What in The World is “Arisan”?

by Diana Tri Wulandari

I’m sure you’ve heard it or have been asked to join it more than once; what in the world is this arisan thing people keep talking about? You Indonesian friends would probably have tried to explain it too. In English, arisan can be loosely translated as gathering, more or less. But this perfect example of Indonesia’s get together custom is so deeply rooted in the Indonesian culture and sometimes can be very varied in its implementation; you usually need a whole speech to explain it to someone!


The Indonesian KBBI defines arisan as “activities to pool money or goods of the same value by a number of people, who then draw among them to see who will get the pooled goods/money, conducted in a regular meeting until all members get it”. Economists studying Asian financial habits have seen arisan as an important part of Indonesia’s long history of informal credit and savings schemes, using what they call ‘rotating savings and credit associations’ (RoSCAs), or a form of microfinance, as the closest comparison. (For an illustration, I recommend watching a 2003 classic “Arisan!” by one of Indonesia’s most talented filmmaker, Nia Dinata.)

For the most part, Indonesians see and emphasize arisan more to its ‘social gathering’ aspect, doing it a fixed and agreed interval. This can be weekly, monthly, or even yearly, and it being an informal social network, changes in time are also very common.  And unlike the popular stereotype, arisan isn’t done just by ladies only, but also by gentlemen alike.               

Different Types of arisan

Arisan groups Jakarta can be based by a number of common grounds. Some of the most common are workplace, school or college almamater, geographical reasons (neighbors, or coming from same area of Indonesia), regious groups. In some Indonesian cultures, family relationship or lineage become the most unifying factors; especially in strong patrilineal culture like Batak, where arisan plays a crucial role in their culture, and attendance is nearly obligatory.

The amount of money or item that is being circulated will obviously vary among different social class; in big cities like Jakarta, it would range from high class arisan groups can pool tens of thousands of dollars a pop and involve transactions of ultra-luxury items, to those that treat the arisan as more of an investment—with shares, gold, or even diamond—, to the nonchalant arisans where the name-draw is really just for fun!

How it’s done?


Conventional, members of the group would agree on amount to be paid, the rotating arisan holder (drawn by lots) receives payment from each other member and sometimes, provides meals for those members. In the course of the arisan the amount paid to other members will equal the amount received when the arisan is held. This will go on until eventually everyone in the group gets the pool.

The other type of arisan involves an auction element, also known as ‘arisan Piauw’ in Indonesia. In some other Asian countries, similar type of ‘credit union can be found—It is called Hui in Vietnam, Gae in South Korea, Cho Wui in China, and Tana- Moshi in Japan.  In this method, the member receiving the payout each month is determined not by lot, but by bid, and those willing to wait till the end of the arisan receiving the largest payout, while more desperate borrowers will receive less, but get money earlier.

 In any type of arisan, a ‘leader’ or a ‘treasurer’ is required, he or she is usually those that are most persistent and diligent in collecting the money from all of the members.

Tips before joining an arisan group

  1. Make sure you know your arisan group well; (especially the leader or the treasurer!) It is great if your group consists of people that you’ve known before or friends with, but before going into a new group, spend the time to observe and ask around who your arisan friends are, and only join the one that you’re most comfortable with.
  2. Although there are many motives for joining arisan, the socialization aspect should be number one.
  3. Join those that only pools ‘small’ amount of money. Small here meaning that you don’t really mind allocating that amount each arisan. See it as a piggy bank scheme for yourself.
  4. If you are assigned as the leader or the bandar, you will be responsible of collecting the money and is responsible for covering the deficit of the money pool in the case of any member failing to pay. A big responsibility, but the leader is also the first one that can take the pooled money.

So now, when your Indonesian friends ask you to join their arisan group, you know what it they’re talking about. Or better yet, you could even maybe start your own arisan group?

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