Friday, June 04, 2010

Meeting with the Indonesian Heritage Society

It is midnight in Jakarta.  June 3 has become June 4. I have just finished a plate of spaghetti in a state of jetlag. Time now to reflect on the first event in the Back to the Villages project: a meeting with the Indonesian Heritage Society.

Judy Ryan, the Society’s president has told me that they have 700 members spread around the world. I joined a couple of dozen of the predominantly ex-pat group today in a walled village of luxurious homes in a southern district of Jakarta. Muffins, brownies, cheese-puffs (you can tell that I am still hungry) and every creature comfort. A congenial atmosphere but also a sharp and perceptive audience representing every possible walk of life and, all tallied, vast life experience.

Several members have a passion for textiles; all have an interest in indigenous culture. Enthusiastically and sincerely, they do what they can to promote it. It was a receptive audience with which to share my Back to the Villages plan. It was also an audience that had earned the courtesy of learning more details: they had helped me in crucial ways to prepare for this project, e.g. to import the book.

I shared my motivation to bring Legacy in cloth to North Sumatra, emphasizing the fact that weavers need templates when they set about making a textile. If they no longer have their heritage textiles, they are severely restricted in their capacity to build creatively within their own tradition. The Indonesian Heritage Society donated 3 books to express their support for the project.

At a previous gathering like the one I attended today, the Batak designer, Merdi Sihombing, delivered the talk. He works with new fibres, colours, and techniques, building on ancient motifs and textile layouts. I was delighted that he was present at my talk today.

While I plan to give most books to weavers who assisted me during my fieldwork, there are a few non-weavers who also deserve a copy because of their role in keeping the tradition alive. After all, the ultimate goal of this exercise is to give the Batak weaving arts a boost. Merdi Sihombing was on my list of intended recipients (and his wife is a brilliant weaver). It seemed only right to make use of the opportunity today to present him with his copy. It was a festive and public setting in which to honour a person who is doing what he can to revitalize the ancient, Batak weaving tradition. 

It was also a very special moment because it will probably be the only time that one of the donors to the project will have the opportunity to present its own gift to the recipient!  Judy Ryan did the honours and also inscribed the message from the Indonesian Heritage Society to Merdi in her own hand. I found the moment terribly satisfying and a wonderfully auspicious way to kick off the project!
the glory of the weave!
My traveling companion Jantine Koobs kindly and dutifully made photographs to pin down the event for posterity. As soon as I have the computer software sorted out for my new camera, I will try to post some shots of the occasion.

Another highlight of the event was the opportunity to finally meet Ed Edwards McKinnon with whom I have corresponded, off and on, for years about Indian influence in Karo prehistory. Our mutual friend, Tim Babcock, who has done much behind the scenes to encourage the Back to the Villages project, orchestrated this meeting. At his suggestion (thank you, Tim!) Ed and his beautiful wife, Sinta, drove all the way down from Bogor to join us. There was an immediate click, the kind that happens only when kindred spirits meet. We sensed that it would be useful to meet longer and more often!

In a few hours, we will be off to visit the Textile Museum here in Jakarta. It will be a good idea to get some shut-eye before the sun comes up.

See Back to the Villages - the map!

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