Sunday, January 30, 2011

Trouble Shooting the Sorha or Spinning our Wheels

On our last night in Muara, Ompu Okta called to ask how things were going with the rehabilitation of the sorha. She was very clear: bring it to her so that she could do the spinning for the film! I loved it! She made me giggle and hug myself in delight. She and her husband are doing all that they can to ensure that the film is done right! We have taken up so much of their time already, and this is a busy time in the rice fields transplanting the seedlings, but she was still anxious to spend more time on a weaving technique that she hadn’t practiced in a long, long time. In fact, she was itching to do it! Weaving skills are such a great source of pride to her.

In a previous blog (Muara, O Muara II) I expressed my joy at seeing a working sorha in the Batak area once again. We proudly stashed it in the back of our spacious vehicle and in the morning, when we left Sebastian Hutabarat’s home, we headed for her village. We decided that we should bring lunch to the village as a matter of courtesy and when we stopped I noticed that we were parked in front of an iron smith’s shop. Restuala and his carpenter had tried very hard to make the wheel as original as possible, using no nails or glue. And not knowing that the early Batak were skilled in metalworking, they even made the spindle from wood (and gave it a hook at the end, not knowing that it just came to a clean point). I had brought metal spindles from The Netherlands, but this had gone over like a lead balloon in Muara because the steel was shiny (they called it chrome). So in front of the iron smith’s shop, I asked if he could use a rusty iron staff of narrow diameter to make me a spindle. He was willing. He had no materials thin enough, so I agreed to one of wider diameter. As soon as the smith was finished, he started to polish the whole thing so that it gleamed and I caught him too late. So then he had to do it over again and not polish it. When we arrived at Ompu Okta's house, her first words were, “You’re late”.

Oh well. We proudly carried the little jewel of a spinning wheel into her house.

I pulled out the new spindles just as Ompu Okta doli was pulling out his own spindles! He, too, was prepared! And he told me that my new ones were much too large and clumsy. Neither of them was happy with the gizmo that the Muara carpenter had devised to hold the spindle because it was made of wood rather than sugar-palm fiber. They explained that a thin, strong, slippery sheath or lining of bamboo was inserted inside the sugar-palm fiber ring to make sure that the spindle could spin optimally. So we learned something new.

The first thing that Ompu Okta did was replace the string that turns the wheel,
The two Ompus Okta decided in consultation with each other to replace the string connecting the big wheel to the little spindle, and they took the whole apparatus apart to connect the two components using a black string with elastic qualities. It had to be tight enough to actually turn the spindle. But then it became evident that the spokes of the big wheel had been tied incorrectly. This meant that the big wheel was too weak to accommodate the tension of the string connecting it to the spindle. This time it was Mas Nashir who went to work. We still had some old rattan that we had purchased from the woman who had sold us the wheel in this very same village last November. Nashir soaked it in a bucket of water and then split it to get some pieces manageably thin to re-tie the spokes of the wheel. It all took time.

The replacement of the string that turns on the wheel
led to the discovery of the flaws in the wheel.
The male Ompu Okta expressed his disappointment that he had not been the one that we had asked to re-furbish the wheel. (We agreed.) He saw that the entire end piece of the wheel, that had originally been there when we purchased the wheel, had been replaced with a clumsy, inelegant piece of wood. Everyone was disappointed by the look of it and Ompu Okta said that the hole in it was the wrong shape and size, but we had to make do with what we had.

When Nashir was done and tension was applied to the string connecting the wheel to the spindle, it seemed to work and we all heaved a sigh of relief. The woven pandan mat was fetched. Ompu Okta put on her film-clothes and we moved out into the village plain to commence filming. “This isn’t hapas Palembang” Ompu Okta said at that point. “No, it is cotton from Bali” we said. I was stricken with worry. This too? Ompu Okta was not pleased and said that she didn’t know if she would be able to spin it. She tried though, only to realize that the big wheel wouldn’t turn correctly. The kind of cotton that we had was turning out to be the least of our worries. The wheel seemed to turn fine in the opposite direction! As the wheel needed to turn for the filming to be successful, Nashir dismantled the whole thing, turned the wheel around and put it all back together again.

