Friday, November 17, 2023

Our Common . Market: Some Background

 This text was presented during the webinar, 'Expanding the Frontiers of Commoning,' 16 November 2023, with the Schumacher Center for a New Economics


I would like to tell you about OurCommon.Market, a collection and platform of fashion commons being developed by the activist group, Fashion Act Now, or FAN, based in London, England. 

You are probably already scratching your head. Fashion commons? Now, if you are thinking, “Isn’t Fashion all about showing off, and supporting, hierarchies of status and power?” you would be right. ‘Fashion commons’ appears to be a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. I hope I will be able to alleviate some of this cognitive dissonance during the next 10 minutes.

At FAN we work on dismantling the Fashion system. Participating in FAN, I have been excited to experience how a whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. What I want to share today is very much the fruit of FAN discussions and working together; it is impossible to pinpoint the boundaries between the thinking of our individual members and that of the whole group. Many of the ideas that I will be sharing are the result of ‘group discussions’; our ideas are constructed and held in common. As we agitate for what we call ‘de-Fashion’ (i.e. degrowth, sustainability and radical fairness in clothing systems) we try very hard to learn and practice what it means to be a knowledge commons. None of us is an expert in commoning. We are learning while doing. 

The place for me to start to explain Our Common Market is with the distinction that underlies all of our thinking in FAN, namely, the difference between what we call big and little-f Fashion. If ‘Fashion Commons’ was an oxymoron for you, that is because you have big-F Fashion in mind. Not surprisingly! Few people know little more than big-F Fashion because it has been the dominant industrial system of clothing production and consumption on the planet since long before all of us were born. 

Recently people have been raising their voices to decry Fossil Fuel Fashion pointing out that this highly damaging form of Fashion is enabled by fossil fuels --not just for production but also for synthetic fibres. We at FAN agree, but we go much further. We point out that ALL of Industrial Fashion is Fossil Fuel Fashion. Since its inception in the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th Century the entire trajectory has been enabled by Fossil Fuels, starting with coal-powered steam engines. The use of those fossil fuels has increased exponentially and Fast Fashion is only the latest stage in the trajectory.

While fossil fuels have been the true engine of industrial Fashion, Fashion theorists attributed the uniqueness of the clothing system in the West, instead, to a higher stage of cultural evolution, to a more sophisticated civilization, to racial superiority. In short, the sheer power of fossil fuels went straight to our heads and puffed up the ego of the West. The term ‘Fashion’ was co-opted for the clothing of rich sophisticates who could afford rapidly changing styles, while the rest of the world ‘merely’ had clothing rooted in tradition. 

So there you have it, the dark side of Fashion lurking behind every catwalk and Fashion magazine: the vertical binary: the Industrial forms versus the non-Industrial forms. That simple. And thus Fashion has been celebrated while all other clothing forms, including peasant, tribal, and foreign, have been erased, ignored, undermined, and considered unimportant and bound to disappear.

I think you can see where this is going: On the one hand: the unseen, erased, carbon-sequestering, local, small-f fashion expressions  and on the other: the  growth-based, destructive, Industrial Fossil Fueled Fashion that has ballooned out to dominate the clothing scene worldwide. FAN's interest in 'fashion commons' relates to small-f fashion expressions.

Of course the thinking of most of us has been dominated by Industrial big-F Fashion, informed by: what the shops are filled with, catwalks, fashion magazines, the styles of the rich and famous, and on and on. Small-f fashion doesn’t even appear as a blip on the screen, except maybe when dubbed ‘handicraft’. This blinkered view of big-F Fashion also dominates the framework of sustainability in Fashion, which is entirely oriented to reforming the Industry! We, at FAN, place little hope in the industry becoming ‘sustainable’, because it is growth-based and fossil-fuel based and, by definition, rooted in the unfairness of erasing small-f fashion expressions.

Long, thoughtful, soul-searching discussions amongst FAN members have led us to a fork in the road. Would we choose the Extinction Rebellion kinds strategies of visible and audible protest against the Fashion industry, or would we choose the path of building and supporting alternatives to Big-F Fashion? With the wise counsel of David Bollier in our ears, and the clear-sightedness of Sara Arnold, our co-ordinator, we chose for building and encouraging alternatives: in other words, to showcase small-f fashion. And this makes us unique as activists for a better fashion world. There are many other groups brilliantly critiquing the Fashion Industry. Make no mistake, the Fashion industry MUST BE dismantled for the well being of people and planet. But here’s the thing: when Big-F Fashion comes down, little-f fashion has to be there. Ready. Resilient. Regenerative. Small and Beautiful; Free, Fair and Alive.

Hence: OurCommon.Market, the interactive platform that we are building to connect, encourage and support small-f fashion expressions. This includes a whole array of community groups that repair, share and repurpose their clothes, farm to fashion initiatives like Fibershed (now in many countries, not just the States where it started), The Linen Project in The Netherlands, groups reviving or maintaining their clothing heritage, such as communities in the Ukraine that have produced and decorated clothing from homegrown flax and wool for generations, and so on and so on. Zoe Gilbertson, one of our FAN members, is researching bio-regional bast fibre knowledge, and is plugged into its revival in the UK. Another member, Ariel Fabbro, has constructed the website, Cobbled Goods, to profile sustainable shoes made with respect for nature.

We have constructed ground rules -- we call them the ‘Common Code’ -- for participation in Ourcommon.Market so that the communities that we on-board are not Big-F Fashion wannabees waiting for their chance to ‘scale up’, but function, rather, as commons, in which the common good and fairness, not profit and growth, are central. 

We hope to offer a forum that will eventually generate a significant groundswell. Will Our Common Market result in some kind of solidarity? Will the communities learn from each other and support each other? Can we collectively become a commons of commons, or a kind of what David Bollier called "a vibrant Republic of Commoners"? That’s what we hope and aim for. 

Our path will be made by walking on it. We have to trust to the group dynamics that will take place. We know that many challenges lie ahead. They will need to be solved iteratively, within and through our communities, through trial and error, and through deep discussion: differences of language and culture; differences of vision and strategy, will need to be bridged.

Inside and outside Europe there are countless groups struggling to keep their clothing traditions alive. We want to serve, not just as an alternative to Big-F Fashion, but also as an antidote, by providing a space where small-f fashion communities can find each other, support each other, shine, feel pride, revive and flourish. In short, to re-emerge from two hundred years of erasure. 

The loss of these systems is not something to shrug off, and feel that they are doomed by modernity. It is absolutely crucial that they be supported:

1.    First, they provide alternative understandings of how fashion can operate for the good of communities -- and this is desperately being sought now by Fashion reformists in the Northern nations.

