Sunday, November 13, 2016

Water and Weaving

We keep hearing it. Climate change is the most important issue of our time.

We know how war and emmigration wreak havoc on weaving traditions, but it seems that fewer people have considered the destructive effects of climate change.  I was reminded of this once again this morning while I read the newsletter that Threads of Life sends around. Threads of Life is a fair trade business headquartered on Bali that specializes in indigenous textile revival, particularly in Eastern Indonesia.  They wrote, " some regions, climate change and landscape-level changes are affecting weavers' abilities to maintain the economic viability of their dye traditions..."

I know what they are talking about. A friend tells me that the weavers on Sumba Island have been suffering from a persistent drought. The women and children have to walk so far everyday to get a bucket of water that they have neither time nor energy left to weave, even though their well being depends on the income from weaving.

And on the nearby island of Savu another friend has described how the people are carving a waterway using the most primitive of implements, arduous, back-breaking and achingly slow under the burning rays of the sun. And if the last of the wells goes dry? What then? Such uncertainty confronts them.

I know that uncertainty, even though it is not my own life hanging in the balance. My Weaving Centre in North Sumatra is also in trouble. No significant rain has fallen for eight months. I must confront the issue of environmental revival in order to work on textile revival. The two go hand in hand. I have encouraged Lasma to plant trees, but if it doesn't rain, she can neither plant nor maintain them. What to do? We have drilled a good well, but underground water needs to be replenished too. Using up reserves is only a short-term answer. No answer at all, in fact.

Lasma tells me that the children are getting sick because the air has not been scrubbed by rain. Most of the wells in the village have gone dry and people have nothing to drink. Our well is deeper and we share our water...but when will our well go dry, too? Worrisome.

Yesterday a young man from the village contacted me because his mother had not been able to pay his university fees for four months. His family depends on the proceeds from farming. They are all desperate. Will he have to give up his education -- and his future? Will they have to move? To where? When will the rains fall again? Will it be enough?

For this reason I have kept my ear to the ground. I have been impressed by technologies that I have stumbled across in which the moisture in the air is collected and transformed into usable water, for example, using temperature differentials that normally take place between day and night (condensation). Most of these technologies are applied for plant growth.

One technology that I have found applies to the production of potable water. It is a SuntoWater invention. It uses a salt material to absorb moisture from the air, then extracts the water using the heat from the sun, in a low-energy, repetitive cycle. The exciting part is that it is capable of producing between 150 and 375 liters each day. Distilled and drinkable. Always clean. 

Besides the water that it produces, a major advantage of this system is that it cuts out the use of plastic bottles, a major pollutant (and eye-sore) in North Sumatra, and also the CO2 emissions entailed when water has to be trucked in. In the long run, it is also cheaper than purchasing water. Imagine self-sufficiency in water supply, every household producing its own.

The invention offers tremendous scope for the entire world, and especially those beset by crisis. Alas, the price is most palatable for people in California where the machine is produced. One of the major markets targeted is those with swimming pools and those confronted with very high water bills. For them, the machine pays for itself within a few years. But the price is too high for people in North Sumatra whose incomes are ridiculously low (unless they are corrupt). I hope that the company will consider a strategy such as that practised by Wakawaka, the company that produces solar-generators. Every sale in the first world includes a kind of tax that is donated in the form of solar-generators to people in crisis torn areas of the world. (My pulang kampung team are the only ones on their 'impact map' in North Sumatra because my friends, Wiebo Tierlink and Dirk van Uitert, donated waka-wakas to the team. Check out North Sumatra. )

Another promising invention that I have found is the Groasis, which was declared a National Icon for The Netherlands for 2016 because of its potential to do good for the world. This clever little Dutch invention is affordable and has anti-desertification as its goal. It has the capacity to harvest dew and store water. Each facilitates the growth of a sapling or three (any species) and even food plants in combination with it. That growth utilizes 90% less water compared to regular farming. The box, made of recycled material, biodegrades as the tree grows and presents no pollution problem. The need for boxes is phased out as the trees create moister microclimates. I think I'll bring a couple with me to North Sumatra next time I go.


