Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bentenan in Bandung

My central purpose in going to Indonesia this time was to prepare an exhibition of Batak textiles in conjunction with the Batak musical, ‘The Story of Buku Ende’. The exhibition was set up in the aula of the auditorium and beside it I had a stand proffering our books and T-shirts where we were able to share the story of Pulang Kampung I, II and III with visitors.

One of the visitors to my stand was a Brigjen. TNI Joni L. Tobing. He lived in Bandung now but had travelled extensively and had lived in Manado. He was struck by my attention to Batak textiles and wanted to bring the Kain Bentenan to my attention. He believed it to be an exceptional textile. He then kindly invited me to dinner and brought a kain Bentenan for me as a gift.

Unbeknownst to him, he was helping me walk in the footsteps of Jasper and Pirngadie. When Jasper visited Manado in 1907 he had been very struck by the beauty of this textile. He noted that it was on the verge of disappearance. In his report on his journey he described how he worked with the local ‘Controleur’ on plans for a craft school so that the knowledge of the elderly weavers would be passed on to young women.

Pirngadie's depiction of the Kain Bentenan
Mas Pirngadie made a fine pen and ink drawing of the Kain Bentenan for their volume on The Weaving Arts (De Weefkunst) that was published in 1912. I compared my newly acquired textile with the drawing and saw, not surprisingly, that the motifs in the modern cloth are larger. Further, the modern cloth was made on an ATBM (semi-mechanical upright loom) and not a backstrap loom.

My modern Kain Bentenan
Detail of my modern Kain Bentanan
Someday, when I retrace Jasper and Pirngadie’s footsteps in earnest, I will find out what became of the plans for that craft school in Manado, whether it led to a revival of the Kain Bentenan, and whether the knowledge of the elderly women continues to be passed down. When was the ATBM brought in? Is the cloth still being made with a backstrap loom?

Somehow it feels urgent to have these questions answered in the affirmative.

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