An idea has something in common with the pollen sacks on a bee's knees. As she goes from flower to flower a bee picks up pollen until the sacks are full and then she carries it all back to the hive. An idea is born through a process of meetings, discussions and ponderings. The idea to write Legacy in cloth, for example, fed partly off the flower of the Ethnographic Museum in Leiden. It was my access to that collection, many years ago, that inspired the plan to write a comprehensive catalogue of Batak textiles.
Yesterday in Jakarta, to my great surprise, I received a telephone call at my new Indonesian number from the S.E. Asia curator of that very museum, Francine Brinkgreve. She informed me that the director of research at the museum had supported her request to participate in the Back to the Villages project. The museum is very strongly in favour of returning the products of research to the indigenous peoples where the research was conducted, and has actively worked on several collaborative projects with Indonesian museums. They feel that my Back to the Villages project dovetails well with their own values and priorities. They wish to donate 5 books!
I am fully convinced that partnerships between museums and indigenous peoples, originating in collections of their material culture, constitute a foundation for the future of both. My Back to the Villages project is precisely that kind of partnership because my book is filled with depictions of museum textiles, many of which are no longer woven or remembered in the Batak area. As examples of the Batak weaving heritage, they can inspire the weavings of the future. Needless to say, I am thrilled with this contribution from Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden. I feel proud of this museum that played such a strong role in my development as an anthropologist and so honoured to have them on my list of donors to the project.
Only minutes after being given with this news from the Dutch museum, I received a visit from the Batak designer, Merdi Sihombing. He had brought sumptuous armloads of his own textile inventions with him for me to explore and enjoy. I saw ancient designs in new colours and materials. I saw cross-fertilization between other Sumatran traditions and the ancient Batak tradition. The Batak textile heritage is Merdi's clay that he is molding into new forms. He is making his Batak weaving tradition vibrant. In his hands it is vitally alive. He brought the copy of my book that had been donated to him by the Indonesian Heritage Society and explained that it was going to be a valuable source of inspiration for him. I was gratified to hear this as I could not have received a higher compliment! Of course this is how I hope the book will be received by Batak weavers as well. This is the reason for the Back to the Villages project!
As I write this blog, I have received my wake-up call. Alas, it is unnecessary. I am definitely awake. It is getting to sleep amidst all of this excitement that is my problem. Today we are off to Medan where the Back to the Villages project will unfold further.
See Back to the Villages - the map!