I imagine my dear Lasma living off-grid in our Weaving Centre with electricity generated by the sun, water collected from the moisture in the air, and her dye-plants and organic food thriving despite drought. There is work to do here. And there is hope. Not just for the Centre, but for the whole village.

Monday, August 01, 2016

A Day to Gush

Today is a red-letter day. Better said, it is a day to gush. Today our well is being drilled. The first figurative spade is being thrust into the soil. Lasma and I are beginning on the next phase of our common dream to build a Weaving Centre. 

In a blog earlier this year I wrote:

'Saving Lasma Sitanggang' means saving the whole village. It means struggling to
Lasma 1 August 2016 With a water
bottle hanging from her neck.
answer the challenge of how to make a good life despite all the forces that slap down the little farmer in Indonesia. This past year alone, four people in her village committed suicide for reasons related to poverty. Lasma wants to honour her cultural heritage as well as find her way through this world that champions only the value of money. For me, traveling with Lasma Sitanggang means being willing to share the burden on her shoulders, to help construct strategies that fit with her local circumstances, to construct ways that will give everyone a chance to win and climb out of the hole together. What we undertake, the interventions we construct, must meet the criterion of serving the well being of the whole village

I alluded to it, but I did not write about our plan directly. I am loath to write about plans until they are a sure thing, until the path is cleared. I don't want to write about pipe dreams and invite all the consequences. Today, however, our well is being drilled. We are taking the first step in building and there are real pipes. It is time to dare to share our dream and our plan. And celebrate.

Lasma and I are trying to build a Weaving Centre. Why? How? Where? When? With whom? All of these questions have been besieging us for the past couple of years and answers have gradually begun to emerge.

Let me start with the 'why'. Lasma and I need to do something that in the process of supporting her would help her make positive change in her village. Our common interest lies in the area of weaving. Lasma's village is a weaving village -- well, an ex-weaving village. The women have stopped weaving because the selling price no longer supports their work. So why make a weaving centre when people have stopped weaving and the market is so weak? Answer: because Lasma and I hope that when and if this world ever wakes up to realize that it is squandering its most valued assets, including craft traditions that have been constructed century upon century by human ingenuity, there may at least be a centre in the Simalungun Batak area of North Sumatra where women are continuing their bounteous and beautiful weaving heritage. Surely, if we work cleverly and carefully, we can find and construct a market that will allow it to survive. There are no guarantees in life, but this goal seems, to both Lasma and me, worth devoting ourselves to. Not necessarily from an economic point of view (although we need the Centre to at least survive on that front) but from a moral, aesthetic, and cultural point of view. If we are successful, not just the whole village, but all of Simalungun, all of Batak will gain. Why are we building this centre? Because the time is right and it is a good thing to do.

On to the 'how'. How to build a centre from which the entire village can gain, when the weaving craft is already on the verge of extinction and the women have turned their backs to it? There are two answers to this question; one answer relates to craft and culture and the other to physical environment, but it all boils down to one issue: well-being.

The women in Lasma's village have never found an alternative to weaving. Granted, they earn more from their farming activities and thus they invest in that, but they still miss the supplement and diversity that weaving gave them. Moreover, they have lost that special niche that their culture reserved for weaving women, a place of women's excellence and pride. The women have become mere impoverished labourers. Lasma and I believe -- and on occasion the women in the village have corroborated this -- they will be enlivened by the pride they can once again achieve from an opportunity to be excellent in their craft. The weaving centre will allow them to come together and work together. They also miss a place where they can share ideas and experiment together. ... Oh dear, I seem to have lapsed back into the 'why'. Clearly, the centre must not be just Lasma's Weaving Centre, rather a Centre where all the weavers in the village feel at home and can benefit. We want women to feel pride, empowerment, comfort, able to participate. And we would like young women, including orphans, to be able to come and stay, work in the garden and at their looms, find pleasure in the day-to-day. That is how and what and where we want the centre to be and with whom we want to build it.

