The Songkets of Singaraja

Lontar palm tapper

I was born in the village of Bondalem in Singaraja on the north part of Bali. My father is a farmer. As this area is so dry, we are unable to grow rice, so my father taps the sap from lontar palms for making both palm wine and palm sugar and provides my family with a small income. When I visit weavers on other islands like Savu and Timor where many of the farmers are also tapping lontar palms, I feel very much at home!

To the north of my village is the village of Jinengdalem, which is more fertile. They have rice fields and can grow coffee. People from Jinengdalem spend most of their time working in the fields. Only in their spare time do women find time to weave. I had always heard that the village of Jinengdalem was famous for making songket textiles. Jinengdalem is known not only for its songket (supplementary weft) textiles but also for weaving songketpatterns into endek weft ikat cloth.

A songket textile made by Ni Nyoman Suarmini

Lolet and Ibu Suarmini looking at textiles with her family

Up until ten years ago, people from all over Singaraja ordered textiles from the weavers of Jinengdalem. More recently, people have sought out cheaper textiles and only occasionally order a songket when there is an important temple ceremony. Weavers became increasingly discouraged and the women began to look for other means of income. Today there is only one woman, Ni Nyoman Suarmini, who is still weaving. When we met Ibu Suarmini in March 2009 she was very eager to recover information about the songket and endek textiles of Jinengdalem.

Lolet and I brought photographs from some of the public textile collections in Australia. Ibu Suarmini recognized most of the motifs and agreed that there used to be a broad range of different motifs and techniques practiced in Jinengdalem. I was very excited to see the Boma motif in one of the songkets that Ibu Suarmini made. This old motif represents the guardian spirit of the forest.

The Boma forest guardian motif

Ibu Suarmini and her daughters looking at photographs of old textiles from Jinengdalem

There are only a few people remaining in Jinengdalem who remember how to tie the ikat motifs found in the endektextiles. Initially, no one was very eager to do the ikat work again as they believed there was more money in farming. But after we stayed and talked they were willing to try again. So we placed an order for a small scarf using endek and songket techniques. I think with Nyoman Suarmini’s enthusiasm there is a good chance for these pieces to be completed as a first step towards reviving this village’s tradition.