Textiles and Scents

We finally received a second small shipment from a weaver group in West Sulawesi, which included three sekomandi and three of the stunning long pori londong textiles. If all goes well in Indonesia, before the end of August Pung and Jean will travel to meet with as many weavers as can make the arduous journey from the mountains to the nearest coastal town. We hope to bring together thirty of the ninety women who we worked with pre-Covid.

During the pandemic our weaver communities in west Sulawesi have been busy growing nilam or Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) as a cash crop. I found myself fascinated to research this crop and learn why our weavers were so lucky to have this as a resource during this last year.

These dried leaves are selling for 10-15,000 rupiah (US$ 1) per kilogram. The essential oil is obtained through steam distillation of the dried, slightly fermented leaves, yielding 2-3% of essential oil. So, 1 liter of oil is made from up to 32 kg of dried leaf and sold wholesale for IDR 470,000 per liter (US$ 32) with very narrow margins for the distiller. Patchouli can be planted at a density of 28,000 plants per hectare, can be harvested five times a year, and will yield 365 liters of oil per hectare.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of patchouli, accounting for over 80% of the global market. Many of our weaver groups have purchased home distillation systems so that the dried leaves can be made directly into oil and sold to a trader.

For any of you who lived in the 1960s, you must recall that hippies smelled like patchouli. But the use of patchouli goes back even further. During the 18th and 19th centuries, silk traders traveling to the Middle East and Europe packed dried Patchouli leaves between their silk cloth to keep moths from depositing their eggs on the textiles.

We hope that our weavers will continue to grow this crop and go back to their looms as multiple streams of income are the key to survival for remote rural communities.