To no avail, however. And then it started to rain. So we packed everything up and brought it back to the house. In the meantime, the handle that Ompu Okta had been using to turn the wheel had broken. Now Pak Jerry, our chauffeur shifted into gear. By now, we were using nails and plastic string and searching the edges of the village square (unsuccessfully) for pieces of wood of the right shape and size.

Then Ompu Okta doli tried to improve the functioning of the wheel by using a different rope that wouldn’t slip around so much. After changing it all, he saw that it had worked better with the original, so he changed it back.
Eventually the whole family was at work: the two Ompu Okta and their son
all did their best to get the wheel to work
The next option was to change the spindle. First we tried Ompu Okta’s spindle, but it was too thin and the clumsy wooden holder (instead of palm fibre) that had been made was too large and the spindle wobbled too much. Now we switched to the spindle of wider diameter that I had just purchased at the market. It seemed to work a little better.

Everybody kept his temper, told stories, tried not to get peeved (Nashir told me later, in a rare confession of negative emotion, that he had felt like kicking the thing into the next village) and tried to think creatively. At one point, my head cold and fatigue got the better of me down and I just had to lie down for a few minutes. The circumstances were not the best, but I do remember lying there on the back seat of the car thinking that despite everything, I was terribly privileged. Pak Jerry, Mas Nashir and the two Ompu Okta were all fully intent on making this bloody wheel work. All were fully dedicated to the film. All were creative and skilled and good-tempered. What a team! What amazing luck for me to be able to work with these people! I conked out for about 10 minutes and nobody missed me. They just worked on.

When I returned, Ompu Okta doli told us that one of the persons with whom he drank palm wine in the evenings also turned out to have a spinning wheel.
Let’s go get it, I said.
Don’t said Ompu Okta doli. It will cost too much.
I’ve already spent so much on this project, it would be silly to start to scrimp at this stage, I said.

But I noticed that the female Ompu Okta looked at the male Ompu Okta in a meaningful way. I didn’t know how to interpret the look. But they put their foot down. No, they said, it would be of no use to fetch that wheel. So we didn’t. I did wonder, at that point, what I would have been willing to spend on it….

Now Nashir was using all of his film-director’s creativity. He suggested that Ompu Okta hold the luli pinale (the cotton to be spun – prepared for us in November in Sianjur Mulamula) in her hand, and behind it the already-spun yarn. She would then have the appearance of spinning when she stretched out her hand but she would only be unraveling the already spun yarn. Alas, after many valiant attempts, this didn’t work because the un-spun cotton got all scrambled up with the spun cotton. And each time the spun cotton got wound up on the spindle, we had to unwind it again, wind it into a ball, and start over again. The day was beginning to wane.
Filming didn't go smoothly. Nashir spent more time on the technology
of the wheel than of the camera

The male Ompu Okta decided to do something about the wobbly way the spindle was turning, so he sacrificed a flip-flop sandal to attach to the end of the spindle as a kind of stopper. Foam rubber was a far cry from the original materials that Restuala had been so proud of, but we were punchy by this time and ready to try anything.

“I think that I could turn this film into an advertisement for machine-spun yarn,” said Mas Nashir. “Oh, for T.D. Pardede!” (the Batak from Balige who had set up the first spinning factory in Medan)

The female Ompu Okta had her newly-born grandson in her arms while she was waiting for each new reparation of the sorha and she told me stories about the last time she had spun. It had been when her children were still young and it was for an elderly woman in the village who still made her own cotton blankets. The woman was only a minimally skilled weaver and didn’t know how to make supplementary patterning. Ompu Okta and her children all assisted with the spinning. It was lovely to do, she said. If (because?) the wheel turned correctly.

Because of the rain it was impossible to film in the village plain. We fetched a pandan mat that we had just purchased in Porsea and we tacked it up to hide the cement of the wall of the modern bungalow. Now the male Ompu Okta, still working on the big wheel, tried to keep it from shifting on its axle so that it would turn more smoothly. By the time we were ready to proceed again, the rain had stopped, so we packed everything up again and shifted back to the village plain.

Nashir and Ompu Okta worked together. He taught her how to fake the spinning process. Finally he claimed that he had a few frames of useable film that he was going to try to splice together into a series of images that would delude the audience into thinking that Ompu Okta, on this fateful day, using this gem of an “original” Batak spinning wheel, had managed to spin some yarn.

