Monday, August 30, 2021

Indigenous Craft as Climate Adaptation and Mitigation

On Wednesday 25 August 2021, I presented a webinar for the PanSumatra Network for Heritage Conservation (PANSUMNET), an informal group coordinated by Hasti Tarekat within the Sumatra Heritage Trust / Beranda Warisan Sumatra (BWS). The event was moderated by arts and culture activist, Desmond W.S. Anabrang.

My goal was to bring the topic of global warming into focus relative to craft and heritage. On August 9 of this month, the 6th report of the IPCC report came out and was heralded as a 'Code Red for Humanity'. My talk was based on the comment made by Helen Clarkson, CEO of the Climate Group, that from now on,

Every decision, every investment, every target, needs to have the climate at its core.

So what does this climate 'code red' mean for heritage and craft? I proposed that this should become a focus of conversation and that it is incumbent on each aspect of heritage to work this out. UNESCO has already done significant work in this direction. It is all hands on deck. While the Northern Nations shoulder the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), I pointed out that there was a leadership role that could be assumed within Indonesia because of the wealth of Indigenous Knowledge that is found in the country -- and that this wealth should be treasured and encouraged, that this incredible asset is undermined by so-called 'development' and 'capitalist growth'.

My example was traditional Batak textiles, which I likened to honey: a valuable product collectively produced from the local environment, healthy and dependent on a healthy local environment. 

I showed the modernization of Batak textiles in the light of CO2 emissions and fossil hydrocarbons. If the traditional textiles were carbon negative (they stored CO2 in their materials and the weaving equipment), the modern textiles have been entirely transformed by the availability and prevalence of fossil hydrocarbons, through the use of synthetic dyes, yarns, and fossil fuel-based transportation. In the end, this has meant that the only 'heritage' that has been preserved is the appearance (design) of the textiles, not the material and not the systems which infused them with meaning before they became a 'cultural commodity'.

I placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of social changes that have occurred since colonialism and pointed out that the reliance on fossil fuels will have to be relinquished. 

There will be no choice.

The Webinar was live streamed on Facebook but the link cannot be used in this environment. 

A copy of the presentation will be made available on the BWS website.

Thanks to the talented MJA Nashir for the poster image and to the dynamic BWS and PANSUMNET for organizing and hosting the event. Thanks also to the warm, enthusiastic and very engaged Indonesian audience. 

You may access the zoom recording here.

Postscript, November 2021

I have just watched the recording of a webinar by Bill Rees to the Canadian Club of Rome, entitled 'Too Clever by Half, but not nearly smart enough: why societal collapse is increasingly probable'. William E. Rees is the brain behind the Ecological Footprint model that has caught on around the world as a way of measuring our impact on the earth. He showed a remarkable slide, which I screenshot and present here: 

If I have discussed the impact of the availability of fossil fuels on Batak textiles, this slide shows the macro impact on world population and economic growth.  No graphic could have better revealed that Batak textiles are in step with the world trajectory and out of step with the carrying capacity of the earth. 

This slide, if you can read the small print at the bottom, is "Based on estimates by the History Database of the Global Environment (HYDE) and the United Nations. On you can download the annual data. This is a visualization from where you can find data and research on how the world is changing."

Sunday, August 08, 2021

I completed the Zuiderzee Route

 On Wednesday night I completed the Zuyderzee Route on my trusty bicycle. I spent 14 days at it and cycled 820 km. Starting and finishing in Nijkerk, traveling counter clockwise, I rode up around the East side of the lake, over the dike by bike-bus (alas, the dike is being renovated) and down the West side to Amsterdam, then skirted the South shore back to Nijkerk. 


I can’t complain about the weather. The skies were photogenically Dutch with scudding clouds topping the greenest of pastures studded with black and white cows and woolly sheep. The cool temperatures meant that I could keep covered up and safe from the sun. Only a few brief showers. Every day was more-or-less ideal cycling weather.


I think I experienced The Netherlands at her best. Physically, she is made for cyclists: compellingly flat with endless rivers, streams, tributaries, canals, (cantilever) bridges, dikes, ferries, lakes, and even open seas (on the day I cycled beyond the route to Harlingen). Church steeples in the panoramic distances, colourful fields, lots of ducks, geese and other water fowl,  history at every node. I could do the route ten times, no: fifty times, slowly, and still glean new insights. There were castles and museums, majestic VOC buildings, forts and moats, every kind of gable, local styles of water craft and marinas stuffed with yachts. There were patios where there was food and people made enthusiastic use of them. It was friendly, human-scale, carefree, and all were accepting of cyclists and understanding of our needs.


One of the things I liked most was plugging into the “Friends on Bikes” network. For a nominal fee, just to cover costs, kind bike-enthusiasts put up cyclists for the night. It makes bike travel simple and possible. Most of us are minimalist, independent types, with almost no baggage. Cycle, wash out the underwear, sleep, have breakfast and cycle on. The hosts know the routine from their own bicycle journeys. Six different hosts put me up in their homes. I spent more than one night in most so that I could dally and see the sights, and that made my trip delightfully sociable. Often there were animated discussions in the evening, and again over breakfast with other cyclists at the same address. Convivial and congenial. Many hosts were single women enjoying the company of cyclists just as much as I enjoyed the company of my hosts. I was struck by how gracious and kind they were. It wasn’t until I headed back in the train on that last night that I ran into mask-refusing grumblers and an obstreperous drunk. Maybe cyclists are just plain sane salt of the earth. This was community, trusting and kind. No bad apples on my journey.


During a rain shower, I discovered another network, that of ‘Rest Spots’  ( Run on the honour system, they are a commons, built on empathy. Places to have a drink, take a pee, charge up a battery, hide from a shower, or just be languid for a bit. Set up and cared for by volunteers and on their property. Absolutely endearing. This is what life everywhere should be like. Let’s expand the commons, share and trust each other! It generated such a good mood, such a sense of well-being, of belonging, of the world being our oyster. Who needs bitcoin? Give me this incomparable wealth, of ultimate value when the rubber hits the road. This is the Netherlands that one can’t help but love; I didn’t know that it was there all the time, ubiquitously between the lines!




Day 1: Oosterbeek to Zeewolde via Otterlo and Nijkerk 


Day 2: Zeewolde to Ketel Haven via Harderwijk, Nunspeet, and Kampen


Day 3: Ketel Haven to Ketel Haven via Kampen and the Ketelbrug


Day 4: Ketel Haven to Creil via the Ketelbrug, Urk and Lemmer over the dike


Day 5: Creil to Creil via Lemmer and Oosterzee – a day on the water 


Day 6: Creil to Makkum via all the little Fresian towns en route, including Stavoren and Hindeloopen


Day 7: Makkum to Makkum via Harlingen (seashore there, inland back)


Day 8: Makkum to Enkhuizen – via the Afsluitdijk, then Den Oever and Medemblik


Day 9: Enkhuizen to Enkhuizen – via Urk by sailboat


Day 10: Enkhuizen – a day at the ZuiderzeeMuseum


Day 11: Enkhuizen to Warder via Hoorn and Edam


Day 12: Warder to Warder via Purmerend, Monnickendam, Marken, Volendam and Edam


Day 13: Warder to Hoofddorp via Amsterdam (Vondelpark, Sloten and Schiphol)


Day 14: Hoofddorp to Nijkerk via Amsterdam, Muider, Naarden, Bussum and Bunschoten/Spakenburg