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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Indonesian 'Viagra' Has Potent Appeal

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- With the air of a trained librarian, the shopkeeper runs his finger along a shelf stacked with brightly colored packages. Skipping over "Macho Man," his hand comes to rest on a bold red and white sachet, "Kuku Bimal."

"Claw of Bima, yep. That's the one," says Ibrahim, a Jakarta taxi driver, handing over 2,500 rupiah ($0.30) for a dose of Indonesia's herbal "Viagra." This is one of a vast array of products helping elevate the ancient Javanese art of herbal medicine from the housewife's kitchen to the corporate boardroom.

Wearing the skullcap of a Muslim believer, Ibrahim extols the virtues of the silicone-coated capsules bearing the effigy of a mythical Hindu superhero.

"Helps with erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, improves vitality, stamina, libido and fertility," reads the label on the drug, named for the wickedly curved thumbnail of Bima, a hero of the epic Mahabharata.

As Ibrahim leaves the wooden kiosk, a young man in jeans and black T-shirt asks for a packet of "Rhino Horn," named not for its contents but for the effect the mixture of natural extracts is reputed to have on a man's sexual prowess.

Across Indonesia, people of both sexes are turning to jamu, or traditional plant-based medicine, for health as well as to enhance sexual potency and physical appeal.

Indeed, the world's most populous Muslim nation ranks second only to South Korea in Asia in the importance its people place on sex, says a survey published last year by global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

All that might appear at odds with perceptions in the West that Indonesia is a conservative Muslim country, even though women in tight jeans and tank tops are almost as much in evidence on the streets of Jakarta as in Bangkok.

Jamu was once the domain of housewives and village medicine men. It now ranges from vitamins and minerals to skin creams, hair growth tonics, breast enlargers and slimming potions.

Ruslan said estimated annual sales of jamu in Indonesia were $200 million in 2002, up 10 percent on the previous year.

Not everyone is happy. The Justice Ministry, in consultation with Muslim leaders and experts in Islamic sharia law, is trying to tighten up Indonesia's fairly relaxed attitudes to sex, drafting rules that could outlaw sex before marriage, living together outside wedlock and homosexuality.

Jamu has now become a multimillion-dollar industry, replete with glitzy television advertising spots rivaling those of Western cosmetics firms. It is sold everywhere from small kiosks to chic department stores and supermarkets.

Health Ministry data show the number of jamu manufacturers grew 16 percent between 2000 and 2002.