But it is a lie. We didn’t spin on that fateful day. And Nashir told me that when he had time to improve the film, after the exhibition Fiber Face 3 in Yogyakarta, he wanted to go to Toraja where his dear Nenek Panggao lives and where spinning gives meaning to her life. He would then dress her up in Batak clothes and ….would I go with him?

On that fateful grey, rainy, frustrating day, we learned an awful lot about Batak spinning wheels and it kindled in us respect for the Batak makers of functional spinning wheels because they knew how to balance all of the parts and make them work as a whole with the correct size and shape of wheel, the correct tension of yarn, the correct kind of spindle, and all of this making use of the materials available close at hand: the right kinds of wood, the right kinds of bamboo, the right kind of yarn, rattan and rope, And then there was the knowledge of physics…. Some truly great minds were at work in the “primitive” historical past. And nature and knowledge of it were so much richer then….

Another time we will continue to work on this. Restuala wants to have some functioning wheels in Muara for his weaving centre. A tall order, as it turns out!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pondering the Pipisan OR... The Ponderous Pipisan

The story of the pipisan (cotton gin) is at least as old as the one about the sorha (spinning wheel). My search has always been for both of them simultaneously. Perhaps the spinning wheel has claimed more attention because people at least know what it is! The pipisan has receded so far from memory because essentially nobody works anymore with cotton appropriate for spinning and all of the processes involved in cleaning the cotton are unknown. People don’t even know that there are pits in the cotton and that they are awfully hard to remove. Furthermore, it does not appear that the pipisan was used everywhere. Ompu Okta was under the impression that the pits were always removed by hand.

Unfortunately, I could find only one archival photograph depicting the use of the pipisan and this single photograph was very unclear, so we couldn’t even make do with that for the film. We had no choice but to try to re-make the instrument. All of my attempts to import one from Bali were to no avail.

Restuala, with his eternal goodwill, agreed to try to help us in Muara while I was in The Netherlands. When we arrived in Muara, little progress had been made, however. This was primarily because nobody had a clear idea of the function of the machine – and also because my diagram was only two dimensional. It is that gearing mechanism, with two pieces of wood essentially ‘twining’ around each other, that is presenting the problem. It takes considerable skill to make this.

Carpenter in Muara struggling with the pipisan without the
right wood or tools or ever having seen a pipisan or perhaps
even knowing what the pits in cotton are like.
When I got to Muara this time around, I tried to explain it to the craftsman. He could understand the principles and he did his best to execute the gearing mechanism, and despite having a sleepless night thinking about it, he was not able to come up with the right formula in time. Nor did he have appropriate wood and tools to work with.

For this reason, I decided once again to trust to fate and to let go of this experiment in Muara. On the day of our departure, my mind was buzzing with what I should do next. Go to Tarutung and look for a woodworker? Afterall, our Guru Sinangga ni Adji, the writer of Rangsa ni Tonun, was from Tarutung and there might be some vague memory of the device there. The major inhibiting problem was that there simply was not enough time left. Even if I could get to Tarutung and even if I could locate a skilled craftsman, both of which would take days, he would need more time than we had available to accomplish the task. What then? The only other option that I could think of was to return to Ompu Okta and see what magical things might happen--- like finding a pipisan on a neighbour’s balcony the way we found the sorha!

En route to Ompu Okta, we had been invited to spend the night with Sebastian Hutabarat, my dear nephew in Balige doing wonderful experimental things with eco-lifestyle and art. He wanted to talk to Nashir about film and it is always a pleasure to talk with Sebastian so we were more than happy to accept his invitation. Sebastian also took the opportunity to show us what he had been doing with salvaged wood to build his future café.

When we left, I sat in the back of the vehicle and once again pondered the pipisan. I had seen wood at Sebastian’s place that struck me as perfect for the rollers….hey! Sebastian also had some excellent wood workers! Eureka! I phoned him right back to ask if we could prevail again on his goodwill and his woodworking skills! Dear Sebastian was immediately ready and willing. Come back again in the evening, he said.

And so we did, bringing the spinning wheel with us and computer images. He called over one of his new employees, a young man named Alfred Manurung who has just graduated from art school. Alfred was quiet, thoughtful, up for the challenge, and had time to work on it. I gave him until the end of the week.

