Sulawesi: 25 years later and the roads are exactly the same

Last month our Threads of Life Field staff headed out to our most remote communities in Sulawesi, where we have been visiting weavers for 25 years. One would imagine that the overall transportation infrastructure would be  much improved over this time. But such was certainly not the case with this trip. 

In the past, Pung and Yansen were able to take a flight from Makassar to Mamaju, but the flight is no longer available. Now they must spend 10 hours in a bus on rough roads. Upon arriving in Mamaju, the next step in the travel is to take a jeep into the mountains before switching to motorbikes and foot.  The jeep ride usually takes 5 hours but this time it was 14 hours as the jeep broke down and the driver had to make repairs by the light of everyone’s cellphones and his own small flashlight. These events remind us of how difficult it is for these communities to have access to market and travel to big towns for commodities.

In December 2022, when we last visited Sulawesi, we discussed with weavers and their husbands the downsides of trying to increase their earnings by growing Patchouli for sale. Together we talked about the amount of time involved in harvesting, grinding leaves, how much firewood is required to boil the leaves to make the oil, how the firewood needs lead to deforestation and loss of diversity and loss of habitat for animals and other plants. While many of the weavers' husbands have stopped making Patchouli oil, as they have seen that the income their wives make if allowed to go back to weaving is better, there are still many others who are still forsaking weaving for Patchouli production.

Despite these many downsides, along with increased interference by the government urging the production of chemical dyed textiles for government exhibitions and functions, we were able to purchase enough textiles to make this trip worthwhile.

We continually look at how to encourage weavers to stay engaged in the time consuming natural dye process by paying them much better prices than they can get by selling synthetic dyed textiles. This is done by Yansen and Pung spending several nights in each of the four communities to discuss the pros and cons of the work, along with sharing lots of other stories and laughter. In the end, the foundation of all we can do is always the relationships we develop with our weavers' groups.

We invite you to take a look at the Sekomandi and black-and-white Morilotong textiles on our website and in our gallery to support these trips and this art form. These women are masters and their work is indeed great art with strong cultural ties. Please pass on our story to your friends.