2.    Second, they are part of the process of becoming sustainable in the North. The process of being sacrificed by the continual expansion of big-F Fashion needs to be reversed. They need to be granted the space to survive.

3.    Third, we hear so much about the loss of natural diversity and the 6th Great Extinction. But Cultural Survival is a problem equally profound. That is also part of the polycrisis. Wade Davis made a prediction 15 years ago that, 

“Within a generation or two … we may be witnessing the loss of fully half of humanity’s social, cultural and intellectual legacy.” 

My time is up, but suffice it to say that I have found profound, even mind-blowing, meaning invested in indigenous Indonesian clothing systems maintained by indigenous cultural commons. Indigenous systems of dress, not just their appearance, but also how they are made and used, are imbued with what Schumacher referred to as ‘psychological structures’ and, in turn, are profoundly linked to cultural survival. I’d like to end, now, with a quote by Schumacher.

“The life, work, and happiness of all societies depend on certain 'psychological structures' which are infinitely precious and highly vulnerable. Social cohesion, co-operation, mutual respect and above all self-respect, courage in the face of adversity, and the ability to bear hardship - all this and much else disintegrates and disappears when these 'psychological structures' are gravely damaged. A  [person] is destroyed by the inner conviction of uselessness. No amount of economic growth can compensate for such losses.”

Sunday, November 12, 2023

The ATBM Disaster is apparently about to strike Silalahi

 I remember the first time I saw Batak weavers at work in North Sumatra. The year was 1978. I was mesmerized watching the weft being threaded between the warp. I was privy to an act of creation; it felt like magic to see a cloth slowly come into existence from the skillful manipulation of a few yarns and sticks. 


It took me many years, decades even, to understand what I was seeing: the most efficient system of production that can be imagined. Batak weavers make ulos, ritual cloth of their culture. What they make may be understood as a kind of meeting point  of so many facets of their lives. It all comes together in a satisfying, sophisticated, unique, visual and material way in their ulos.

  • While weaving the weavers are also looking after their household chores. They are teaching their daughters how to weave, and how to fit weaving into their daily lives. Between throws of weft, they cooking, clean, and look after the children. 
  • They work in the dry season when they are free from duties in the fields. Weaving fits an annual schedule.
  • Because they use local materials, they have to learn about trees and plants and their properties. They know which ones can serve as weaving equipment, yarns and dyes. Their bond with nature is profound and reciprocal. 
  • The physical environment inspires almost all of the patterning that Batak weavers have invented. 
  • The weavers weave together; they help each other through weaverly challenges by sharing ideas, skills, materials, insights, and successes, deepening their kinship and neighbourly bonds as they work. They share laughter and tears, stories and inspiration. 
  • They also share and grow the specific language related to their technical skills and their unique equipment. 
  • Their fruits of their looms were once indispensable for every aspect of their lives: for warmth and comfort, to announce social station and cultural identity, and social and ritual roles. 
  • Imbued with spiritual powers, the cloths, and the way they were made, involved the maker, and later the wearer, in the spiritual complex that permeates every part of their lives. 
Totality was inscribed in every ulos: a woman’s personal, social, cultural and spiritual life, her heritage, her know-how and her skill. Ulos production was cultural reproduction of the most essential and efficient kind. The strategies of production honoured all of the elements in all of the weaver’s various environments. The cloths embodied respect, knowledge, caring and heritage. 


The world of pre-colonial Batak weavers exemplifies how commons work. ‘Commons’ are shared resources managed ‘in common’ by people. I learned to see the woven cloth as a kind of confluence of commons: overlapping and intersecting cultural commons. And I see reciprocity as a primary feature of cultural commons. Those who dip into it and take from it are the ones who also build, grow and store it. For example, the language used by Batak weavers is an knowledge commons; collectively they use it and at the same time build and maintain it through use. Weaving techniques and design are commons in which know-how, knowledge and memory are held and shared, used and added to. The physical environment that is used and maintained by the weavers is another and the ritual sphere yet another relative to which the weavings give and derive meaning. All of these commons are represented and inextricably woven together in a Batak ulos, a kind of total expression of Batak social, intellectual and spiritual life.  


In 1978 I was also witnessing weaving commons being eroded by enclosures. Enclosures are external forces that appropriate what is held in common, taking it out of the hands of the rightful stewards. The history of Batak weaving, since the Industrial Revolution and colonialism, may be framed as a succession of enclosures by outside forces. It is a familiar story the world over. 


For the Batak enclosures began with imported yarns and dyes in the 19th Century. Weavers took both happily because the mechanized imports reduced their workloads. Nevertheless, that ease came at a greater cost than the money they paid for it. The imports generated relations of dependence on the market and also reduced the weavers’ reciprocal ties with the physical world: the trees, plants, insects, earth and water involved in making the yarns and dyes. Within a few generations the knowledge of making yarn and dyes was lost because this kind of knowledge is stewarded during hands-on doing. The imported yarns and dyes were just the beginning of the take-over by external markets. Cheap Western-style clothing eventually supplanted the traditional handloomed Batak clothing. Inevitably, many weavers retired their looms. The inroads that the external markets were making were also expressed in faster transportation networks. Heeding the dictates of the new markets, the weavers had to develop regional specializations to compete. Divisions of labour emerged. Weavers had to specialize in their knowledge of design and technique. In short, the market was forcing them to de-skill. It was no longer their village communities and local markets that were shaping their craft. Rather, distant market forces began to dictate what weavers wove. Government and industry brought in semi-mechanical looms with the rationale that these so-called ‘modern’ looms would allow weavers to produce faster and ostensibly earn more. The market focus was shifting weaving  away from cultural reproduction and towards speed of production and financial earnings. Working at the new looms was another part of the process of de-skilling and the loss of women’s space in their culture. Unused, the specialized vocabulary related to the ancient Batak technical heritage was not needed in the new looms. The entire conceptual system surrounding the making of a cloth shifted. The weavers no longer needed their special medium of communication that supported the unicity of their craft. The uniqueness of their craft was also giving way to standardized production. The new looms pulled them out of their homes and into hierarchical workshop settings where they occupied the lowest rungs as wage-earning labourers doing mindless, repetitive work according to the dictates of those higher up the ladder. Fashion ‘designers’ also had a role to play in this demotion of the social position of the weavers. Appropriating Batak designs to adapt them to fashion, the designers employed the weavers as mere labour. And as if that were not enough, do-gooders are now moving in with computer-generated designs. Once again, the rationale is that the new designs will ‘aid’ the weavers. At one time the unique Batak designs emerged from the village weaver commons. No one weaver was a designer, but the weavers collectively created unique designs by sharing and trying out ideas together. The unique Batak designs are expressions of a cultural commons. Today there is almost nothing left of that crucible. The weavers’ strongest ties are now with the market, and earning money has eclipsed the cultural facets of weaving almost entirely. All culturally unique facets of Batak weaving have slipped like sand through the fingers and been supplanted with the external market economy. The weavers themselves frequently complain that, while they know how to weave, they do not know how to weave their own traditions.