Yesterday morning early, I visited Sebastian Hutabarat’s house to view the progress on the pipisan. Alfred had done a good, solid job. It wasn’t yet finished, though. There were some confusions and these related to my two-dimensional diagram. I did my best to explain the instrument and said I would be back at the end of the day.

Alfred is a clever young man and a sound and innovative wood worker. The vision he had in his mind did not exactly overlap with my vision, however. His work was therefore innovative and not exactly what was intended, but the product is hopefully good enough for us to work with for the film. If Nashir films close-up, we may be able to get away with what Alfred has made and without the inauthenticities in his version of the pipisan being evident to the viewing audience. Unfortunately, on the very last day, after I left him yesterday morning, Alfred put the gearing mechanism between the vertical elements instead of outside them as had been the original plan. This means that cotton will get stuck in them and gum up the machine. It also means that we won’t even be able to film the rollers in their entirety. I was very regretful about this last-minute change. In addition, the gear mechanism that he made won’t squeak the way the original does, so we will have to develop another squeak for our sound recording. That should be possible. Alfred cleverly made a tray for catching pits. It was a misinterpretation of my drawing of the mechanism that puts pressure on the two rollers so that the pits can’t slip between them. Our pipisan also has a gap between the rollers because of the way he made the gear mechanism and this means that it will not do a good job of removing the pits. Oh well. I explained all of this to Alfred, and said that I hoped he would be able to finish the apparatus sometime in the future for us. I will do my best to find an example in Bali next month and ship it back to the Batak area. It would be wonderful to finally once again have a real Batak cotton gin / pipisan.

It has been aa special experience to see all the work, thought, and time that goes into understanding and making a new machine. How much innovative thought must have gone into creating the first one! The real one is a simple but clever device, much better, to date, than the ones we have been able to come up with, even though we understand the principle! I have also learned that the craft of woodworking has declined as much as the craft of weaving.
All of the materials laid out and ready to film the
removal of cotton pits using the pipisan.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Rainbow in a Pothole

There is a line in the Rangsa ni Tonun text that we are filming that reads “na songon halibutongan di lupaklupak” We didn’t have a clue how to film it mostly because we didn’t know the meaning of the word lupaklupak nor, therefore, how a halibutongan (rainbow) related to Batak dye. We asked Restuala and he thought that a lupaklupak was the natural sink that forms where the water in the rice terrace falls down to the next level. That little waterfall sometimes creates a spray and if the light is just right, a little rainbow results. We then went off looking for potholes and rainbows thinking that the text was using the rainbow as an anology for the colour that the dye process would give to the yarn.

We found many lupaklupak. The search was delicious. Suddenly we became aware of the structure of rice field irrigation. We saw many little waterfalls that we had never noticed before. We learned to see a micro-beauty in Muara that had been there all the while we had focused our prime attention on the panoramas. Our search took us down roads where I think that tourists seldom go and Restuala even took us to a rather large waterfall hidden in the woods where we saw and enjoyed the gurgle of the stream. What a way to make a film!
Restuala showed us what lupaklupak look like in the sawah
and then we looked for rainbows. It turned out to be as
successful as looking for a pot of gold.
Nevertheless we failed to see a rainbow. Nashir did his best with trick photography but only came up with stars of light playing with the falling sawah water. Only later did we learn that, while close, we were not looking in quite the right place to make our visual translation of this line of the text. Our next stop after Muara was Ompu Okta’s village where she would demonstrate the use of the spinning wheel. The rather long and arduous process of getting the spinning wheel to work (the subject of another blog) meant that I had plenty of time to talk with her. The Rangsa ni Tonun text had continued to play in her mind because her childhood memories of the weaving process were still emerging. (How the film and the text has inspired weavers never ceases to thrill me.)

This time she also took us to the village and house where she had been born (a carved and painted original Batak house on stilts). She showed us pictures of her mother, who passed away in 2008, and her grandmother who would have been born around 1900. Her grandmother’s photo was reminiscent of so many that had been taken during the colonial era, a nice posed black and white shot of the whole family gathered around the grandmother and grandfather seated in the middle.

Ompu Okta's grandmother is sitting in the middle with an ulos over her shoulder.
OmpuOkta herself is the child sitting first on the right, cross legged, in the foreground.
Ompu Okta and her husband both expressed their joy that they had been born at a time when it was still possible to soak up some of the old culture. She had never made red dye herself, she said, but her mother and her grandmother used to make it and she had watched them. It reminded me that her knowledge is, indeed, the result of knowledge that has been passed down for many generations.