Building a centre that aids the village from the point of view of physical environment is an issue that plays a greater role in my mind than in Lasma's, although she is really excited by organic farming and herself farms organically. Nevertheless, I don't think she has ever seen a park and experienced land that is maintained purely for pleasure and not directly for profit. I would like to rectify this gap in her experience. I live in The Netherlands where parks are plentiful, and brilliantly conceived and looked after, and I would like someday to show some to her. Together with her I would like to build a green, lush oasis where the fruit and nuts hang for the picking from the trees, where the people can relax in a beautiful environment and eat an organically farmed meal. Green does wonders for the spirit and the health. Even if our weaving centre fails, let us at least have constructed a village park where the children can eat their fill of organic fruit. And where the people can be introduced to a healthy vision for the future. We want to show how textile production belongs to a better future and not just the past.

This is why, in the end, I purchased land in Lasma's village for our weaving centre. It is not on a major tourist route. Really, there is not a whole lot going for this village and some have argued that I have therefore not selected a good location for the centre. I, however, have made a point of locating it in a village that has nothing going for it. Such villages are always left out. I am using the same rationale for investing in this village as I used for giving my luxurious edition of Legacy in Cloth to poor rural weavers: they are the ones who will benefit from it the most. And that is what it is all about. The Centre will be where the weavers are.

There, this is enough for one blog. There is too much to tell all at once. Suffice it to say that our well is being drilled, down, down through soil and rock to underground streams. It is giving me the opportunity to gush. And I will gush more on this topic in a future blog. On and on.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The 'Back to the Villages' Projects contributed to Textile Revival

Weavers inspect an old textile that I purchased in an antique store
and brought to them. They have no more templates like these in the villages.
Recently the knowledgeable textile collector, Lewa Pardomuan, listed several people in Indonesia engaged in textile revival. My name, together with that of MJA Nashir, was not on his list, but I would argue that it should be. To date, we have not produced Batak textiles or new designs. However, I believe we have taken important steps to revitalize the tradition found in the region around Lake Toba.

To my mind, the revitalization of indigenous textile traditions has to do with weavers. Not designers in the popular sense of the word. And not fashion.

Weavers constructed all of the weaving traditions in Indonesia. Their collective results have built up over the course of centuries. Indonesia's weaving traditions are the product of weaver creativity and skill in managing local resources and impinging external influences, each generation building upon the contributions of the last. If we assume, as I think we can, that weaving traditions were initially relatively simple and that they increased in complexity with time, this was the cultural product of village women with artistic and other skills. (We are now undeniably witnessing a phase in which the weaving arts are shrinking in complexity and artistry, some disappearing altogether, others threatened with extinction.) The women in the villages are no longer building on the past; they have lost (access to) most of the knowledge and skill that was built up over centuries. Revival, to my mind, would consist of re-building their capacities.

Some of the examples of revival on Lewa Pardomuan's list are the work of designers who have submitted tasks to weavers. this usually relates to fashion developments that reference indigenous traditions. Can this be called 'revival'? I don't think so. I have nothing against designers; their work is exciting and important. But revival of indigenous cloth through the work of designers? Unlikely. Theirs is business that competes by referencing indigenous skill, resources and design. If the capital or the initiative collapses, so does the 'revival' because it is dependent. It is not rooted in the culture It is not rooted in the weavers; they just work for the designer.

To my mind, revival has to do with inspiring the spirit, knowledge and know-how of weavers. The knowledge that I am referring to relates to being keepers of technical and design heritage. UNESCO called this intangible heritage. Know-how relates to their skill in translating that knowledge into tangible products. The revival of textile tradition has to do with expanding the capacities of the hands of the weavers, as well as what is between their ears and in their hearts. The tangible is but a momentary expression of the weaver's participation in her intellectual/spiritual/technical universe. Unless the weavers are nurtured (physically/spiritually/mentally), a textile tradition cannot be revived. Beautiful revival textiles only emerge when weavers are inspired, talented, practised and well taught, when they believe in themselves and their craft capacities; otherwise they will not spend their resources on creating a cloth to the very best of their abilities.

