of akar bahar bangles. Besides being an accessory, akar bahar bangles are an old Betawi heritage.