This is what she could remember:

The leaves of a mountain tree (hau dolok) called haramonting as well as saduluk and other plants were mixed together with water and boiled in a clay pot (like the one used for indigo dyeing). The water in the pot turned rather red.

The pot was then taken to the rice fields, to the butak: runny mud beside the river. A hole was carved out and the mud heaped up in the middle. Yarn was put in this natural "pot". When well permeated, the yarn was taken out of the clay pot and “planted” in the mud (she called this sigira as well) and pushed down in it so that it would become well-permeated with the mud. The liquid in the clay pot was added to the lupaklupak, as she called it!!!! and this was the reddish “rainbow” in the lupaklupak. The whole process might be repeated three times until the colour was deep enough. This is a colour that won’t fade, Ompu Okta said, extolling is virtues proudly while shaking her head disparagingly about modern, synthetic colours.

Now, I am not positive that I have recorded all of the details of what Ompu Okta said exactly correctly and I would like to go back and check them with her without too many other people and goings-on around us, but I do feel confident that in sitting with her in front of her house in the village, we had stumbled upon the rainbow in the hole in the rice fields that the Rangsa ni Tonun text referred to. The connection with dyeing couldn’t be stronger. It was the critical moment when the red mixture was added to the mud and the dye solution could work its magic on the yarn.

Blue and black and mud all over

One of the things that we had to tick off our To Do list was the salaon (indigo plant) growing in the wild. We tackled it in Muara. Restuala taught us to recognize it and took us initially to a garden where it was growing as one plant among many in a scrubby thicket. In the end, however, Nashir decided to stalk a patch growing on the side of the road because the lake formed a stunning backdrop. He has come to the insight that the lake gives identity to the Batak. Without the lake, so much more of the ancient culture would be lost .

Muara was also the place to film sigira, a dye process that I had never witnessed before and only read about. Muara weavers used to practise it. Apparently, after they had finished dyeing their yarn with indigo and they wanted to transform the deep, rich blue colour into black, they took it to the rice fields where the iron content in the mud did the trick.
Restuala holding the indigo-dyed yarn that we will
eventually submerge in the mud of the rice fields.
A basin-like sink was dug in the sawah (the mud is so liquid that this can be done with bare hands) and, after heating the yarn in a vegetable mixture, it was dumped into the sawah basin. The dyer turned the skein, hand over hand, just as she turned it in the dye pot.

Our indigo dyer passed on the task to a fellow villager and off we trekked to the rice fields.

Our indigo dyer was working on her coffee harvest, so she passed on the
task of re-enacting sigira to her neighbour in the village, explaining how it was done.
At this time of year, everybody is working hard transplanting the tender young, fresh green seedlings and the fields are very wet. The first basin that our weaver dug was half in the shadow and so Nashir asked her to make another one in the light.

The sigira dyer in the rice field hears that she
has to make another hole, this time in the light.
Finally, the third basin was just right. We didn’t have the room in our agenda to do the full process complete with the boiling of the yarn, so we cut a corner because the Rangsa ni Tonun text is very short on this issue, essentially: “from blue-dyed yarn, it can be turned black, and from black it can be starched.” We know that a true documentary film of Batak weaving techniques would involve all sorts of regional variations of each step of the process (for example Restuala said that some sigira was done without heating the liquid mixture) and perhaps I will one day make a 20 hour serious documentary film. For the time being, however, Rangsa ni Tonun is a magical, poetic text related to weaving. It must inspire and delight. Nashir is the perfect filmer for this task because his heart is that of a poet and he understands the intention of the text. Our sigira moment in the film takes advantage of yet another extraordinary vista, this time of rice fields leading down to the blue calm lake, and the wonderful tangible quality of the slippery mud. How could we help, in these settings, but capture the deliciously earthy quality of the ancient textiles created from materials close at hand given by Mother Earth?
The sigira setting in the rice fields was wonderful with Lake Toba
in the distance.
As I did my own documentation of the process, I ended up with a socked and sandaled foot in the sawah mud and even managed to photograph the muddy feet of my cat-like, bird-like, mountain-goat-like, gymnastic-dancer-photographer who also couldn't help himself from slipping into it. The camera is still whole.
Even Mas Nashir got muddy feet.


