Monday, February 02, 2015


I have a wonderful team here in Tano Batak – we’ve become known as Team Pulang Kampung. Nashir and I have collected the members serendipitously. They all have pure hearts, bright minds, individual talents and a sincere desire to do something for their culture. This blog is devoted to one of them: Jesral Tambun. If Tetti Naibaho’s three huge bags of soft, fluffy cotton provided the foundation for the workshop, it still could never have happened without the talents of each of the team members.  This blog bears witness to the power of one. Never doubt that the talents of a single person can change the course of history.

Jesral as he was when I first met him
Jesral was a young fellow that I met in Ompu Okta’s village on one of the last days of the Pulang Kampung III journey. He became an honourary member of the team even though circumstances had prevented him from participating in the voyage of the Boat Budaya. Almost two years have gone by since then and I, and especially Nashir, have kept in close touch with the remarkable Jesral.

Jesral was orphaned when he was a teenager and his house burned down. He has very limited financial resources. He mentioned that period of his life during this past trip. He can’t imagine a worse phase to have to undergo, but he made it through intact. This is what he emphasizes. He now feels fearless and strong, convinced of his inner resources. He has not yet run up against his personal boundaries.

Nashir had met Jesral earlier, during the last film shoot of
Rangsa ni Tonun and had given him a copy of Berkelana
dengan sandra.
If Jes was just a quiet boy with a wound when I met him, he is definitely a man now, with a strong  presence. He has come into his own. Recently he wanted to show Nashir a waterfall in the forest. They set out and walked for an entire day traversing rivers up to their armpits using roots as ropes to keep them from being swept away by the current.

Luckily Nashir did not lose his hat. And Jesral kept his camera dry.

The journey was long and when darkness was about to fall, they had still not reached their destination. Nashir was prepared to spend the night in the rainy woods but Jesral decided he wanted to return to his lonely house in the woods. They made the return trek armed only with Jesral’s knife and Nashir’s Wakawaka light. Jesral said afterwards that it was his father’s voice that guided him. They made it back barefoot (they had burned their sandals to meet some need) but alive at 3 a.m. My Western and Canadian being condemns the folly of such an unprepared journey into the wilderness, but both men returned invigorated; I could see it in their faces. Nashir felt that he had discovered the capacities and character of Jesral.

This is Jesral a year ago.
Jesral feels that it is time he had company in his home -- at the very least so that he doesn’t have to do everything by himself. He is looking for a weaver so that he can return home in the evening to the sound of the sword beating in the weft. In the meantime he knows that it is the task of the boyfriend -- and later the husband -- to make the weaving equipment for his weaver. Jesral is a woodworker and he wants to fulfil this obligation well. An elderly woman in the village has given him her weaving equipment now that she no longer weaves. This  is allowing him to learn about the kinds of wood that comprise the loom.

And this is the Jesral who filled me with awe during
the Bonang Batak (spinning) workshop
When we decided to hold the spinning workshop this was predicated on Jesral’s willingness to help us with the equipment. We are so lucky to have a man who loves to work with wood on our team. We still had the spinning wheel that we ordered from Kalimantan for filming Rangsa ni Tonun but it didn’t work well enough for the workshop. We didn’t have a bow of the right size for fluffing the cotton and we didn’t have enough bamboo “cores” so that all of the participants could make cotton rolags. Nashir went early to Jesral’s home to oversee the collection and preparation of the wood that we would need for the workshop. Once in Pangururan, they and Paul worked non-stop for three days and eventually, after a lot of trial and error, got it all right. The spinning wheel was the hardest. I watched Jesral learn the physics of it and then work with the materials that he had available. We didn’t have an appropriate string to connect the big wheel to the spindle and Jesral eventually cut a strip of rubber from an old tire and that did the trick.

Jesral working on the spinning wheel with Nashir documenting the process
The workshop is now over. We gave a bow to each of the participants. They will have access to cotton from ibu Tetti and they will be able to clean the cotton by hand; the cotton gin is not an absolute necessity. They have bamboo ‘cores’ to make the rolags. The only thing they don’t have is a spinning wheel. Jesral has worked himself into the position of being the only man in Tano Batak who can supply a wheel. I will encourage Ibu Tetti to order wheels from him for the weavers in her village.

Strength, skill, precision
Words cannot describe my thankfulness to Jesral and my appreciation of his talents in making this workshop possible. Each of us had a role to play and all of us were indispensable, but Jesral’s role was singular. Who else could have worked with wood with such steadfast and stubborn determination? We had the workshop lined up before we had a working spinning wheel! Jesral rose to the challenge with grace and humour. Unpaid, just like the rest of us, his only compensation was the sense that he was contributing to his culture – and learning to meet the needs of his future weaver. Where once I felt concern for Jesral’s future, he now fills me with awe. The workshop was a historic moment in which threatened skills were passed down from an elderly Batak spinner to three younger women. Jesral has every right to feel proud about his contribution to this event.

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