The Work of Reviving Batak Textiles

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To grow enough plants to make the natural dyes requires time and patience.

When Threads of Life and the Bebali Foundation began to work in Sumatra last year with the support of Sandra Niessen and funds from the Dutch Embassy, we initially focused on the area of Muara on the south end of Lake Toba with the aim of helping traditional weavers recover their natural dye processes. After a year, the colors are beginning to emerge but we still have a ways to go. Growing enough dye plants to make the colors will take time and patience.

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Batak Carvings

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A traditional Batak house, with high peaks and walls that lean outwards.

North Sumatra is still dotted with clusters of beautiful traditional houses, called umah godang, long houses on stilts with boat-shaped roofs and distinct sculptural features. Each umah godang is also paired with a rice barn called a sopo, which stands facing the main house across a central square. The arrangement is similar to traditional villages in Tana Toraja, in the mountains of central Sulawesi.

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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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