This is a familiar story. All of the time-saving and labour-saving strategies introduced have been a kind of net pulling the weavers into capitalist spheres of production. The art that once expressed the local environment now expresses  dependence on fossil fuels (for yarns, dyes, loom parts, marketing and new technologies). The confluence and congregation of commons symbolized by ancient Batak cloths no longer exists in the modern cloths. They now exemplify  how modernity can enclose indigenous commons. The work of weavers is no longer that dense and efficient reproduction of their culture.  It has been flattened and simplified into running after money, an aim propelled by joblessness and the need for cash.


Every Batak region, large and small, once had its own weaver commons: unique designs, unique features of loom and technique, unique kinship and political characteristics, rituals, beliefs and language. The variety of features made the Batak region around Lake Toba dynamic and interesting. But they have been almost entirely eroded by the broad brushstrokes of modernity that reduce it to one indistinct whole dominated by the quest for money and standardized looms.


Remnants of the rich, ancient tradition are left. In Silalahi, a bay at the Northern end of Lake Toba, and a village culturally allied with the neighbouring villages of Paropo and Tongging, weaving is distinctive with unusual techniques and ulos designs that appear to be unique in the world. While the erosive process of enclosures has been at work in this region, some of the ancient technical features of ulos are still intact. This has largely to do with the fact that the traditional looms used in this region have not (yet) been replaced by upright, semi-mechanical looms.  This is very special. The weavers of Silalahi need to be cherished, protected and encouraged. There are not many left, and most of them are elderly. 


I visited Silalahi again earlier this year (2023), I wanted to take a closer look at how the weavers use three heddle sticks in a single set of heddles. It is terribly complex technique, and terribly difficult to do -- so much more difficult than the mindless weaving that occurs on the upright semi-mechanical looms. The technique has never been documented or recorded. I had the great honour to be able to sit beside the loom of one of the very best weavers, a woman devoted to the Silalahi tradition, Sinta br. Sagala, Ny. Sidabariba, Op. Dita. Her son, Marvin Sidabariba, is equally devoted to maintaining his cultural heritage. Without many means and resources besides his heart, dedication and knowledge, he does all that he can to encourage the weavers in his village.


Recently Marvin told me that there is a government plan to bring semi-mechanical looms into Silalahi. A plan to be mourned. It fills me with deep sadness. It will mean the end of the unusual weaving techniques and resultant ulos designs, which make the Silalahi tradition unique in the world. Once again the looms are being introduced with the best of intentions: 'to increase weaver income’. But they will erode and gradually eliminate the remainder of what is unique in the Silalahi weaving tradition, which is still found in technique and design. Is there nobody in the government who understands how special the ancient knowledge and traditions are, and who can encourage these traditional elements? Why are the Silalahi weavers being pushed to work within a foreign weaving tradition? (The looms are of Western origin.) The weavers themselves are naïve and have few concerns about the impact of these foreign looms. They know how difficult and complex their techniques are, and they are correct in thinking that these techniques cannot be performed on simple, semi-mechanical looms. What they do not know, however, is that the owners of those semi-mechanical looms have no intention of replicating the unique techniques of Silalahi. In fact, they have neither knowledge nor concern about what is unique and ancient. They only want to make the designs easily and cheaply for sale and use them in fashion. Their looms will churn out cheaper products. The buyers, who also know nothing about the unique Silalahi tradition, will make their purchases based on cloth appearance and price. This has already happened throughout the Batak region. All in the seductive name of modernity.


And so something unique and beautiful in the world will slip away, unnoticed except by the handful of elderly weavers who are left and knowledgeable idealists like Marvin Sidabariba. The message to these weavers will be that the world does not care about their skill and art. 


I stand with Marvin.



Tuesday, September 19, 2023



Friends, do you see de-Fashion as reduction

frustration, disappointment, no satisfaction

‘tightening a belt’ that already feels too tight?

For a feel good future, it just doesn’t seem right.


I beg of you to change your lens

to see beyond enticing brands

to the industry failing to meet your demands

hurting us all, then turning a blind eye

seducing, brainwashing, only to deny

hiding behind a succession of styles

contributing to waste for miles ….and miles

sacrificing us all when we buy in

to seasons, sales and ‘professional’ design

to hate our bodies, lose touch with our community

with our sheep and our flax and our creative capacity

offered freely by nature; erased with impunity.


The top of the curve is our lowest point.


Humanity flattened by the consumer role,

dress of the other eroded, to say naught of our soul.

The awful potential of the exponential.

For a fistful of money, dominance and control

civilizations implode and climates boil

trapped by debt millions sweat and toil.

Industrial Fashion: you are toxic

to all that walks swims flies and thinks.

Carbon sinks are of no avail

if your coloniality will prevail.

Fashion mirror in our dress

reflecting sadly who we have come to be

though kindliness is what we want to see:

regeneration, reparation, sustainability

a healthy world, not our current distress.


The top of the curve is our lowest point.


Dear friends, we are gathered here to de-Fashion

education and the entire system, to reweave

healing in our clothes, community in every stitch

repairing the tears of sacrifice, mending, re-using

microfibres of hope in our heart relearning

the art of universal fashion: to refuse exploitation


When we fail to give the other room we prepare our own doom.

Here, dear friends, in Berlin

we embrace all as family

and only thus reclaim our humanity.


The top of the curve is our lowest point

whence we embark on de-Fashion.

Let us here, now, be the point of inflection

marking the start of the Great Resuscitation.

(recited at the De-Fashioning Education Conference, Berlin 15 September)

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Fashion: Be Careful What You Celebrate! Status and Othering in Fossil Fuels and Fashion (with an appended 'Table of Industrial Fashion Myths')

 At the end of this short blog I present a ‘Table of Industrial Fashion Myths’, a work-in-progress. I preface it here briefly with some preliminary thoughts about possible links between these myths and fossil fuels. (Also published on the Fashion Act Now website:


For decades I have looked at coloniality, othering, and the hubris of the West/Northern Nations, as a ‘wrong turn’ in philosophical terms. If the error of our ways could only be demonstrated, has been my thinking, then all could be set aright! Hence the adoption of strategies of jumping into the pen, teaching, appealing to the innate goodness in people, their ratio. Nothing can change the world like ideas.


