Bebali Cloth Revival

Over the twenty years of our work in recovering dye recipes on Bali, Threads of Life and the Bebali Foundation have successfully revived the natural-dye production of the red cepuk textile on Nusa Penida and the black-and-white poleng cloth in Karangasem. These cloths, collectively referred to as Bebali, are now supported by the local community and are purchased for rituals.

Another group of less striking Bebali are woven with stripes and checks on continuous warp backstrap looms and used with uncut warps. The uncut warp indicates the cycles of life and these cloths were used in the past for life transition ceremonies such as a baby’s three-month ceremony, an adolescent’s tooth filing ceremony, and for death rituals.

Over the last twenty years, the use of these textiles has been steadily abandoned as they have been replaced by polyester white cloth that has no inherent meaning and is discarded and burned after ceremonies. Thirty to fifty years ago, ceremonies were guided by a sulingih wise person who was considered to have jnana or spirit that was expressed as a strong and clear purpose to help the community understand their rituals and become closer to god-nature. Today, as fewer and fewer family members know how to perform all the parts of a ritual, these life cycle ceremonies are becoming more and more truncated and the important meaning and songs are being lost.

Taking the same course as we did in 2002, we are working to revive the important uncut-warp Bebali textiles. We are seeking funding from our friends and supporters to produce ten sets of four Bebali textiles — the rainbow Prembon, the black-and-white Atu Atu, the green Urab Kecicang, and the white Gedogan. By the end of this challenging year our intention is to present these ten sets to sulingih and tukang banten (offering makers) who can advise about and use them for ceremonies within communities we have encountered around Bali. Individual families need not have a set but rather they can be held communally by the sulingih and tukang banten. We will make a short video in Balinese to accompany the set of Bebali cloth with Made Maduarta (Pung) talking about the textiles’ use and meaning.