The Silver Men – Indonesia’s Silver-Painted Beggars

Manusia Silver, or “Silver Men” is a special type of beggar that has become a common sight on the streets of several Indonesian cities.

Beggars have been around for as long as anyone can remember, and Indonesia is no exception, but the South-East Asian country has recently seen the rise of a new type of beggar, the so-called Silver Men. Inspired by the street performers who used metallic paint to transform themselves into living statues and wow passers-by with their doll-like movements, the Silver Men or Manusia Silver, as they are called in Indonesian, simply adapted the look of these performers to their own skill – begging.

The first time I heard about Manusia Silver, I was convinced that the silver paint has some special significance tied to the rich Indonesian  culture, but as it turns out, beggars simply adopted the look because it makes them stand out, and thus increases the chances of people giving them money.

Most Silver Men simply spray-paint themselves with the metallic pigment, grab a cardboard box and walk among cars on busy roads, hoping that someone spares some change. For many, it’s like a job, one that puts food on the table.

Ever since Silver Men started showing up at busy street intersections in Jakarta and other big cities, about a year ago, they have been getting a lot of attention booth from the press and on social media, prompting many regular beggars to adopt the shiny, metallic look. However, their numbers have been soaring lately, and they have become a nuisance. According to recent articles in Indonesian press, police have been cracking down on Manusia Silver, arresting and fining them to discourage them from pestering people for money.

Silver Men recently got some bad publicity, when a video showing a silver-painted toddler running after cars and asking for money started doing the rounds online. I don’t know who would do that to a child, but it certainly doesn’t help improve the image of the already controversial “profession”.