Reviving Textiles of the Batak Toba

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Lake Toba is the largest lake on any island in the world. The lake was formed by one of history’s biggest volcanic eruptions

Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world and home to many ethnic groups speaking more than 50 different languages. Batak is a term that actually includes several ethnic groups found in Northern Sumatra near Lake Toba, and includes the Toba, Karo, Pakpak, Simalungun, Angkola and Mandailing Batak. Each have distinct languages and customs. Historically, local textiles (ulos) have reflected these ethnic differences but today there is much innovation with designs moving across all groups.

 

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The Copper Roaster Crows

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Lontar palms growing on Savu look much like the landscape in my village on Bali

The high point for me this year was bringing some of our friends from Savu over to Bali for the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival. Over the years that I have been visiting Savu I have been amazed at how comfortable I always feel there.  Perhaps it is because so much of the way of life in Savu is similar to the dry north coast of Bali where I grew up.  I see it in the ways that they use rituals to evoke prosperity, harmony and health between the realms of humans, animals and nature.  In Bali we call this Tri Hita Karana.

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Making Great Strides in West Timor

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The women of the Com Esa weavers’ group of Helong, under the guidance of Thersia Ngaing (in front with pink shirt)

In 2008 when we first sought out weavers in the Helong area, Thersia Alle Ngaing was in her late 60s and was the last woman who still had the knowledge required to weave the ethnic group’s traditional textiles. Today 11 women work with Thersia. Together they have revived the natural dye art by weaving both the woman’s Sembeg Hata textile and the mans’ Sembeg Klobe hip cloth.

 

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The Many Uses of a Clay Pot

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Anastasia Bete selling earthenware pots at the Ua Bau market in Belu

I first met Anastasia Bete at the weekly market in Ua Bau, Belu in 2008. Mama Anastasia was selling simple but elegant earthenware pots that are still used for cooking corn, beans and vegetables as well as natural dyes over wood fires. She told me that she can only make these pots during the dry season. I bought the pots she had with her and said I would like to visit her in her village to understand how she was making these pots.

 

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A Commitment to the Textile Arts of Sintang, Kalimantan

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The Kapuas River is the longest river in Indonesia

Kalimantan is the largest of Indonesia’s 14,000 islands with the country’s longest river, the Kapuas, running north-south in the west of the island. The town of Sintang is on this river ten hours by road from Pontinank, the capital of West Kalimantan. It is a wearying trip from Bali to Jakarta and Pontinak by air and then continuing by car. I traveled with Pung and Frog who work with Threads of Life’s sister organization, the YPBB Foundation. They have been working with weavers in Sintang for the past five years.

 

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Moving Towards a Brighter Future

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Cecilia (right) and Ilda from the Alola Foundation joined Threads of Life’s team to visit Oecusi weavers groups

The Threads of Life team of Wenten, Willy and myself joined our collegues Cecilia, Louis, Ilda and Casiano from the Alola Foundation for a 7-day visit to Oecusi, the small enclave of Timor Leste which is surrounded by Indonesian West Timor. We went to visit weaving groups that Alola is currently working with and to assess how vibrant the traditional weaving arts are.

 

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Weavers At the End of the World

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y trip started off with a big surprise – the new airport in Makassar!

Whenever I am getting ready to go to visit our weaving groups in West Sulawesi I have the feeling that I am going to the end of the world. I now bring along my own provisions of food, and acidophilus tablets to balance my stomach as food is often hard to come by. Then I hope that the travel conditions will have improved somewhat from previous years. It has been two years since I was last able to make my way to the remote area where the weavers live and while I worry about the travel I think about what they have to deal with all the time. My first big surprise of the trip was seeing the new airport in Makassar which is positioning itself for international arrivals in Indonesia!

 

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Back to the Loom and the Land

Tutut and Wenten flying in the small 20 seat plane to Savu

Tutut and Wenten flying in the small 20 seat plane to Savu

Transportation to Savu is always a challenge. You can fly to Savu from Kupang once a week on the small Cassa 212 which has a capacity of 20 people. Or there is the ferry that leaves from Kupang twice a week to Savu. When the winds blow from the west (angin barat) from October to March, it brings high seas and strong winds and the ferries often will not leave port. So Tutut and I felt very lucky this time to get a seat on the airplane to Savu from Kupang.

 

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Lots of Walking in Lamaholot

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Traveling with our friends from Timor-Leste. From left to right Luis, Cecilia and Willy

This year we have made several visits to the islands of Lembata and Adonara in the Lamaholot area east of Flores. There is still one more visit planned before the weavers turn their attention from their weaving to their gardens as the rainy season arrives. The rains will make travel too difficult for us until the next dry season. This trip was made more special by having our friends, Luis and Cecilia from Timor-Leste, along with us. Luis and Cecilia work with the Alola Foundation and are now on an intern program with Threads of Life. We are hoping to share with them some of our knowledge of how to work with traditional weaving groups so that they can do the same work in Timor-Leste.

 

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Hadi Wiyono – Dedicated to Art and Tradition

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Lolet and Putra Susangka made their way to the home of one of the last stamp makers for the batik art in Java

Lolet and I traveled to Java to meet with batik artists working with Threads of Life. We made a detour to visit Hadi Wiyono in Yogjakarta. Hadi is one of the few remaining well-known stamp makers in Java. These stamps are used in the production of batiks and were introduced by the Dutch to speed up production.

 

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