Monday, November 18, 2013

Light at the Lake

Lake Toba, a 75,000 year old crater and one of the most beautiful places on earth, suffers from severe environmental degradation. A central reason is that the outflow from the lake is used to generate electricity. The outflow has been increased so that now more water flows out than flows into the lake and there has been a consequent rapid and disastrous drop in the water level.

The Boat Budaya on Lake Toba September 2013 (Photo by MJA Nashir)
In September 2013, I went to the region to return elements of cultural heritage to the Batak people living near the Lake. I chose to conduct the project by boat because of the lake’s tremendous proportions in local mythology and because of the ease and romance of using it. Our boat was a simple, local market-cum-tourist boat and we had essentially no electricity. I brought along Wakawaka lights for my repatriation team, four of them young local people, to provide us with light and enough power to keep our mobile phones running 
Paul Manahara Tambunan shows how he connects his mobile telephone
to his Wakawaka light. 

and, even more importantly, to demonstrate the production and use of solar electricity to the people with whom we came in contact. The lake needs a fix and quickly!

Febrina Pakpahan, one of the young women on the team, showed students at DEL University in Laguboti her Wakawaka light/charger (Photo MJA Nashir)
The lights proved indispensable. We sunned them carefully on the deck every day and then used them for our phones and for light. 
We sunned our solar lights (Luminaid and Wakawaka everyday on the deck.

Everybody who saw them and received our explanation immediately recognized their functionality. Our auto chauffeur (Pak Jerry) perceived that they were perfect for his needs, as did the captain of the boat (Amang Siregar). The local regent (Pak Mangindar Simbolon) wanted them for remote areas that don’t yet have electrical supply. And of course there was an immediate recognition that sunlight is cheaper than electricity.

The journey was about repatriation of cultural elements from the past, but not just about that. It was about a future in which the culture and also the environment would recover their health. Wakawaka generated a kind of Eureka reaction! Solar power is one viable and important choice in a region that needs a panoply of changes to make a better future!

A huge compliment for Legacy in Cloth, Batak Textiles of Indonesia

There are some emails that one saves. This one, from Pamela Cross, is definitely a keeper. I value Pamela's judgement. She designed and manages the best website on tribal textiles.

This is what she wrote to me.
I am still in love with my jobit/runjat! [a Batak textile type]  Just wonderful to have such excellent supporting documentation in the form of Legacy In Cloth!  How you must have poured over the old photos trying to identify the cloths being worn - incredible!  It made me realize how amazing the work that you and the designer did on Legacy In Cloth putting the links backwards and forward between the Style Regions [Part II] and the Catalogue [Part III].  I love the thumbnail pictures in the Catalogue of details in the old photos in the Style Regions!  It is only when one works through in earnest with a real textile that it is possible to appreciate this properly.  It so fits with your wish that Legacy In Cloth could be used by museums to identify their textiles.  (I know that the focus at the moment is on recording and giving back the designs/examples of the cloths to the Batak weavers but you always had several aims in mind.  Of course, for me as a collector, I am just proving that it also works for us!)