In addition, they need the room to make a beautiful textilee. By 'room', I mean enough time and enough financial security. Furthermore, they need templates so that they can test their skills against those of their ancestors. Revival cannot be built on exhausted wavers who are underpaid by the market and whose families are suffering from the effects of poverty. When the weavers are reduced to labourers (as is usually the case when they work for designers), they become practitioners of a limited set of techniques, working repetitively, boringly, for an insufficient wage. Reviving their weaving heritage may be the last thing on their minds. When they are focused on meeting the design requirements set by someone else, they are not reviving their weaving tradition; they are behaving as paid labourers. They are in a dependent position. Revival is about giving the weavers the space to express their own abundant creativity.

My 'Back to the Villages' projects have entailed giving to weavers and not asking anything of them,  reversing the flow in a world in which weavers, quite simply, are exploited. The 'Back to the Villages' team has returned to the weavers their woven heritage in print form (Legacy in cloth, Batak textiles of Indonesia, a book documenting their repertory) to give them access which they otherwise would not have because there are no museums that cater to them and because the beautiful old templates have disappeared out of the villages. Because my book, Legacy in cloth, was sumptuously produced, it kindled a sense of pride in the weavers for their own tradition. Our film, Rangsa ni Tonun, also encouraged a sense of pride. The film reminded them that in the Batak past, when the culture wa still vigorous, weavers were believed to be doing the work of the goddess, Si Boru Hasagian. Their work was honoured and revered. In addition, the actors in our film, just ordinary village weavers, felt intensely proud to have been transformed into 'movie stars' showing their weaving talents to the world.

I believe that the 'Back to the Villages' expeditions executed by MJA Nashir and myself have contributed significantly to raising awareness of the fact that the Batak weaving tradition is in sharp decline and now on the verge of total collapse -- and that this should not be allowed to happen. Now there are several people on the front lines talking about, and trying their hand at reviving the Batak textile tradition.

So far, however, all of this attention has not ameliorated the plight of Batak weavers. With the 'loss of ulos' having turned into a hot issue, people are still concerned about the disappearance of the cloth. Not many seem to have thought about how the plight of the weavers is connected to the decline in the textile tradition. The village tradition continues to decline because weavers are not receiving enough for their work and because young women are not interested in taking up the trade. Why would they want to take up a life of grinding poverty based on extremely hard work?

A ceremony last year intended to highlight the 'intangible' heritage instead highlighted only the tangible heritage. The weaver was left out. She has not yet been sufficiently celebrated despite being the source of the cloth that all claim to love and to want to preserve. Is this because, although she is the descendant of the mythical goddess of weaving, she is practically invisible on the lowest rung of the social ladder?

Everywhere I go, I encourage political leaders to give to the weavers what they need not just to survive, but to thrive:

Designate weaver villages in ways that tourists can find the weavers

Celebrate weavers by recognizing that they are cultural heroes.

Distribute pamphlets about weaver traditions.

Promote the makers of the cloths as artists instead of leaving them anonymous.

Give the weaver centre stage and not just the designer or the politician who is using her skills to show that he/she is a cultural promoter.

Indonesia is a country in which attention is paid upwards to the person of status. Revival of the textile tradition means reversing this flow -- or recognizing that the weaver, humble and poor as she is, is nevertheless a cultural hero and needs to be celebrated as such.

This, Lewa, is what my work has been designed to do. That is why we call my projects "Back to the Villages": we want the flow of respect and resources to go back to the villages where cultural items such as ulos are produced. The weavers have been squeezed financially and socially and it shows in their products. If we want textile revival, we need cultural revival that puts weavers back in touch with the work of their ancestors and inspires the youth to want to be bearers of their traditions.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Pulang Kampung Telah Meyumbang Kebangkitan Tradisi Pertenunan

