The Exclusive Treasure of Indonesia: Eboni, the Luxury Wood

The Exclusive Treasure of Indonesia: Eboni, the Luxury Wood
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Blackwood, also known as ebony, is an endemic species of wood from Sulawesi that has been traded since the 18th century. This plant has the scientific name Diospyros celebica Bakh and is considered a luxury wood from Indonesia.

Ebony was first used to make cabinets, but later became a trend in Europe, especially during the Enlightenment. Demand skyrocketed as countries like France and the Netherlands relied on the natural resources of their colonies for this luxurious wood.

The name "celebica" for ebony wood is derived from "Celebes" (Sulawesi). In Sulawesi, this wood can be found in the regions of Kabupaten Poso, Donggala and Parigi. Ebony wood is highly prized for its beautiful grain, with the heartwood being black with red streaks.

The Global Fame of Sulawesi Blackwood

Sulawesi blackwood is known in international trade as Macassar ebony, Coromandel ebony, striped ebony, or black ebony. In Indonesia it is also known as toetandu, sora, kayu lotong and kayu maitong. This wood is of exceptional quality and is used for expensive furniture, carvings, sculptures, musical instruments and jewelry boxes.

This ebony wood can be considered "zero waste" because every part of its production can be reused. Its sawdust can even be used to help dry other wet woods, which is critical for export requirements regarding dryness levels. The price of ebony is also influenced by its dryness; the drier and less moisture it has, the higher its price.

The growth of these trees is very slow, but this is what makes them strong and dense. Ebony trees can be harvested after 80-100 years of growth. The best quality ebony wood is often obtained when the tree falls naturally. If ebony trees are harvested too young, their color will not be as dark and their quality will be lower.

The government of Central Sulawesi allows the trade of ebony up to 4,200 cubic meters to meet the needs of the region's handicraft industry.

The benchmark price for ebony wood is around Rp6 million per ton, according to the regulations of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, while market prices range from Rp3-7 million per cubic meter, depending on quality.

The Threat of Extinction

Unfortunately, ebony is now rare in the forests of Sulawesi due to illegal logging, both organized and individual. The slow growth of the wood, only 0.5-1 cm per year, cannot keep up with the increasing market demand.

One report states that by the late 1930s, ebony was almost extinct in Sulawesi. According to the journal "Perdagangan dan Eksploitasi Kayu Eboni di Sulawesi Tengah pada Masa Kolonial: Sebuah Tinjauan Awal " (2023), the existence of ebony in Poso is also threatened by indiscriminate logging.

According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN), ebony is classified as Vulnerable (VU AL cd), with a high risk of extinction. The estimated volume of ebony in Central Sulawesi in 2003 was only about 3.16 million cubic meters.

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