Recently, however, the idea of ‘energy-blindness’ as explained by Nate Hagens (see his podcasts on Youtube) has altered my own thinking on the topic. It is obvious that fossil fuels enable industry, including the Fashion industry, nothing new there. What is new, that Hagens has sparked in my thinking, is the significance of the fact that Western Industrial fashion is a function of the discovery and use of Fossil Fuels. I don't mean this in a deterministic sense, but clearly  the course of Western fashion history has been shaped to some extent  by the use of fossil fuels, and is inextricably intertwined with access to fossil fuels. In that case, Western fashion history needs to be examined through the lens of fossil fuel enablement. This insight may have ramifications so profound as to require a re-write of Fashion history; in the traditional focus on design history, the significance of roles and types of fuel in Fashion have been underexposed if not completely ignored. 


Key to this insight is that for more than a century, the distinction of ‘rapid style change’ has been attributed to Western superiority, not fossil fuels. Furthermore, when ‘rapid style change’ was regarded as definitive for Fashion, by deduction Fashion had to be exclusively Western. The Eureka moment here is the possibility that not only Western Fashion, but also the Western Fashion ego, is indirectly a product of fossil fuel access. This ego appears to have undergone a kind of collective rush when exposed to the exceptional power of fossil fuels and I propose that this rush was expressed in delusions of superiority and mythologies of othering. Indeed, a wrong conceptual turn, but there was a hydrocarbon foundation underlying it. While acknowledging that this proposition still needs to be researched and verified, I would still like to go one step further by pointing out that the Fashion ego appears to be part of a larger fossil fuel thought  complex.


During this crisis era of global heating, researchers and writers are scrambling to come to grips  with society’s addiction to fossil fuels. Andreas Malm’s historical research has revealed that steam power (from coal combustion) out-competed water power in the early decades of the 19th Century because coal could be privately owned and stored where and when it suited the needs of the owner (industrialist). Water power could only be generated in proximity to flowing water and access to it demanded negotiations with others having access to that same source, as well as reliance on the right weather conditions. In short, according to Malm, steam power offered greater latitude to exploit labour (Leather 2017), and thus the stage was set. It did not take long before fossil fuels were requisite to compete successfully in industry and deploy the labour coming into the city. In addition, fossil fuel offered more independent autonomy to industrialists and thus became the lifeblood of high social status -- which it has remained until this day. (I write just as the decision of a single individual, Elon Musk, to thwart a Ukrainian drone attack on the Krim has come to light, illustrating my use of the word ‘autonomy’ in regard to high social station, i.e. isolation from social controls.)


The characterization of Fashion’s uniqueness relative to all other fashion forms in the world is strikingly parallel. It was a vertical binary setting off, but also separating, the West from the Rest. Those ‘with’ fashion placed themselves on a pedestal, a status position, that also isolated them from the Rest.  


Kendra (2021) has reviewed white supremacy in the oil industry as evident in labour relations, racial segregation and racial violence, and concluded that it “is so much the norm that it is easier to point to the exception." Malm’s research went on (in White Skin, Black Fuel: On the Danger of Fossil Fascism 2021) to document the link between fossil fuels and the defense of white privilege, Donald Trump being a good example of a supremacist who did all in his power to remove limits to fossil fuel discovery and use. In their review of the government of climate change, Diego Andreucci and Christos Zografos (2021) noted that othering is a technical tool used by the government of climate change in strategies of ‘mitigation’ (extraction of minerals for alternative energy systems), ‘climate migration’, and ‘vulnerability’ (a filter through which to assign where social ‘improvements’ are needed). All of these strategies extend capitalist relations of racism and colonialism. They discerned that “othering helps to preserve existing relations of racial, patriarchal and class domination in the face of climate-induced social upheavals”, concluding that “[O]thering is not only a feature of fossil fuelled development, but a way of functioning of capitalist governmentality more broadly…” 


Notably, the accepted sustainability discourse in Fashion has stubbornly failed to address the issue of othering embedded in the existence of sacrifice zones, labour exploitation and industrial growth.


I am not aware of fashion having been brought into discussions about relations of race and coloniality in the fossil fuel industry, but there appear to be reasons for doing so, given that Fashion is arguably the most potent tool to facilitate and normalize othering. Fashion has its origin and raison d’être in the intent and practice of othering (Niessen 2003). It not only makes othering possible and palatable by normalizing it, but exalts it by showcasing it in association with mythologies of superiority and the goodness of consumption. Fashion’s continual physical expansion works hand in glove with fossil fuel expansion. There appears to be a relationship of complementarity between the two. While fossil fuels have clearly played a powerful role in industrial Fashion history, Fashion appears to have played a complementary role in the social history of fossil fuel relations and consumption. In the needed re-write of Fashion history attention must be paid not only to what Fashion is, but what it does. Furthermore, in the task of ‘getting Fashion off fossil fuels’ it becomes clear that entirely new fashion thought systems will need to be constructed. Taking the plastic out of our clothing and switching to other power sources will not be sufficient to change what Fashion does in the manner of fossil fuel Fashion.


I cite Andreucci’s and Zografos’s conclusion that “[A]ny genuinely radical, comprehensive and meaningful response to the climate crisis must attack the root causes of the ongoing, uneven and combined socioecological catastrophe” (2022) in the event that in the job of unpacking and exposing the partnership of fossil fuels and Fashion any additional encouragement is required.


A comprehensive account of how the political and historical links between Fashion and fossil fuels have been expressed in Fashion mythologies and othering is significantly beyond the scope of this exploratory blog. A graduate student may want to take on this important work! The ‘Table of Industrial Fashion Myths’ below is a draft list of the ways in which hubris has functioned in Fashion. It has long been averred that fashion is the handmaiden of capitalism, but its enmeshment in perpetuating the fossil fuel economy not yet. Readers are invited to comment on and contribute to this foray. 


Table of Industrial Fashion Myths


Centrisms of Superiority 


of othering and superiority

Fashion Mythologies

of othering and superiority









Fashion depicts individual superiority


Fashion depicts individuality



white supremacy








linear time




cultural erasure


belief in Western technology 


cultural sacrifice zones are condoned


Fashion is a zenith of cultural ‘evolution’ 


Fashion depicts social/cultural relevance


Fashion is rapid change of styles


“A least it gives them jobs” (re: Fashion labour)


Indigenous designs and techniques are freely available for use by industrial fashion


 Industrial Fashion can perpetuate the clothing systems/technologies/designs of the other


‘globalization of Fashion’


‘universal dress’


confidence that technology will solve the sustainability problem


‘we’ are dependent on the Fashion industry for beautiful clothing


human exceptionalism


ecological sacrifice is condoned



human ingenuity will solve all problems


most conceptions of ‘sustainability’ 





Selected References


Diego Andreucci, Christos Zografos, Between improvement and sacrifice: Othering and the (bio)political ecology of climate change, Political Geography, Volume 92, 2022, 102512,

ISSN 0962-6298,


Hagens, Nate. The Great Simplification. Podcast series on Youtube. Ongoing since 2022.