Belum lama ini Lewa Pardomuan membuat daftar nama sejumlah orang di Indonesia yang terlibat upaya membangkitkan tradisi pertenunan. Nama saya, berikut nama MJA Nashir, tidak tercantum pada daftar itu, padahal hemat saya seharusnya tercantum. Selama ini memang kami belum memproduksi ulos ataupun disain/pola baru. Namun saya yakin bahwa kami telah mengambil langkah-langkah penting dalam upaya merevitalisasi tradisi pertenunan Batak.
Menurut saya, revitalisasi tradisi pertenunan masyarakat “adat” adalah urusan para penenun. Bukanlah urusan para perancang mode. Dan bukan pula urusan dunia fashion.
Kaum penenunlah yang telah menciptakan semua tradisi pertenunan di Indonesia. Hasil kolektif mereka telah terhimpun selama berabad-abad. Tradisi pertenunan di Indonesia merupakan daya cipta atau kreatifitas dan keterampilan para penenun dalam mengelola sumberdaya setempat maupun pengaruh-pengaruh dari luar. Setiap generasi mengembangkan tradisi itu atas dasar warisan dari generasi-generasi sebelumnya. Berdasarkan asumsi (yang saya rasa benar) bahwa tradisi pertenunan awal bersifat relatif sederhana kemudian bertambah kompleks seiring perjalanan waktu, maka hasilnya merupakan produk budaya dari kaum perempuan kampung yang memiliki keterampilan artistik dan keterampilan lain. (Saat ini tidak dapat disangkal bahwa kita sedang menyaksikan tahap menurunnya tingkat kompleksitas dan mutu artistik, dengan banyak jenis tenunan yang sudah hilang dan sebagian lagi yang sedang menghadapi kepunahan.) Kaum perempuan di kampung sudah tidak lagi mengembangkan tradisi pertenunan di atas dasar warisan masa lampau: sebagian besar pengetahuan dan keterampilan yang telah terhimpun selama sekian abad sudah tidak bisa mereka akses lagi. Menurut saya, upaya revitalisasi harus berfokus pada pengembangan kembali keterampilan mereka.
Beberapa di antara contoh-contoh kebangkitan kembali yang tercatat di daftar Lewa Pardomuan merupakan hasil karya para perancang mode yang telah memberi pesanan kepada para penenun. Kerjaan ini biasanya berkaitan dengan perkembangan di dunia mode yang “mengatasnamakan” atau merujuk pada tradisi pertenunan “asli”. Apakah kerjaan ini dapat dikatakan “kebangkitan” atau revitalisasi? Saya rasa tidak. Saya tidak ada masalah dengan kaum perancang; karya mereka penting dan bahkan memukau. Tetapi penghidupan kembali tradisi pertenunan “asli” melalui karya kaum perancang? Saya rasa ini tidak benar. Kerjaan kaum perancang adalah usaha yang kompetitif dan bersaing atas dasar merujuk atau “mengatasnamakan” keterampilan, sumberdaya dan pola masyarakat “adat”. Bila modal atau usaha kaum perancang itu bangkrut, “kebangkitan” juga akan hancur karena semata bergantung dari usaha tersebut. Usaha itu tidak berakar dalam kebudayaan kaum penenun. Tidak pula berakar di kalangan kaum penenun sendiri; mereka itu hanya bekerja untuk para perancang.
Hemat saya, penghidupan kembali tradisi pertenunan berurusan dengan pemberian inspirasi kepada semangat, pengetahuan serta keterampilan kaum penenun. Pengetahuan yang saya maksud itu berkaitan dengan peran mereka sebagai penjaga dan pelestari warisan teknis dan warisan disain/pola. Oleh UNESCO warisan ini disebut warisan tak benda (intangible heritage). Keterampilan yang dimaksud adalah kepandaian untuk mewujudkan pengetahuan itu dalam bentuk “benda”. Revitalisasi tradisi pertenunan berurusan dengan perluasan keterampilan tangan para penenun tetapi juga perluasan dan pengembangan apa yang ada di benak dan di hati mereka. Hasil berupa benda hanyalah perwujudan sesaat dari pergelutan para penenun dalam dunia intelektual / spiritual / teknis mereka. Bila para penenun tidak “diasuh” (secara fisik, spiritual, intelektual), maka tradisi pertenunan tidak dapat dihidupkan kembali. Tenunan indah hasil revitalisasi hanya akan muncul bilamana para penenun terinspirasi, memiliki bakat, dilatih dengan baik dan memiliki “jam terbang” yang lama – dan bilamana mereka cukup memiliki rasa percaya diri dan percaya pada keterampilan yang dimiliki. Bila tidak, maka mereka tidak akan menghabiskan tenaga untuk menciptakan tenunan dengan memanfaatkan keterampilan mereka secara maksimal. Tambahan pula, mereka memerlukan “kelapangan” untuk dapat membuat tenunan yang indah. “Kelapangan” yang dimaksud adalah waktu yang cukup serta kekuatan finansial. Selanjutnya, mereka membutuhkan pola-pola sebagai wahana untuk mengasah keterampilan mereka berdasarkan referensi contoh-contoh hasil karya leluhur. Kebangkitan tradisi pertenunan tidak dapat dikembangkan di kalangan penenun yang susah payah kehidupannya, yang hanya memperoleh penghasilan minim dari pasaran dan harus menghidupi keluarga yang terkena dampak kemiskinan. Bila seorang penenun terpaksa menjadi buruh kerja (sebagaimana biasa terjadi kalau dia menerima pesanan dari perancang mode), maka teknik-teknik yang akan dipraktekkannya sangat terbatas jumlahnya, diulang-ulang terus dan membosankan, hanya untuk menghasilkan upah yang tidak memadai. Menghidupkan kembali warisan pertenunan kemungkinan tidak sempat mereka pikirkan lagi. Saat mereka berfokus pada pemenuhan tuntutan disain yang ditetapkan orang lain, maka yang mereka lakukan bukan merevitalisasi tradisi mereka melainkan bertindak sebagai buruh bayaran. Posisi mereka adalah posisi bergantung. Revitalisasi berkenaan dengan pemberian “ruang gerak” atau keleluasan untuk mengekspresikan kreatifitas para penenun, kreatifitas yang sesungguhnya melimpahruah.