Our two days in Muara (arrived Thursday night, and absolutely filled Friday and Saturday with filming) have been intense and immensely productive. Tomorrow we leave for Uluan.

We have been ticking off the items on Mas Nashir’s list as fast as we can, our time being so limited and the absolute, cut-in-stone deadline being the opening of Fiber Face 3 exhibition on 12 February. Luckily Nashir has made an initial first edit and so we could also use this trip to amplify visual themes that he has developed. The close tie between weaving and nature is one of them; Muara’s beauty seemed to lend itself to this emphasis.
Muara has stunning views
The words mist and mystical may not be related except in the way they sound, but the hazy view of Lake Toba in the morning connected them in my mind – and in the film. It was a gentle way to start the day on Friday. If I hadn’t already fallen in love with the great Lake, Friday morning’s shoot would have settled matters forever.

Filming in a rather bird-like way
Searching with our guide, Goodman Ompusunggu, a member of Restuala’s team, Mas Nashir settled on a gentle bay just outside of Muara’s centre, to film the arrival of the cotton from the clouds. Once again Pak Jerry and I made ourselves useful by tossing cotton into the air. The currents of the air were changeable that morning, sometimes blowing the cotton in one direction and sometimes in another. The currents in the water were just as frustrating. In the end, we waded out into the water and balanced perilously on slippery rocks to try to get the fluffy stuff to float down to where Mas Nashir was balanced like an acrobat on his own slippery rock, camera in hand. Although I had decided on previous shoots that he was half mountain goat and half cat, on this morning, he became a sure-footed bird.

Perched on a rock, filming cotton from the heavens.
In the meantime, Restuala was assembling a collection of beautiful textiles, some the villagers would lend to me for the exhibition next month in Yogyakarta and some for our filming needs here. He was finished before we were, and tactfully sent a text message asking us whether we had changed our plans??? After a longed-for breakfast (in Muara, this is no different from lunch and dinner and consisted of rice, vegetables and fish in the one and only restaurant that we wished to visit) we headed over to Restuala’s house to fetch him, the textiles and Nai Evi, our actress. She was going to be the personification of Boru Hasagian sian ipar ni lautan, a line in Rangsa ni Tonun about the first weaver at the edge of the sea. Nashir’s idea was to film her at the top of the great hill overlooking Muara and the lake. The road leading there was marked by a sign reading Pamatapan. I thus learned the Batak work for view or panorama. Indeed, it is one of the most spectacular views of Lake Toba. Such a vista does something for the soul. Openness, overview, vision. It gives hope, clarity and a sense of possibilities.
Boru Hasiagan played by Nai Evi, a weaver of harungguan textiles
The day was not clear, but the mist was mystical and we were happy enough. Mas Nashir became a gymnastic dancer moving with sure-footed balance to shift his camera angle around our Boru Hasagian who stood like a statue at the edge of the precipice.

The next morning, he discovered that a piece of grass had infiltrated his camera behind the lens and it marred all of his images. I encouraged him to re-shoot the scene rather than spend the hours that it would take to remove that offensive blotch from each frame of the film. Our kind Nai Evi was patient and willing. And it was not a painful procedure for anyone to return to the scene of such beauty. Even the little children who go to the hill after school to try to earn a penny or two from tourists by selling drinks and chocolate bars were approaching us more bravely and not running away or covering their faces with their bags if we aimed a camera at them.
The second day was more clear than the first.
We also had to re-shoot the textiles that we had selected to represent the possessions of the first apical ancestor of the Batak, Raja Ihat Manisia. Mas Nashir wanted them laid down on the ground at the crest of the hill. Because the second day was so clear and beautiful, the backdrop was intensely beautiful.

It must have been those wonderful textiles in combination with the view of the lake that inspired Restuala, Goodman and Nashir to become Tiga Raja. They dressed up in the cloths during the break between the shooting of Boru Hasagian, the first weaver, and the textiles of Raja Ihat Manisia, the apical ancestor of all Bataks, posing as great raja of the past, overlooking their ancestral lands. I took an irresistible photograph of this comic but also nostalgic moment. I also couldn’t resist mimicking Mas Nashir and circled around them, camera in hand, pretending that I was filming them while doing dance and gymnastics. It seems to me that he is having the most fun!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Muara, O Muara II

I wake up to the sound of boat engines. It is market day in Balige and the traffic from here to there across the lake will be heavy. Although it is still dark I can see the lake from my balcony.