Kendra, Pierre-Louis. Understanding the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Legacy of White SupremacyWho What WhyApril 2021.


Leather, Amy. “Why capitalism is addicted to fossil fuels”. International Socialism: A quarterly review of socialist theory. Nr. 153. 2017


Malm, Andreas. White Skin, Black Fuel : On the Danger of Fossil Fascism. Verso. 202

Malm, Andreas. Fossil Capital: the Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming. Verso. 2016.


Niessen, Sandra “Afterword:  Reorienting Fashion Theory”  In Niessen, S.A., A. Leshkowich, and C. Jones (eds.)  Re-orienting Fashion:  The Globalization of Asian Dress.  Oxford:  Berg Publishers.  pp. 243-266. 2003.


Thursday, May 11, 2023

Time Made Time Spent

 (for Harna and Lasma)


Home again after a long journey, I multitask. There are the things that need to be picked up from 5 months ago, and there is the residue from the journey. It doesn’t take long before everything criss-crosses into the chaotic jumble that is my current now. I iron a blouse while doing a wash, breaking off to examine the provisions in the kitchen and write a quick message to a friend; I note that it is time to put away my winter clothes; then I remember to pay a bill… In the meantime, I daydream about Ompu si Sihol, my weaving teacher in 1980. I recall her sitting on her haunches, stick in hand, guarding her piglet so that it can eat without interruption. This was part of her daily routine. Her day was always calm and clear. I remember admiring her amazing work habits: methodical, orderly, deliberate, calm. I did not expect such excellent time management in a poor Batak village but I am embarrassed now to admit it because Batak weavings should have taught me that they were made with careful discipline. When Ompu si Sihol wove, her work was methodical, orderly, deliberate, calm. I break off my rushed criss-crossed chaos to sit down and write.


Ompu si Sihol didn’t multitask. She set herself a goal and she worked on it until it was done. Never rushed. The goal that she set for herself was manageable and filled her day; she did it expertly, not fast and not slow. Step by step. She kept in mind the preparations for the next day in the process. Time was in her hands. Time was the process of weaving her cloth: winding the warp today, setting up the loom tomorrow…  Occasionally a neighbour would come by to chew the fat while Ompu si Sihol continued her work, methodically and unwavering. Only feeding her pig and taking a bath in the stream when the sun was high, would pull her away, but those interludes, too, were part of her day’s rhythm. I often think of that when I am multitasking, in a rush to meet deadlines, forgetting the pot on the stove. And I admire Ompu si Sihol all over again. But having recently learned more about the technical side of Batak weaving, I know that there was so much more to Ompu si Sihol’s way of working.


I recognized that deliberate, clear orderliness that I learned from Ompu si Sihol when, more than 30 years later, I observed Ompu Elza, br. Sinaga, weave her bulang. I saw that the steps in the process of making a hiou (the name for a cloth in her culture) structured her days. The parts of her cloth framed the steps in weaving it. The facilitating techniques were her medium, and in her hands that medium also synchronized with the cloth’s design.


I recall how she reacted viscerally, even after 15 years, when she remembered what it was like to try to meet the demands of the sagging market, to try to earn a few cents. It turned her into a slave because she needed every cent she could get to try to meet the needs of her family. She worked non-stop, pressured to weave ever faster. She hated every second of that demoralizing bondage. Ompu Elza likes to work with utmost care, checking, double checking, establishing her best self in her cloth.


During my years in the Batak area of North Sumatra, I have rarely observed that methodical manner of working but I assume that it was once the norm. Today, most weavers work quickly. Speed of execution is their priority. They cut corners, take liberties to meet market strictures, even taking pride in their capacity to zip through a cloth. Speed and flexibility is where they see their expertise: “I just try to make money,“ they say. “I weave whatever the market asks. Do I like weaving?” My question puzzles them. “I am just trying to earn some money, that’s all.” And they sandwich the weaving between other demands on their time. What gets half done now will be worked on again later. Late nights if necessary. A double weft fills a cloth faster than a single weft. Dispense with ikat in this erstwhile ikat tradition and shift to supplementary weft because it is faster; there are fewer steps involved. Don’t bother to repair a broken warp yarn like Ompu Sihol did fastidiously; no point repairing errors. ‘Seolaholah’ (‘quick and dirty’) is good enough. Weaving in this way has everything to do with the rhythm of the market. The market discourages rigour and quality. Consumers don’t know quality anymore anyway, so it is a waste of time. The market teaches weavers that their work has no value. Their products are disposable tokens. Only speed has value because only money has value. 


These speed-weavers work in a ‘modern’ time frame. They probably have neither knowledge nor recollection of the cloth frame that Ompu si Sihol lived within. How could they? The income of weavers has been drastically low for generations and they have had to adapt to maximize their earnings. Even those painful economic circumstances declined further as the (semi-) mechanical loom gained in popularity. Such a loom weaves cloth faster and drives prices down. Backstrap loom weavers now have to compete with (semi-)mechanical speed for even just a tiny corner of the market. If these women had an alternative, they would not be weaving at all; they would prefer something less demoralizing. They have not had the luxury to think about time nor the perfection of their skills, nor their creative capacities and the capacities built into their ancient weaving tradition.


I think back on my anthropological training and my fascination with temporal frameworks. I learned that the circular Batak warp represents never-ending cyclical time, the cycle of all life.  I saw the warp In my mind’s eye as a circle mapped onto a concept, like a letter in the alphabet representing a sound. I imagined the fully woven but uncut cloth being circulated in the hands to depict the perpetuity of life, something the Batak apparently used to do. 


Ompu Elza weaving a Bulang
But there is that other dimension already mentioned above; that  Ompu Elza wove to a rhythm consistent with the structure of her cloth-in-the-making, allowing the design and techniques of her cloth to structure her days: one day to weave half of the red part, the next day for the other half, pausing for lunch only when a segment had been completed and so on…. Cloth design was simultaneously weaving time.  In her loom she made time while she spent time. Time was not just an abstract ‘out there’. It was experiential; it was her guide and the framework of her self-discipline. It shaped her days. When Ompu Elza wove her bulang, she lived the process -- and I think that was the case with Ompu si Sihol as well. Ompu Elza’s longing to work in synchrony with her cloth, supported by the sufficiency of pay that I gave her for her work, provided her with the room that she needed to be able to co-exist with her cloth.


This is the room that weavers, who are plugged desperately into the market for their daily needs, all the while competing with semi-mechanical looms, do not have.