Proyek-proyek “Pulang Kampung” saya berintikan memberi kepada para penenun, bukan meminta sesuatu dari mereka. Artinya, membalikkan arah arus dunia yang mengeksploitasi (memeras) mereka. Kepada kaum penenun tim Pulang Kampung telah mengembalikan warisan pertenunan mereka, dalam bentuk cetak (sebuah buku yang mendokumentasikan inventaris pola dan jenis pertenunan yang pernah ada) supaya mereka dapat mengakses pengetahuan itu --- suatu hal yang mustahil bagi mereka dalam situasi tidak adanya museum yang melayani kebutuhan informasi dan juga karena di kampung-kampung sudah tidak ada lagi karya-karya pertenunan indah dari zaman dahulu yang dapat menjadi contoh. Karena buku saya Legacy in Cloth, Batak Textiles of Indonesia dicetak dalam bentuk “mewah”, maka buku itu telah membangkitkan rasa bangga atas warisan tradisi di kalangan para penenun. Film kami, Rangsa ni Tonun, juga ikut menciptakan rasa bangga. Film itu mengingatkan kepada mereka bahwa di masa lampau di Tano Batak, saat kebudayaan masih sangat hidup, masyarakat percaya bahwa para penenun melakukan kerja Dewi Si Boru Hasagian.  Kerja-kerja mereka dipuja dan dipuji. Tambahan lagi, para pemain dalam film kami, yang terdiri dari penenun biasa dari kampung, merasa sangat bangga karena telah menjadi “bintang film” yang mempertontonkan bakat pertenunan mereka kepada dunia luar.
Saya yakin bahwa berbagai “ekspedisi” Pulang Kampung yang dilakukan MJA Nashir dan saya sendiri telah cukup banyak ikut meningkatkan kesadaran bahwa tradisi pertenunan Batak sedang merosot dan sudah di ambang kepunahan ---- juga kesadaran bahwa hal ini semestinya tidak boleh dibiarkan berlangsung terus. Sekarang sudah ada beberapa orang di “lini depan” yang mulai membahas --- dan mulai mengambil langkah-langkah – tentang revitalisasi tradisi pertenunan Batak.
Namun sampai saat ini semua perhatian ini belumlah berhasil mengatasi situasi menyedihkan para penenun Batak. Karena “menghilangnya ulos” telah menjadi topik yang ramai dibicarakan sekarang, banyak orang merasa prihatin --- tentang ulos yang menghilang, bukan tentang nasib para penenun. Sedikit sekali yang berfikir mengenai hubungan antara situasi kaum penenun dengan merosotnya tradisi pertenunan. Tradisi pertenunan di kampung merosot terus karena para penenun tidak menerima penghasilan yang layak dari hasil karya mereka dan karena perempuan muda tidak tertarik untuk belajar menenun. Memang mengapa mereka harus mau menempuh kehidupan yang melarat yang akan menjadi hasil kerja luar biasa berat sebagai seorang penenun jaman ini?
Tahun lalu dilaksanakan suatu upacara yang bertujuan untuk merayakan "warisan tak benda” tetapi sebenarnya hanya mengetengahkan warisan “benda”. Si penenun tidak diikutsertakan. Si penenun belum cukup dihargai dan dirayakan walaupun dialah sumber dan pencipta dari tenunan yang oleh semua pihak, yang katanya dicintai dan ingin dilestarikan. Apakah ini terjadi karena walaupun si penenun adalah keturunan dewi pertenunan dari mitologi, namun dia hampir tidak kelihatan, di posisinya yang paling rendah di struktur sosial masyarakat?
Kemana saja saya pergi, saya mendorong para pemimpin politik untuk memberi kepada para penenun apa saja yang mereka butuhkan tidak hanya untuk bertahan tetapi juga untuk hidup secara layak dan sejahtera:
Tetapkan kampung-kampung penenun sedemikian rupa sehingga para turis mudah berjumpa langsung dengan para penenun.
Muliakan para penenun dengan mengakui bahwa mereka adalah pahlawan budaya.
Sebarluaskan brosur-brosur mengenai tradisi pertenunan.
Promosikan para pembuat kain tenun sebagai seniman; jangan biarkan mereka tidak dikenal dan hanya dianggap sebagai “buruh” atau pengrajin tanpa nama.
Soroti peran penenun, tidak hanya peran perancang mode atau peran politisi yang hanya menggunakan keterampilan si penenun untuk menunjukkan bahwa perancang mode atau politisi itu adalah “pelindung” dan promotor budaya.
Di Indonesia biasanya perhatian diberikan “ke atas”, kepada orang yang berstatus tinggi. Menghidupkan kembali tradisi pertenunan berarti membalikkan arah arus ini ---- atau mengakui bahwa si penenun, walaupun miskin dan “sederhana”, namun merupakan pahlawan budaya dan perlu dihargai dan dirayakan karena itu.

