In a blog earlier this year I wrote:
'Saving Lasma Sitanggang' means saving the whole village. It means struggling to
the challenge of how to make a good life despite all the forces that slap down
the little farmer in Indonesia. This past year alone, four people in her
village committed suicide for reasons related to poverty. Lasma wants to honour
her cultural heritage as well as find her way through this world that champions
only the value of money. For me, traveling with Lasma Sitanggang means being
willing to share the burden on her shoulders, to help construct strategies that
fit with her local circumstances, to construct ways that will give everyone a
chance to win and climb out of the hole together. What we undertake, the
interventions we construct, must meet the criterion of serving the well being
of the whole village.
|Lasma 1 August 2016 With a water
bottle hanging from her neck.
I alluded to it, but I did not write about our plan directly. I am loath to write about plans until they are a sure thing, until the path is cleared. I don't want to write about pipe dreams and invite all the consequences. Today, however, our well is being drilled. We are taking the first step in building and there are real pipes. It is time to dare to share our dream and our plan. And celebrate.
Lasma and I are trying to build a Weaving Centre. Why? How? Where? When? With whom? All of these questions have been besieging us for the past couple of years and answers have gradually begun to emerge.
Let me start with the 'why'. Lasma and I need to do something that in the process of supporting her would help her make positive change in her village. Our common interest lies in the area of weaving. Lasma's village is a weaving village -- well, an ex-weaving village. The women have stopped weaving because the selling price no longer supports their work. So why make a weaving centre when people have stopped weaving and the market is so weak? Answer: because Lasma and I hope that when and if this world ever wakes up to realize that it is squandering its most valued assets, including craft traditions that have been constructed century upon century by human ingenuity, there may at least be a centre in the Simalungun Batak area of North Sumatra where women are continuing their bounteous and beautiful weaving heritage. Surely, if we work cleverly and carefully, we can find and construct a market that will allow it to survive. There are no guarantees in life, but this goal seems, to both Lasma and me, worth devoting ourselves to. Not necessarily from an economic point of view (although we need the Centre to at least survive on that front) but from a moral, aesthetic, and cultural point of view. If we are successful, not just the whole village, but all of Simalungun, all of Batak will gain. Why are we building this centre? Because the time is right and it is a good thing to do.
On to the 'how'. How to build a centre from which the entire village can gain, when the weaving craft is already on the verge of extinction and the women have turned their backs to it? There are two answers to this question; one answer relates to craft and culture and the other to physical environment, but it all boils down to one issue: well-being.
The women in Lasma's village have never found an alternative to weaving. Granted, they earn more from their farming activities and thus they invest in that, but they still miss the supplement and diversity that weaving gave them. Moreover, they have lost that special niche that their culture reserved for weaving women, a place of women's excellence and pride. The women have become mere impoverished labourers. Lasma and I believe -- and on occasion the women in the village have corroborated this -- they will be enlivened by the pride they can once again achieve from an opportunity to be excellent in their craft. The weaving centre will allow them to come together and work together. They also miss a place where they can share ideas and experiment together. ... Oh dear, I seem to have lapsed back into the 'why'. Clearly, the centre must not be just Lasma's Weaving Centre, rather a Centre where all the weavers in the village feel at home and can benefit. We want women to feel pride, empowerment, comfort, able to participate. And we would like young women, including orphans, to be able to come and stay, work in the garden and at their looms, find pleasure in the day-to-day. That is how and what and where we want the centre to be and with whom we want to build it.
Building a centre that aids the village from the point of view of physical environment is an issue that plays a greater role in my mind than in Lasma's, although she is really excited by organic farming and herself farms organically. Nevertheless, I don't think she has ever seen a park and experienced land that is maintained purely for pleasure and not directly for profit. I would like to rectify this gap in her experience. I live in The Netherlands where parks are plentiful, and brilliantly conceived and looked after, and I would like someday to show some to her. Together with her I would like to build a green, lush oasis where the fruit and nuts hang for the picking from the trees, where the people can relax in a beautiful environment and eat an organically farmed meal. Green does wonders for the spirit and the health. Even if our weaving centre fails, let us at least have constructed a village park where the children can eat their fill of organic fruit. And where the people can be introduced to a healthy vision for the future. We want to show how textile production belongs to a better future and not just the past.
This is why, in the end, I purchased land in Lasma's village for our weaving centre. It is not on a major tourist route. Really, there is not a whole lot going for this village and some have argued that I have therefore not selected a good location for the centre. I, however, have made a point of locating it in a village that has nothing going for it. Such villages are always left out. I am using the same rationale for investing in this village as I used for giving my luxurious edition of Legacy in Cloth to poor rural weavers: they are the ones who will benefit from it the most. And that is what it is all about. The Centre will be where the weavers are.
There, this is enough for one blog. There is too much to tell all at once. Suffice it to say that our well is being drilled, down, down through soil and rock to underground streams. It is giving me the opportunity to gush. And I will gush more on this topic in a future blog. On and on.