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.

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