Inilah, Lewa, yang merupakan tujuan upaya saya selama ini. Inilah mengapa kami memberi nama “Pulang Kampung” pada proyek-proyek saya: kami ingin agar pemberian penghargaan, penghormatan dan sumberdaya mengalir ke kampung-kampung tempat benda-benda budaya seperti ulos dihasilkan. Para penenun selama ini telah diperas secara ekonomi maupun secara sosial, dan fenomena ini nampak jelas dampaknya pada hasil karya mereka. Bila kita menginginkan agar terjadi revitalisasi pertenunan, maka kita membutuhkan revitalisasi budaya yang menghubungkan kembali para penenun dengan karya-karya nenek moyang mereka dan memberi inspirasi pada kaum muda agar mereka juga ingin menjadi pewaris dan pelestari tradisi-tradisi mereka di masa mendatang.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ompu Jonathan: Update

We left Ompu Jonathan, br. Sitanggang a couple of blogs ago on the top of Samosir Island where we had looked, unsuccessfully, for someone who could make the earthenware pots to hold our natural dyes (in the future).

In 2015 MJA Nashir and I had quickly organized a spinning workshopWe had learned that Ibu Tetti had planted cotton and that the fluffy bolls were available for use. We knew that there was a lone spinner close by and we decided to bring the cotton and the spinner together. But who would attend the workshop? To our surprise, Ibu Tetti knew two weavers from the top of Samosir Island who wanted to learn how to spin. Ompu Jonathan was one of them. 

I was curious. "Why do you want to learn how to spin?" I had asked her. Spinning cotton is not easy and eats up takes an enormous amount of time. "I want to be able to make a sibolang textile like my ancestors used to do," came Ompu Jonathan's response.

Her answer gave me pause. I read into it nostalgia for days gone by, a respect for the traditions of the past. I looked at this lithe, betel-chewing woman. What a goal to have! How unusual in this day when weaving is on the way out! I didn't quite know what to make of her dream. An unrealizable pipe dream? I didn't know whether to comfort or commend her.

