Remote Sulawesi, June 2017

A weavers home in the remote mountains of Sulawesi

The trip to Sulawesi is perhaps one of our hardest. To reach the weaving communities with whom we work in the Toraja-Mangki region requires some four days of travel by plane, bus, car, motorbike, and finally by foot. We only take this trip once a year, and so it is a trip we plan for meticulously and greatly look forward to.

For this year’s trip, and similar to our recent experience in Timor (see our July field note), the unseasonal rains added to the already considerable challenges, and made it a trip to remember.

Using a simply pulley system under a footbridge, locals are able to cross rivers with their motorbikes
A woman using a traditional nase basket to harvest vegetables in her garden

The hills of the Toraja-Mangki region are fertile and a rich verdant green. The cool and clean air and mists drifting through forested hillsides are idyllic, though an excess of water can be as challenging as a drought. In years past, villages have lost men caught by floods while operating small gold mines along the river. In every way, the people here are intimately connected to their land, drawing both their economic livelihood and their spiritual enrichment from the landscape.

We were able to witness the magical mud-dyeing process called Menauk, which can be seen on the highly stylistic Morilotong pieces now available in the store.

A deep black Morilotong textile
Washed threads are boiled in a tannin mixture before immersion in a mudpack

Almost a kilo of young leaves from the bilate tree (Homalanthus novoguinensis) are collected and boiled. Homalanthus has a high tannin content. A wild bean climber called bewak (in the Leguminacae family) is also added to the bath but appears to be more for protection as it has an incredibly itchy property and does not appear to impact on the color.

Threads are first washed and then immersed into this hot bath where they are allowed to soak. The threads are then worked into mud from a fish pond until they are thoroughly saturated.

Working the threads in mud
Ibu Hanna washing mud dyed threads in a fast flowing river

The same rains that have isolated the community during peak floods flow down from the mountains and feed into the rivers in which mud dyed yarns are washed. The whole process is repeated 8 – 15 times until the desired deep black color is achieved.

We also visited our weavers to collect the textiles that they have been weaving for us since last year. The sekomandi ritual hangings are the most recognized textiles with deep reds, rich blues, and geometric patterns that tell detailed cultural stories. We were left in awe when Ibu Varia offered us an 8-meter sambotanete she had made as it is said to contain every prominent motif. We are still coming to terms with how to photograph this inspiring piece from a master weaver. Keep an eye on our social media pages for this in the coming weeks.

Weavers bring out their sekomandi and morilotong textiles
Traditional sappa lunch basket, dyed with plant material

On this trip we were introduced to these delightful baskets called sappa, which are used as little lunchboxes to take to the field. Though we know the local names for the plants used, we did not recognize the plants being used and are yet to discover their Latin names and the processes of dye production. This is important work for our sister organization, the Bebali Foundation, who works in conjunction with botanists and ethno-botanists from around the world. Another fascinating trip to come and we’re already looking forward to next year!