A Batak weaver inherits her repertory from the ancestors, all the way back to the first ancestor who came down from the upper world. She must accurately recapitulate the weaverly steps first performed by her ancestors to make a cloth fit to be named (na margoar) and thereby eligible for social ritual, to enable the wearer to come in contact with the spirit world, to entreat that world to be benign. The temporal process of weaving is a sacred trust just as the design of the cloth. And so each generation of weavers is also like a cycle of uncut cloth rotated in the hands; each with the onus to pass on her divinely inherited skills to a successor, the next link in the chain. 


Let weaving time take its rightful place in acknowledged lifecycles of the Batak: the cycles of the sun and moon, the winds and rains, the rice, the links of which the patrilineage is made, the birth, maturity and death of all creatures. The exclusive purview of women, weaving time is women’s time when she is free from enslavement to the market and has the space to embody the process of creating time.

The weaverly ways of Ompu si Sihol and Ompu Elza open what feels like a magical  window onto a conceptual world that has faded into the past. When I set out on my first fieldwork expedition in 1979, I wanted to find remnants of the pre-colonial Batak conceptual system. I remember pondering the elusive matter of conceptual change. We live ineluctably within our conceptual frameworks; is it even possible to recall or re-experience a conceptual system after it has transformed? Are we not mono-conceptual? We cannot live in two conceptual frameworks at one time, or flip-flop between them. Are there any words or ways to describe or elicit another one? Watching Ompu si Sihol and Ompu Elza weave, I feel that I am privy to something rare and precious, something to be treasured like a final drop of healing medicine. Theirs is a conceptual invention outside modernity, outside capitalism. In the West this is what we seek as a way out of the damaging way we go about having clothing. Theirs is an alternative to the globalized fashion system, which is none other than a driver of production, consumption and waste. Yet this precious alternative is slipping away before our eyes -- unrecognized, un-treasured, unnoticed -- as elderly weavers die and others concede defeat and lay down their looms a very last time. 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Ompu ni si Markel’s Story

It started out quite simply. I went to her house and she offered me a chair and sat in the one next to me. 

SN and OM. This is the selfie we took upon our first meeting.

S.N. Your story yesterday was so amazing (tidak terduga). How is it possible that you and I should meet and that I should have known about part of your story from another perspective?


Our meeting the day before had not been by chance. She had seen me next door and had obeyed an urge to greet me. She told me that she had been to the TongTong Fair in The Hague in The Netherlands in 1978 and that her loom had been collected for/by a museum. She invited me to visit her sometime. I had been touched by something very sweet in her character, and I wanted to connect with her, perhaps learn more about her experience in the Netherlands just a year before I went to Indonesia the first time myself. She and I are almost the same age. Now I, too, was answering an urge to meet her. In the privacy of her own home this time, just the two of us, it was her pain that led the conversation.


SN: I would like to learn more about your visit to The Netherlands. What did it mean for you? Was it worth it? It was such a huge and expensive undertaking for that time!


OM: They asked me for my loom for the museum and said that I would be compensated for it later, but I never received anything for the loom.


I had to let this sink in. Then I explored it with her.


S.N. That’s so unfair! Was it the museum that didn’t pay you?

Ompu ni si Markel shrugged.


OM: I don’t know. I can’t place any blame. I have let it go. I had no recourse. I don’t know how it happened.


SN: Who is responsible for this? Who ‘donated’ or ‘gave’ these items to the museum? Was it your group leader? Did they receive the money from the museum?


OM: I know that none of us were compensated for our equipment that we left behind. I stayed in touch with some of the others and I know they didn’t receive anything either.


She looked at me without emotion, simply stating a fact, but I started to get hot under the collar.


SN: This is wrong! The museum should have a record about who donated the equipment! Surely we will learn the facts in this way!


OM: Please know that I am making no demands.


SN: You are a much more gentle soul than I. I feel very upset and angry! I want to know who deserves the blame! 

OM: Please don't be upset! I do not want you to be sad!

SN: I have great difficulties with this story. You came from a country that was colonized by the Dutch. And then you received the wonderful opportunity to go to The Netherlands and display your work. And then you were robbed while you were there. This is injury upon injury. You thought you were on an exciting journey, and then this happened. What a bitter end to this experience! This must be so painful!


Ompu ni si Markel looked down for a moment when I connected the misfortune to the colonial era. Then she looked up at me again and nodded slightly. Her eyes became a bit red. Even though it happened 45 years ago.


O.M.: There was someone who went to my mother after I left and expressed amazement that she let me go. “You will never see your daughter again,” that person said. "They will keep her there."  In those days there were no mobile phones. My mother and I couldn’t reach each other after I left. My mother cried and cried for days. She thought she had lost me forever.


I had to let this sink in as well. The courage the mother had shown to let her daughter go! In those days! A young girl of only 22 years of age. I felt so said thinking about this. And the young girl herself! At the age when she needs to spread her wings! The biggest event of her life happening when she was only 22! I paused for a moment.


There she is, the sweet girl in the white blouse, just after she got home again.

SN: ... Was the equipment your mother’s or was it your own loom? Was it a family loom?


I knew I had touched another nerve then, because her eyes became wet.


OM: It was my mother’s loom. A mother always sacrifices herself for her daughter, to help her daughter get ahead. The loom was from our ancestors. My mother got it from her mother. I don’t know how far back the loom went beyond my grandmother. My mother had to purchase a new loom and she had to pay for it herself.


SN: How terribly sad. You must have felt so bad! 


OM: Yes. I was chosen from 3 candidates. We were interviewed and tested, and they selected me.


There was pride and regret mixed. She grabbed a tissue and dabbed her eyes.


SN: I can see why they would have chosen you. You have such a wonderful presentation of self, so clear, so gentle and honest.


OM: And also my fluency in Indonesian. In the end, I had to go to Medan three times in preparation for the journey, to arrange for my passport and so on. All of this occurred through the Kantor Bupati, the office of the Regent.


I myself went to Indonesia for the first time in 1979, a year after her journey to The Netherlands. I remember the road to Medan. It was still under construction then. It was an arduous journey all the way from Tarutung and took an entire day of 10 – 12 hours, longer if you got stuck in the muck.


S.N.: Was there anything good about the trip? Did you enjoy it at all? Were people good to you?


OM: I stayed in a guesthouse at Nassaulaan 7 in The Hague. We met the Ambassador and his wife. She was a Hutagalung, br. Tampubolon. They gave me a jacket because my clothes were not warm enough. It was so cold. And they fed us nasi goreng. But we didn’t get much rice at our accommodations and that was something to get used to, but we had enough to eat. It is called ‘experience’. (That is what traveling is all about.)

When I left, Mrs. Ambassador gave me some money for her father. He lived close by us in Tarutung. So that he would have proof that I had returned from The Netherlands, from visiting her.


I let this sink in as well. She had not been given compensation for her weaving equipment, but she dutifully brought money to the father of the Ambassador’s wife. In the back of my mind was the question of who had arranged that their looms would be given to the museum? 


