Saturday, March 22, 2014

Maximizing Time with Mikro and Mini

Febrina (left) and Lasma (right) meeting again for the first time since
the Pulang Kampung III expedition. They are filled with joy.
It was fun to be with Mikro and Mini during the Weaving Workshop. They are sweet girls, fun, and independent of spirit while also being dutiful, faithful and respectful. Neither of them has it easy. They are bound by strong ties of love and responsibility to their respective Moms.
Lasma's mom is a former weaver. She made this traditional Simalungun
headcloth -- every part of it, including the twined edging.
In both cases, their Mom is ill with no expectation of recovery. This limits the girls precisely during that phase in their lives when they should be carefree and spreading their wings. Both are bright and talented – and frustrated. This is compounded by the social circumstances in the Batak region: the villages are impoverished and in decline, with few opportunities for growth and learning.
Febrina was in her city 'kampung' already to go when we pulled up.

Until now, their sense of their options has been very limited.

I have given a tremendous amount of thought to Lasma and Febrina’s situations and we had the opportunity to talk about it at length with each other. I continually asked them what they perceived their needs and goals to be for a good future. Realistically.

I wanted their time at the workshop to be meaningful on multiple levels. On one hand, I wanted the girls to have a happy, carefree time, experience a vacation and a bit of relaxation. If nothing else, I hoped that they will at least gain happy memories to bask in.
On the way to the workshop we stopped on the side of the road to
purchase and savour some durian fruits.
On the other hand, I wanted them to have experiences on which they could build their future. Even if they can’t ever join the mainstream world of gaining an education and 'getting a job', I encouraged them to see alternatives. I tried to expose them to choices that other people have made and to the wealth of their own cultural heritage.

In this regard, I sent Lasma information about design possibilities for the (resist-dyed) Batu Jala textile long before my arrival. She has become excited by these options.
Lasma dyed her first textile during the
Weaver Workshop.
 I sent Febrina information about the little bags that the Batak used to make centuries ago using the twining technique. 
Febrina examines the twined bag illustrated in Legacy in cloth.

Febrina started to play with techniques that she remembered learning as
a child.

We talked at length about techniques for reconstructing the bag. Are there similarities with basketry? We looked for baskets to examine construction techniques and talked about who could help with this technical/design challenge. I talked with both about potential markets and promised them I would use my own network to market their products. We googled together and explored pages on facebook. They now both have computers and through these pieces of technology they have access to endless sources of inspiration.
They now both have similar computers. 

I try to build their sense of personal capacity to make choices and achieve goals. We laughed a lot about the Pulang Kampung III expedition and noted that they appeared in media across Indonesia as a result of it. The point is: we had few resources besides a will to execute the project, and yet we succeeded. I exhorted them to never forget this feather in their caps and to use it as a platform for realizing their dreams.
I love this picture of the 'twins'. Febrina is examining
a textile, but it is Lesma reflected in the mirror.
When we parted this time around, I invited them to think about what we had done together. We have visited people and places, seen experiments and heard about dreams. Their network has broadened. They have each other to talk about ideas and to reflect on the experiences they have had. We have talked about dreams and possibilities. They have computers now and access to internet and thus the whole world. They have learned more about weaving and twining and their creative juices are flowing. 
Lasma learned to wind the warp of a textile from Ompu Ruth.

Lasma trying her hand at warping a textile.

They have a ready-made market (in me and my friends) if they choose to explore this avenue further. I told them that I didn’t know when I will be in North Sumatra again but they have the tools to go forward on their own. I wished them luck and promised them my on-going support but said that further initiative must come from them. I promised to help them with further education if that was their choice.
Lasma showed us a bag that she had made to
salvage an old textile partly nibbled on by mice.

Febrina wrote an interesting status on her Facebook page this week, something about it being time to get cracking. I wish her and Lasma Godspeed.
Febrina and Lasma with seeds of the indigo plant.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Jacquard in Kaban Jahe

On the way to the Weaving Workshop in Muara, I picked up Febrina in Kaban Jahe (Karo area). Afterwards we made a short stop to give a copy of Rangsa ni Tonun to Sahat Tambun and his wife of the Trias Tambun weaving business. I was curious about the developments that had taken place in his enterprise. He is a man with vision and many ideas.

It wasn’t that easy to find him. He had moved. But we persisted until we were successful and, by chance, he was standing in front of his new workshop when we pulled up. He received us enthusiastically. He was full of energy and excitement about his business. His new quarters give him room to grow.

He ushered us in immediately and showed us his new looms. They were Jacquard looms! He had purchased them in Pekalongan (Java). He had had them dismantled and shipped, and then reassembled in his new quarters. He was exploring patterns in combination with Karo textile designs. 

He was particularly drawn to the idea of making home furnishing: curtains, upholstery and wall tapestries. “Everywhere Malayu textiles are used,” he pointed out repeatedly. “There is nothing Karo about local d├ęcor even though this is a Karo region!”

He showed us how he had already upholstered his couch with a jacquard woven Karo Beka Buku textile design. On the table next to the couch was a well-thumbed through copy of Legacy in cloth.

