This week I received an email from a woman in Australia whom I have never met, Stephanie Belfrage. She made a collection of Batak textiles in the 1980s. She enjoyed learning about Batak culture at that time and even presented some lectures about her experiences and ties to that culture. She had made the decision to move into a smaller home and this had prompted her to contemplate her collection. She knew it was time to part with it. What to do? She wrote to me about her idea of giving it back to the Batak people in Indonesia. She did so hope that the collection that she had lovingly put together could be of benefit to others.
This is the Back to the Villages spirit. I was moved to read about her wishes. I was also moved that she had chosen to contact me about them. I am a perfect stranger to her, but she identified with the Back to the Villages spirit in my blogs.
I am sure that there are many people in the world who share the Back to the Villages spirit, who wish to give back to the people whom they encountered in their lives, who made a difference to their lives, who enriched them. This, too, is the cycle of life. It is not just biological. It is spiritual, cultural, emotional and probably universal. It is what binds a grandparent to a grandchild. It is the core of the maintenance of cultural tradition and it is extraordinary when it happens across the North-South divide. These bridges are antidotes to historical wrongs and arbitrary separations.
But they are not always easy to build. They require social engineering. The process of constructing them, viz. developing secure avenues to facilitate cultural repatriation, are surely as important as the final product, viz. the actual transfer of the cloths back to their original home.
It is not appropriate, yet, to disclose the content of the discussions that I am having with my new Australian friend about the possibilities that are available to her, but I have her permission to blog about her intentions. They are generous, thoughtful, noble, trusting. Nothing that she could do with her collection could be more exciting or more challenging. In my books, she is a cultural hero.