SN: Was it a lot of money?


OM: No, not very much. And when I got back home, I gave a gift to the head of the Department of Industry. They were the ones who arranged the journey. I presented him with the material for a new suit.


SN: That was a very significant gift….Was it Perindustrian (Department of Industry) that arranged for the donation of your equipment?


OM: I don’t know. I am making no demands. I don’t know how it all worked. So how can I blame anyone? There was Perindustrian Medan and the local Perindustrian. I don’t know who was responsible.


I let this sink in, too. I think of a young girl with few opportunities in life. She prepares to go on a huge journey that is actually unthinkable for someone in her circumstances, a journey to another country, where another language is spoken. She does so with trust. She has no fall-back. She is alone in a foreign place.


SN: You were very young. In fact, you were in a position in which you could hardly say, “no” if someone asked for your loom. After all, they had organized your trip! And you couldn’t phone your Mom and ask for permission. Did  your mother get angry at you?


OM: Why would she? I was not at fault. And we could make no demands because we didn’t know who was responsible.


She showed me this worn photo of her demonstrating her
skills in The Hague. "I always have this photo with me."

SN: So you were told that you would receive compensation after you got home. I suppose in the beginning you believed that. And then slowly, slowly… would have become clear that the compensation would not be forthcoming.  And slowly, slowly, you would have felt sad and then increasingly bad as the awareness sank in that you had been tricked.


Ompu si Markel looked down. I think she was remembering how the slow realization settled deeper and deeper into her being.  She dabbed her eyes.


OM: But they did give us compensation while we were there. We received money for doing the demonstration and it compensated us for the days that we were not earning while we were away from home. And our food and our accommodations were given to us. My father advised me to just accept what happened. So I am not making any demands. How can I blame anyone?


SN: Of course your food and accommodations were provided! You were working in the interests of another! Did you get to do any sightseeing while you were there?


OM: Yes, I was on a train that went underground. One of the men in our group took us to the seaside. They were good men; they behaved honourably. And the flight was an experience. One girl from Eastern Indonesia sat beside me. When the plane took off it started to shudder. I put my arm around her and told her not to be afraid, that this was normal, and nothing to fear.


We chatted a little bit about trains that went underground, planes that shuddered, and the Dutch land relative to sea level.


But the tears by then could not be staunched. She kept needing to dab her eyes. 


OM: I haven’t told anyone this story. You are the first one I have told in such detail. I haven’t told my husband or my children or my neighbour. How could I tell them? They have never traveled. But you are from the Netherlands and you understand. And you speak Indonesian, so I can share my story without a language barrier. 


SN: Your story is pretty amazing. I think that the person who arranged for the collection by the museum may have been Rita Bolland, former curator of textiles at the Tropenmuseum, and one of my dissertation advisors. She wrote a publication about one of the looms, and I have used that writing in my work. I even saw the looms when she showed me the museum Batak collection. I remember her telling me about the weavers who came to The Netherlands from Indonesia. She used to live in my town and I used to visit her. And I know the TongTong Fair and the Nassaulaan and the Indonesian Embassy in The Hague. I can imagine it all. It does bind us.


She laid her hand on my arm.


SN: I don’t think your story is over yet. I would like to share your story. Would you mind if I share your story?


OM: I have nothing to be ashamed of. I didn’t do anything wrong. I am not blaming anyone. I am only telling the truth. I am not lying. I am only saying what happened.


SN: I believe you. If I share your story on social media, would you be OK with that? 


I pulled out my mobile phone and showed her LinkedIn and how stories are shared for the general public, for the whole world.


SN: Would you be OK with that? There are people concerned with restitution these days. May I share it with them?


OM: I have nothing to be ashamed of.


I wrote to a former colleague in the Tropenmuseum while I sat there with her but did not receive a response while we were together. 


SN: We will meet again. What a bitter edge to a story. And it is not over yet.  Have you lived here all your life?


OM: Yes, since I married.


And then she looked down once again. Out come an afterword about her recent, severe illness, a long and critical hospital stay which could only have cost a lot of money, that her husband received no pension, that she still had young children at home for whom she had to fend, and how her work at the loom was her only source of income aside from a small rice paddy. 


I felt so utterly, utterly sad. I saw her courage, her pride, her pain, her resolve, her humility, and especially her dignity. The fact that she had come to me to tell this story after all these years meant that it still bothered her. I grabbed her two hands in my own and felt like I wanted to pray with her, to infuse her somehow, with something. Amelioration. She said that our meeting was a blessing. And so I share her story. I still hope/plan that it turns into a blessing for her.


3 July 2023 - update

Before I left Indonesia in May I visited Ompu SiMarkel one last time. She looked much better, clearly still recovering from her long illness. Her neighbour quickly joined so that she wouldn't miss out on the excitement so I didn't feel that I could talk. I did sadly relay to Ompu SiMarkel that several of my contacts in the Netherlands had failed to find any record of her loom. I began to wonder if it might have been acquired by a curator visiting from another European country.

A curator at the Tropenmuseum and key people at the former Nusantara Museum,  the TongTong Fair and the Indonesian Embassy in the Hague had all responded to my blog but their efforts didn't yield anything. Apparently there were no holdings in the Tropen and no financial records going back that far; no acquisition record of the loom in Nusantara; no records at TongTong, although they did their best to put me in touch with the museum curators.I decided to hold off with my search until I was back in The Netherlands. So I left Ompu Si Markel with a promise and a little bundle of rupiah notes to make her feel that she had received at least a token for compensation.

Back in the Netherlands I was initially swamped with catch-up, but I eventually got in touch with my old friend, Koos van Brakel, formerly head of collections at the Tropen. He was first on my list because he had known Rita well and I thought he might remember the looms of the TongTong Fair. He did! He confirmed my own memory of Rita Bolland's excitement about those looms and suggested I contact the current head of collections in the museum. Another old friend, from the days when I documented the Batak textiles in the museum, Richard van Alphen!

Richard was incredibly empathetic and helpful and immediately found a loom from the TongTong Fair of 1978! I thought that we had hit the jackpot, but no. This loom was from an Angkola Batak weaver who was making an Ulos Godang (Rita had written about that textile), while I was looking for a Toba loom with a half-woven Pusuk Robung textile. According to the acquisition record, the Angkola loom had been acquired by the Twents-Gelders Museum in Enschede. Five  years later it was transferred to the Tropenmuseum. Apparently I had worked on the on-line description for the loom myself when I worked there, but I have no recollection of that.

The Twents Textile Museum hasn't yet put its collection on-line, so I couldn't search their collection from my armchair. I sent them an email to see if they have anymore looms from the TongTong Fair of 1978. An answer is hopefully pending...

