Since giving a copy of Legacy to Ir. S. Tambun in Kaban Jahe last June, I have had a few opportunities to chat with him through Facebook. He wasn’t home when I presented the book to his sister and we hoped to meet another time. My visitors from YPBB seemed pleased at the prospect of meeting him and so we dropped in unexpectedly before heading back to Medan on 2 December. Luckily, Ir. Tambun was there.
Of course, I am a strong proponent of backstrap weaving, but not to the exclusion of products on other kinds of looms. What Ir. Tambun showed us underscored, for me, why backstrap weavers should not compete with machines: they will always lose. It is a worst possible scenario: the poor weavers work like mad without any hope of making a decent wage, while the quality of their work declines because they weave too fast. No, I am a proponent of backstrap weaving because of the quality that it can have. No machine or semi-mechanical loom can compete with a Batak weaver of excellence in the old style: someone who takes her time, who executes each step with love and pride, and who yields a product with beautiful irregularities that shows the “hand of the weaver”. Such products are works of art. They are not handwoven versions of mechanized production. The two paths must diverge. The selling prices of the two products must also diverge. Hugely.
I have accepted the decline of Batak weaving as a consequence of the forces of modernization. But I also believe that room must be created for the art product and for weavers working in the traditional fashion with beautiful yarns and earthy colours. The weavers who make such cloths will be much fewer and father between. They will be called ´artists’. Creating the room and support for artistic textile production is, I believe, a social need and responsibility.
I asked Ir. S. Tambun if I could purchase it. He smiled saying that it was a new creation and that, so far, he had only given one to the wife of the Governor of North Sumatra; it had not yet been launched on the market….but that he would like to give me one to thank me for my book, Legacy in cloth! We walked over to the loom where it was being woven and he cut one off for me. I immediately had visions of myself wearing it at the upcoming WISDOM conference in Yogyakarta and stuffed several copies of Ir. Tambun’s business card in my bag. I want to tell people about him and his work!
I am thrilled with his creation. It is the kind of creation that I find appropriate for semi-mechanized weaving. It is rooted in the Batak tradition but has universal appeal and does not compete with traditional cloth. When I wear it, I will feel that I am wearing the future of the commercial textile industry in North Sumatra and the product of a truly clever and innovative designer.
I hope that the industry will develop with much concern for its environmental impact so that it will come to mean far more than just income for participating weavers. Weaving industries are notorious for polluting dyes and noisy working conditions. May this industry encourage health as well as financial well-being for its weavers and owner as it moves towards the future. May the industry become as sustainable as the ancient designs from which it takes its inspiration.
Thank you, Ir. S. Tambun for this beautiful textile that, for me, represents an exciting vision of the future.
P.S. Later, though facebook, Sahat Tambun gave me these details about the textile:
Kain disebut tenunan dobby, terbuat dari bahan full spunsilk ex China, desain sebangun dengan uis julu jongkit (uis Karo), penggunaan multi purpose.
[Translation: The cloth you are referring to is woven with a dobby (mechanism that makes small patterns that are simpler than those made with a jacquard loom); it is made from "full spunsilk from China"; the design is derived from uis julu jongkit (a Karo textile); it has a multi-purpose function.]