“Whenever I want a new design, I look in your book,” he said to me generously. And then he led us over to another strung loom. “I am now reviving the Bunga Ambasang textile,” he said. “I found it in your book. Nobody knows this textile motif anymore. Look, I am now making lengths of dress fabric of that design.” And then whisking us over to another loom, he said, “And here I am experimenting with striped fabric inspired by the stripes in lurik textiles from Java. But I am adding the typical Karo supplementary weft patterning so that it will immediately be identified as a Karo textile.” I had already begun to feel materialist urges but by now they were surging. On yet another loom, he was experimenting with the Sadum textile.

Febrina was with me throughout the short tour and found Mr. Tambun’s excitement infectious. 
She was moved by the tremendous potential of his innovations and immediately saw the relevance of his experiments (and indomitable energy) for her own interest in reviving some twined patterning.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dr. Oktober Aritonang

On the way back from the Workshop Tenun in Muara, I got a phonecall when we were about two hours away from Muara. It was Restuala. Someone had come to Muara in search of me and he was doing his PhD on ulos. Would I stop and wait for him to catch up so that he could talk to me?

We ended up meeting in a restaurant in Parapat. 
Mr. Oktober Aritonang holding the copy of Rangsa ni Tonun that we gave
him. I am holding a penultimate copy of his PhD dissertation. Febrina (left)
and Lasma (right) were fascinated by Mr. Aritonang's story and helpful
as always. The ever-obliging Pak Jerry took the picture.

His name was Oktober Aritonang. He knew friends of mine in Tarutung. When he learned I was in North Sumatra, he skipped church, jumped in his car, and rushed off to Muara – only to be disappointed because I had already gone. He was doing a PhD in Education and he had chosen to explore modern educational audiovisual techniques to teach the weaving of a Batak ulos. He was sad that Batak weaving is in decline. He wanted a student to be able to learn how to weave an ulos just by using his videos and exercise books. He has spent many years developing his educational materials. Now he wants to finally get his PhD degree and start piloting his educational materials.

I told him about the plans of Del highschool to introduce weaving into the curriculum. The two parties could be of great help to each other.

Mr. Aritonang expressed some frustration at not finding support for his research. He had paid for all of it from his own pocket. The Batak people are sad that their textile tradition is disappearing but no fund has as yet been established to change the tide.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Weaving: wo(men)'s work

My findings while making the Rangsa ni Tonun film have been important as I consider activities for the three young men in the workshop. ‘Weaving is women’s work’ is a familiar mantra. I have now modified that: women can’t weave unless they are supported by men in the same way that Si Boru Deak Parujar could not create the world without her brother’s help. Men make the weaving equipment. And that says a lot.

The first task that I gave to the men was to make turak, weft/bobbin holders, for the women. This was once a part of the Batak courting ritual. A young man would decorate the bamboo holders with messages in Batak script for the object of his affections. A husband would make it for his wife. It seemed a simple enough project to assign the young men because the weft holder is, essentially, just a bamboo joint. Jesral Tambun, one of the members of the workshop, is a wood carver and would be able to assist the others with the task. Ojak Silaban had made an hasapi (Batak violin) and thus also demonstrates considerable skill in working with wood. The results would be memorable souvenirs for the young weavers.

Hasapi made by Ojak Silaban being inspected by Jesral Tambun
Our first discovery has been that the simplicity of even this task is a delusion. The species of bamboo that we need does not grow in Muara. The young men charged off in search of it on their motorbikes and found species the walls of which were too thick and the joints of insufficient diameter.  It was market day, but the option of purchasing turak on the market disappeared with the decline in weaving. The execution of the ‘simple’ turak had to be postponed until Jesral returned home because he knows where the bamboo grows. (We later learned that we could have purchased one in the Tarutung market. One person sells them there. But that would have been too late in any case; the workshop ended on the day before the Tarutung market.)

The young men came back with wood to make the hatulungan or shed stick and the pamapan or warp beam. But the wood would first have to dry. Restuala had collected weaving equipment from former weavers in Muara, so we were not desperate for equipment. There was enough for Lasma and Febrina to work with. The exercise was solely to give the men insight into the complexity of making weaving equipment. It requires knowledge of wood species and where they are found, the needs of the weavers, understanding of yarn and the weaving process and of course skill in woodworking.

Jesral looked at the turak in Legacy in cloth and explained that the colour difference (white and reddish-brown) in the bamboo revealed that the maker had peeled off the skin of the bamboo at one end and oiled it. The bamboo would take around three weeks to cure. Even the simple turak is not an instrument that can be produced on the spot!

In the end the men’s skills were needed to make Lasma’s weaving frame.  Pak Jerry, Ojak Silaban and Jesral Tambun went to work sawing, hammering and sanding. Modern times, modern needs, modern techniques.

Jesral, whose calling is traditional Batak woodcarving, immediately saw how the joints and planks could be decorated with traditional Batak motifs….

Pak Jerry and Jesral indicating the
placement of the singa motif
found in Batak houses

A traditional house motif:
the singa

This will take time, considerable thought and effort…maybe in the future. The seed has been planted.When we visited Jesral yesterday on our way home from the workshop, he had already made a turak. He wanted to make one similar to the one that he had seen in Legacy (I told him that it had disappeared when I exhibited it many years ago in The Netherlands). Instead of Batak script, he had added subtle carving at the end. I look forward to seeing the finished product one day.