Then I coupled back to Richard van Alphen who dug deeper into the museum acquisition records and found vague and confusing mention of a Batak loom, one apparently a heddle rod and shed stick loom (backstrap) that had gone to the Education Museum in The Hague. It is not what I am looking for (the museum record had a photograph) but I also immediately wrote to the National Education Museum and was put in touch with the collections manager. This museum's holdings are also not yet on-line. So far, they haven't found the loom, but will search further. 

That is where the matter now stands. As I wrote to Richard, it just doesn't seem likely that a loom would be misplaced or de-acquisitioned, so we retain some hope that we may uncover it as yet. Stay tuned!

7 July

It turns out that there are two education museums. The one I contacted was in Dordrecht and not The Hague, but when they found nothing matching my description in their holdings, they suggested I contact the one in The Hague, which I did, and am awaiting further information.

Stay tuned!

13 July, 2023.

It has been located! Yesterday, to my great joy and surprise, I received an email from a staff member of MUSEON-Omniversum  (The Hague) with a scan of an acquisition card and the news that she thought she had found it. It matches the description that I received from the weaver, including the Pusuk Robung textile half woven.

I wanted to phone the weaver immediately, but it was too late in the day. I did call Gisele, the MUSEON staff member, who was most helpful. One puzzle solved, but it yielded many more puzzles. The loom was acquired in 1980; where had it been in the meantime? Was it used in the exhibition on gold yarn textiles before then? What did the message from the Tilburg person have to do with the story? How was the Ambassador involved, besides as the donor? We are going to try to find out.

This morning early I tried, without success, to call the weaver. Her telephone was not receiving calls. Was she out of call credit? Was her phone broken or lost? Was she not well? I called my trusted and kindly becak driver and asked him to look in on her next time he drove by. He promised, saying he would do so tomorrow. I will call him again the day after tomorrow. 

If I can somehow contact the weaver by telephone, I can ask her about her wishes. Does she want her loom back? Would she prefer compensation in the form of money or something else? Clearly, it is a 'stolen object' because, for whatever reason, the owner did not get paid for it. And that matter needs to be cleared up by hook or by crook.

Stay tuned....

18 July

The becak driver said that the weaver was out working in the fields. This is harvest season. The neighbour would let her know that I was trying to contact her.

Today the weaver picked up her phone when I called. She received the news politely. I told her we were still trying to find out where the loom was located between 1978 and 1980.

She said she did not need the loom back, but she would gratefully receive money for it. I passed this news on to MUSEON and await their answer as to how to proceed.

I let my becak driver know that his mission had been accomplished.

Stay tuned...

July 20

The last word is that the museum is pleased that Ompu si Markel knows that her loom has been located and is being cared for well. I let them know that Ompu si Markel's preference would be to be paid for her loom. They are discussing the matter internally and also continuing to try to find out what happened to the loom between 1978 and 1980 when it was finally acquisitioned by the museum. I understand that this is not a pleasant position for the museum to be in and they will want to know who was responsible for the promise to the weaver and where things might have gone wrong. By accepting the loom they have, through no fault of their own, been placed in a position of responsibility. I hope their research turns up the information that we are all looking for. We did not agree on a deadline. I should probably go after that because things like this can drag on for a long time, and the weaver is not getting any younger.

September 1

MUSEON has written to me with the news that an article appeared in the Trouw newspaper on 4 July 1978 to announce the acquisition of the looms by Dutch museums:

 “De Indonesische culturele attaché drs. Koesnadi Hardjasoemantri heeft zondag de Ikat-weeftoestellen, waarmee weefsters uit Sumatra, Borneo en Timor demonstraties hebben gegeven, geschonken aan het Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, het Museum voor Land- en Volkenkunde in Rotterdam, het Volkenkundig Museum Nusantara te Delft, het Twents-Gelders Textielmuseum in Enschede en het Museum voor het Onderwijs in Den Haag.” 


 [translation:" The ikat looms that the weavers from Sumatra, Borneo and Timor used for their demonstrations were donated by The Indonesian cultural attaché drs. Koesnadi Hardjasoemantri  to the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, Museum voor Land- en Volkenkunde in Rotterdam, Volkenkundig Museum Nusantara in Delft, the Twents-Gelders Textile Museum in Enschede and the Museum voor het Onderwijs in the Hague."]

This is important information. It means that the fault does not lie with the Dutch museums; they simply acquired a donation through the Indonesian Embassy. 

But there are outstanding questions. 

Who promised the weavers compensation for their looms but subsequently did not pay up and why not?  

And why was the Batak loom not acquired by MUSEON until 1980? 

These questions will probably never be answered. Only one thing is really clear: those least able to afford it were the ones who paid for 'the gift'. 

How that came about looks on the face of it to be a tale of power, hierarchy, coloniality, status and either mischief or error. 

Funny how things come to light after 45 years.

September 6

One question has been resolved. MUSEON has explained to me that the official registration of the loom in the museum collection may have occurred a bit behind schedule. It may have been acquired in 1978 but only been officially acquired in 1978. It seems that the loom was inspected in the meantime.

October 17

The past month has seen some exciting developments in regard to the Ompu si Markel's loom. The very kind and clear-sighted curator of MUSEON-Omniversum, Hub Kockelkorn, took the matter to heart. It is no museum's pride to hold stolen objects and if the past can be rectified, all the better. That a museum is unable to 'purchase' a museum object some 40 years after it was officially acquired, makes good sense. Mr. Kockelkorn proposed that Ompu si Markel supply a newly-woven ulos for the museum under terms and conditions that the sale will be a win-win for both parties. I shared his proposal with Ompu si Market through a WhatsApp call, and we made a plan for the three of us to meet through another WhatsApp.

It was a successful meeting. Ompu SiMarkel and Hub Kockelkorn were both able to state their positions and find mutual understanding. Ompu SiMarkel was willing to weave a restitution ulos. The down payment has been sent. 

As soon as she receives it, Ompu SiMarkel will be able to begin on her ulos for the museum. She was no longer able to make the 'pusuk robung' type that she was weaving in 1978 (the supplementary weft patterning is hard on her eyes), but she offered to make a 'mangiring', the traditional kind that is a specialty of her village. Hub preferred a red one to a black one (it comes in two varieties) and Ompu SiMarkel will do her best. I do hope for a happy ending for this story, that it ends in pride on both sides.

November 11

Last Saturday, market day in Tarutung, Ompu SiMarkel purchased yarn for her museum ulos. Yesterday, when I contacted her daughter, she told me that the ulos was finished (this is customary in Tarutung; weavers spend a week on their ulos to prepare it for market a week later) and had been sent to the twiner to make the patterned edging. She wants to have it ready to send to The Hague next week. I can hardly wait to see it.