Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Sorha - 1 December

Sometimes the sublime and the ridiculous are the same thing. We finally found our sorha. And then not just one, but two. The story is as crazy as it is unexpected.


We left Muara to go to Berastagi with the plan of stopping in the Porsea area. It was market day on Wednesday in Porsea, and the team from YPBB that we were travelling with would be able to find information about ulos in that market. They would set out from there to find weavers who would be able to answer their questions. MJA Nashir and I would use the opportunity to make a quick visit to Ompu Okta. We needed our narrator, Ompu Okta doli, to say a few words about the busur (cotton bow/fluffer) that we had with us and also the luli pinale (the rolls of cotton prepared for spinning) so that his presence as narrator would continue to bind all parts of the film. We needed to film him holding the respective objects when it came to that part of the text.

Coming back into Ompu Okta’s village was like homecoming. The van dropped us off and went straight back to meet the YPBB crew at the market. We entered the little home that had been ours during the early days of filming and told our tales of Sianjur Mulamula, finding the Palembang cotton growing there and the elderly weaver who was able to make luli pinale (the little bundles of cotton prepared for spinning), of traveling throughout Samosir even to the isolated northwest shore and ending up in Muara. We told of our frustration over and over again at not being able to find a sorha (spinning wheel) at any of these locations. In the end, our generous host in Muara, Restuala Namora, offered to make it for us, but he needed an example to work from and he only had the photograph in my book. Furthermore, we didn’t know anybody who would be able to use it in an expert way. He had been successful in making the busur (bow to fluff the cotton) and iraniran (frame to wind the cotton) though, and we carried them proudly with us.

We sipped tea as we chatted, occasionally running outside to look at a weaving instrument or to care for the busy little granddaughter, Dina, until Ompu Okta doli, in an off-hand manner, standing in the doorway of his house, announced that he was looking at a spinning wheel as he spoke. It was on the veranda of the Batak house across the village square.  He made his announcement in such a low-key way, that it didn’t initially quite register. Could this highlight possibly be conveyed in such a matter of fact way? I couldn’t believe my ears. But looking across the village square, I also saw it poking up, a hunk of wood that I would never have recognized. Ompu Okta said that he had always known that it was there. Perhaps he had always known that it was broken and parts were missing and perhaps that is why he had not mentioned it earlier to us.

He called across to his neighbour who brought it down for us to inspect. And then he went out to the back kitchen of his own house and found the even more meager remains of yet another spinning wheel. How strange it is when you search everywhere only to find what you are looking for in the place where you originally began the search.

Where the sorha was found.
The neighbour with her sorha.
The spinning wheels need some repair and our time is now terribly short. We have to repair the rattan on the wheel and find straight metal to serve as a spindle. Will we find someone who can actually use the wheel? Can we bring it back to Ompu Okta boru? I don’t have that kind of time available. Will Mas Nashir be able to do that? Ompu Okta now says that she is able to spin. This is not only the 11th hour, but 5 before 12. Ridiculous, really, after our month of travels. So close and yet still so far.


Ompu Okta doli was immediately willing to speak more text as film narration and pulled on his adat clothing. We squeezed it in before the rain pelted down. Timing seemed to be on our side in this instance.

And then Ompu Okta boru expressed her willingness to try to work with the cotton fluffing bow. We had some film of it taken in Muara, but for the sake of continuity in the final film product, it wouldn’t hurt if Ompu Okta also performed this technique, so we filmed it again.

Ompu Okta fluffs cotton using the bosur

It was a satisfying homecoming. The van pulled up when we were finishing off, and we were soon in it again, heading for Berastagi to introduce our YPBB crew to indigo in the Karo area. But now we had two rickety old spinning wheels in the back.

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