The sibolang may well be
one of the oldest Batak textiles
Samosir Island was once renowned for its mystical impenetrability; according to myths, it was home to the first Batak. Here the weaving arts flourished, especially the great blue cloths that for centuries formed the woven core of ritual practice. They could very well be the oldest textiles in the Batak repertory. On Samosir Island, these textiles were woven with the greatest variety, size and quality of anywhere else -- not just for the Toba Batak who lived there, but also for the Simalungun Batak on the Northeast shore of the lake. They, too, used the great, wide, blue hipcloths, just slightly different in design from the Toba variants. Samosir weavers (or their agents) negotiated the trek downwards off the great height of the island to sell their finished wares through the markets located on the shores of the lake. When I visited the Island in 1986, I found a few weavers there who still dyed their yarn with indigo dye from plants that grew wild on the craggy, rocky surface land. When I visited in 2010, there was not a single weaver left. The elderly ones who had known how to weave had all hung up their looms -- or burned them assuming that nobody would ever again take up the art.. The devout, blue cloths no longer had much of a role to play in local rituals having been eclipsed by lightweight, colourful, fashionable things.  The blue tradition of Samosir may be declared dead.

Ompu Jonathan is a practiced weaver. She learned the art from her mother and she brought it to her husband's village when she married. There she is a solitary weaver. She used to make the sibolang and remembers its decline on the market and the rise of the sadum. She switched to making the red headcloth, sigaragara, for the Karo market, a cloth that, despite its colour, has many similarities with the sibolang. The Toba have also catered to the Karo market for centuries. In this way, she could still have an income. She also makes the Toba Batak surisuri textile if she receives an order. (Do any readers want to order this cloth from her? Let me know!)

I listened carefully to Ompu Jonathan
My path crossed Ompu Jonathan's again earlier this year when Lasma and I visited Ibu Tetti to discuss the possible futures for cotton on Samosir Island. Ompu Jonathan joined us as we teased the seeds out of the cotton bolls that ibu Tetti had spread before us. "How are your plans developing to revive the sibolang textile?" I asked her, half out of politeness, and half out of curiosity. Again Ompu Jonathan impressed me with her dedication to her quest. She still had not wavered from her course. "How long have you had this dream?' I asked. "About five years" she answered. (She is now 54 years old.) She had tried her hand at spinning and had been frustrated by the shortcomings of the spinning wheel that we had given to her.  She had done her best; she still wanted to be able to spin! It was clear that it was still worthwhile to assist her in achieving her dream.

I decided that Ompu Jonathan would be an asset that should be included in the Textile Revival Project with the Bank of Indonesia. This kind of spirit, this kind of dedication could only benefit the project! And she needed to be encouraged and rewarded!  If she had the tools, she certainly had the will!  What a shame if she were not able to succeed!

Ompu Jonathan is now looking for a person who can teach her how to make the ikat patterning in the sibolang textile. It used to be that every weaver of the sibolang made her own ikat. Where can she find an ikat maker now on Samosir Island? Like Ma Tika, she also joined us as we made our rounds from one weaving region to another during our last journey through Tano Batak. In Muara she returned from the market with a bundle of ikat patterned yarn, overjoyed that the maker had let her purchase it. She also made acquaintance with the natural dyer and learned the recipe for indigo dye. Like Ma Tika she broadened her network so that, as soon as she has found her ikat teacher, presumably she will have all the tools to be able to accomplish her goal.


This time we left Ompu Jonathan at Parapat where she was going to cross over to Samosir Island and look around on her own for an ikat maker. We had too little time left to be able to cross over with her and assist in the search. I wonder how she fared? As I write, curiosity is getting the better of me. I simply have to call…. 

… Alas, I have just learned through the telephone that Ompu Jonathan has not yet found her ikat guru. I have to get back there to help her as soon as I can.  That's two things on my list: her spinning wheel and her ikat guru. Oh yeah, and a souvenir from The Netherlands. I asked if helping her achieve her goal wasn't enough and she said, "No". There you have it!  Three things on my list.