The view from my balcony in the morning
I have jetlag and I want to sleep longer, but Restuala Namora said he would be coming by to fetch us at 7 am. When we arrived yesterday evening, we immediately had a planning meeting.

Restuala Namora Pakpahan, MJA Nashir and Goodman Ompusunggu
watching the first edit of Rangsa ni Tonun on the balcony of our palatial acommodations.

The scene is now set and today we must try to finish filming as much as possible of the still outstanding parts of the film, Rangsa ni Tonun.

That is why I am here.

I made the decision to come only last Saturday as I was checking flight availability for the first week of February. It became clear that I could fly right away and it wouldn’t cost me extra. Moreover, my photographer/filmer needed some assistance finishing Rangsa ni Tonun. I was beginning to realize that if I flew to Indonesia immediately, as the film’s producer, I would actually be able to be present at all of the filming and the fine-combed editing. It suddenly seemed grossly unfair to have thrust all of this work into the hands of my filmer. As enthusiastic, capable and willing as he is, he is neither a weaving expert nor a Batak scholar and the Rangsa text is difficult and esoteric. It was time to assume my responsibility. I started to pack and within three days, I was in Medan.

Last night was my second night in Indonesia. I am back in Muara, the valley that received me so indescribably warmly last November (see blog Muara, O Muara). Once again my team is complete. Pak Jerry, my beloved chauffeur was available and Mas Nashir was ready to return to the lake.

And then there is Restuala, my host in Muara last November. Here in Muara, he is a key member of our team. While I was working in Holland during the past six weeks preparing the Fiber Face 3 exhibition “spotlight” on Batak textiles (Exhibition Yogyakarta 12 – 25 February), he was working on our sorha (spinning wheel). When we arrived last night, it was sitting tidily and ready for use on his living room floor. Nevertheless, for me it was like a phantom, a mirage; it was eye-rubbingly unbelievable to once again see a spinning wheel in the Batak area. And when I turned its handle, it worked!

Restuala knows everyone in the village. He was born and raised here. Like all Batak children of his generation, his aspiration was to leave the village and seek his fortune in the wide world beyond. He was successfully and energetically building his career in Jakarta when he was called back home. He is the youngest son (siampuan). It is his responsibility to return and perpetuate the family presence in the village. Restuala has embraced this fate with the same energy that so far characterizes everything that I have seen him do.

He is an enthusiastic fellow and he has a vision. His dream for Muara is to bring the village into the future in a way consistent with what the future needs: a sustainable community socially, culturally, economically and environmentally. He sees that the best talents of Muara have left, just as he did. This successively erodes the culture. It is a vicious circle: the village has little to offer to the youth and they leave, whereby the village builds little to offer to the youth of the future. Restuala wants to break this cycle.

       I decided to do an "Edward Curtis photo" with Restuala.

Muara has everything, he is fond of pointing out: a beautiful location on the edge of one of the most extraordinary lakes in the world set against a backdrop of steep hills offering panoramic views as stunning as one would ever want to see. The soil is fertile, fresh water is abundant; fruit trees, rice and fish are plentiful. The culture is sufficiently intact to build on. If handled properly, Muara could become a tourist destination of allure. Restuala has assigned himself the goal of realizing this potential. From our discussions last night, it is clear that he is not wasting a single moment.

But our focus for the moment is on the filming of Rangsa ni Tonun.

The enterprising Restuala has managed, courtesy his connections, to put us up in a palatial white house with pillars, with every possible comfort (the owner is in the city).

My unexpectedly palatial accommodations in a Batak village.
This morning, the world outside is beginning to throb. A man has gone to fetch a group of children to bring them to school and he is teaching them songs under my balcony; their sweet and trusting voices fill the air. The future of Muara is waiting for us. Restuala will be here at any moment and we will see what the day will bring. In the evening, we will hear more about Restuala’s plans and activities. He is a person to watch. Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, I will be able to say, “I met Restuala when he was just beginning to work on his vision. He started with ulos, the textiles that represent the soul of Batak culture.”