Yesterday I received an email from the Director of the SMA school in Silalahi, Mr Sadiman Sigiro. He wrote:
“We are making an ulos exhibition, to show the results of students of the SMA Negeri school Silahisabungan... 14 - 15 November 2015 ...with C.F. Sidjabat. We ask for your blessings. Thanks. Greetings and prayers.”
This touched me deeply. How dedicated Mr. Sadiron Sigiro is. How he longs for success in his curriculum experiment -- he is the first in the Batak area to incorporate weaving in his school’s curriculum. He cares deeply about his culture.
I was able to attend the grand opening of his program earlier this year. I am sorry that I cannot be there now to see the results of his students’ efforts.
I know that the program is new, experimental and still in its early stages. Mr. C.F. Sidjabat, the initiator of the program wrote to me on the same day as the school director and he confided his concern because young people are not anxious to learn to weave. And of course the future of this weaving tradition depends on them. The last three weavers of the famous and most important of the Silalahi textile tradition, the gobar, are in their mid-70s. A generation has been lost. If the current generation does not learn the art, this distinctive and unique heritage will be lost forever. “It is critical. We have to do something,” he said.
There is so much that is sad in the world today. There are fires raging in the rainforests of Sumatra right now. The Sumatran tiger, elephant and orangutang and many other species are on the verge of extinction due to loss of habitat. The weaving arts in the same critical state. They are suffering a loss of cultural habitat, engulfed by the flames of a materialism that is impoverishing the world.
I imagine that if I was in Silalahi today and tomorrow, I would be given a microphone to deliver some words to the young weavers of the textiles in the exhibition. I would stand there and feel gratitude for the opportunity to express my appreciation to the young weavers and I would want to convey to them my sense of the value of their work. Most of them have not traveled far afield, maybe no further than Medan. Their knowledge of the world is limited. How could I impress upon them the value of their efforts?
Dear dedicated and skilled young weavers,
Throughout the world the arts of indigenous peoples are threatened with extinction. Despite their beauty, their great age, the history wrapped up in their techniques and design, their sophistication. The most beautiful expressions of human creativity are destined to be lost forever because they are not supported by social and economic circumstances. Their loss will be mourned forever.
I believer, however, that a few traditions may survive. If they do, this will be because of the hard work, talent, creative insight, and incisive actions on the part of a few people. People such as you.
I congratulate the young women of Silalahi who are learning the art of Batak weaving and investing many, many hours in the task. I know that you long for a good future for yourself and your future family. Please know that you are not working in isolation. There are Batak people and ulos aficionados everywhere who applaud your efforts and are proud of you. I believe there will come a day when you will reap the rewards of your steadfastness and your skill. You will be recognized as a cultural heroes and your work as cultural treasures. There will not be many of you who can still do this work. I honor your efforts.
I ask you to recognize the value of your work, to believe in your efforts.
I would also address some words to the bystanders -- and now to all readers of this blog:
Dear witnesses of this unique Silalahi weaving program,
It is possible for you to play an active role to ensure the vitality of this program. I invite you to commission a textile from these young women. Place your orders through me and I will make sure your order is received. I will ask good prices from you so that the young people will be stimulated to continue. Continuing their art should not be a condemnation to poverty. They cannot do it alone; it takes a world to nurture a weaving tradition. Let us build it together and not leave it to flounder. Let us express our appreciation concretely, in a way that makes it possible for the young women to continue. Their mothers and grandmothers were forced to stop because their efforts did not earn them a living wage.