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Posts Tagged ‘N’Dona’

Flores Ikat – a weaving miracle4. Wolotopo small

I’m out in Indonesia at the moment, on the island of Flores – a couple of islands east of Bali. Jim’s with me and Bob and Magie are here too. They’re African textile experts but they’ve come to have a look at what floats our boat (textile wise!) So Flores is a great place to start, because the women of Flores produce some of the most beautiful ikat in the world (and while we’re on the subject of boat floating, there’s quite a bit of that too!)

To really appreciate ikat, you need to visit the villages where its made, meet the women who make it and most importantly, do your bit for the local economy and buy some of their stuff! So here’s a run-down of some of those village visits.

P.S. Some-one once came into our shop and told her mate, our stuff was all from Bali, where “they just bring it to you on the beach”. This blog is all about dispelling that idea – however, I have to admit, that in Flores, a perfect tropical beach is never that far away! 4. Riung (6) small

So anyway, back to the villages. The first one is Wolotopo…

…on the south coast, about 15 kilometres east of Ende in the middle of Flores. We faffed about for a while wondering how to get there and in the end just walked out into the street and hailed a bemo (minibus) and propositioned the driver who dropped off the other passengers and took us there – its called getting a “charr-terrr”. The road is a bit rough and its pretty steep in places but there are great views of the turquoise sea every now and again and before long, we’re dropped off at the village. Excited children run about shouting “Hello Misterrr”.

We’ve heard that’s it’s only polite to call in at the “Rumah Adat” or House of Tradition, to register so we make for some impressive old houses at the top of the village. We keep to the shade on the narrow paths between the houses, but every now and again we’re forced into the full boiling hot sun. The houses are made of bamboo slats or painted concrete with corrugated tin roofs and outside many there’s a woman weaving under a woven rattan shade. The weavers call us over smiling to say “Selamat Siang” and ask if we want a photo, or if we want to buy something.

At the top, the “adat” traditional houses reveal themselves – big wooden structures with high, broad thatched roofs raised on wooden pillars. Women and children sit on the porch, dogs sleep on the steps, chickens and pigs rootle about underneath and everyone smiles and waves. We can look inside but we’re not allowed to go inside – I didn’t fully understand the explanation of why not but I thought I heard something about giving a pig and as we didn’t have one to offer, I thought we’d be better staying outside. On either side of the man entrance there are a pair of carved wooden breasts, a pert round young woman’s pair on the left and a saggy old lady pair on the right… one can only speculate what that’s about…?

 Higher up than the houses is a site of old tomb stones and village totems and little shelters for who knows what purpose. Climbing up there gives a great view of the southern sea and the village’s satellite dishes. As we go back down we can see recent graves, nestled into the houses, elaborate tiled affairs with crosses, pictures of Jesus and Mary and plastic flowers. They are part of the furniture, kids play on them, dogs sleep on them and men sit smoking and playing cards on them.

 . And everywhere there are gorgeous ikats – we can see women tying patterns using short lengths of lontar palm leaf into small bundles of warp threads which are stretched on bamboo frames. Others are weaving on their back strap looms, sitting on the ground with legs stretched out in front. Everywhere there are smiles, friendliness, and questions about where we come from. The women have names like Johanna, Maria, Agnes, Freda, and Angelika – Catholics to a woman. They are almost all wearing the long sarongs sewn into a tube, and washed sarongs are stretched between two bamboo poles weighted down with full jerry cans or rocks. This keeps the shape of the garment while it dries. When we ask a woman if one particular sarong is for sale, she goes to feel if its dry yet. – Yes still a bit damp but no problem. How much you pay?

On our way back down we are invited into a house to sit on plastic chairs and watch TV which is showing an Indonesian version of “It’s A Knock-out” (for those old enough to remember it!) The view from the open window is stunning, even allowing for the fact that the family’s knickers are all hanging in front of it. So, Wolotopo, the first ikat village of this trip, and its a good one. We’ve bought a bit, probably paid a bit too much for it but we’re happy and ready for more.

4. Wolotopo (21)

Next we go to N’dona…

 We’ve heard about N’dona, it’s well known for its ikat and we’ve seen some stuff from there in the market, so we’re keen to go. Again a nice bemo driver drops us off and promptly stretches out on the back seats to get some kip while we wander around. As soon as we set off we’re taken in hand by a rather loud chap in an official looking shirt who we can’t seem to get rid of. He takes us to see a very beautiful old lady who is sitting on the ground,  working at her loom. Her grey hair is in an elegant bun and she has a mouth full of blackened teeth and dark red gums. She flashes us a lovely betel nut smile. Mama Sisilia is a bit of an institution here as we soon find out.

We’re encouraged to sit down, sign the visitor’s book and then look through a couple of books about ikat weaving in Flores. One is called Weavers Stories and is by an expert in Flores ikat weaving called Roy Hamilton. Mama Sisilia features as one of the weavers in the book and there’s a photo of her looking even more beautiful 30 or so years ago. Back in the 1980’s Roy Hamilton came here and researched ikat, and spent plenty of time chatting to Mama Sisilia. What a lucky chap!

Unfortunately loud guy is getting on our nerves a bit so we make our excuses and carry on through the village. There’s more ikat weaving being done here, but most interesting of all is the ikat weaving co-operative based down near the road. There are 17 members of the co-op including Mama Nurella and Christina who buy their cotton, dye their yarns, and often weave together. Their ikat is unusual these days because they use natural plant dyes only. They use indigo (called tarum or daun nila) mengkudu (morinda) mixed with various mordants including kemiri (candle nuts – which are a very oily nut which actually can be used as a light!) to give browns and reds, and to get a really bright red they add powdered leaves of the lobah tree. They also use turmeric (kunyit) mangrove leaves and mango skin.

We are invited in and pieces are brought out and hung on a long bamboo pole for our contemplation and consideration. We’re told the prices, which, unusually prove to be non- negotiable. I guess that’s the beauty of a co-operative. No one is bidding against anyone else. There are some beauties here, especially the indigo and white ones, which can’t be found in the market, so if we want some of them we have to buy them here and pay the price. Needless to say, we do….

Mama Sisilia at work                        Jim buys ikat from the co-op

And finally we get to N’galla…

8. Ngalla (14) small

N’galla village is quite a sight.

 

Many of the most intricate and beautiful weavings seem to come from N’galla so it’s on my list of places to visit. When we tell drivers where we want to go, they start looking doubtful and backing away. Yes, its true the ikat weaving there is very good but the road is terrible .. I’m almost put off myself, but eventually Tobias says he will take us “as long as we go verrry slowly. It will take one and half, maybe two, maybe two and half hours.”

 The road is bad, rutted, broken and with big ridges and potholes with no option but to ease the car verrry slowly in and out of so as not to crack the chassis or exhaust. It’s up and down through thick forest and heading always south with the sea spread out before us and tantalising glimpses of the village in the distance. Finally we reach N’gala wondering why on earth any one ever comes here and feeling sure that if you lived here it would have to be something very important to get you back on that road again. Or maybe we’ve just gone soft?

We sit down in the empty market to eat our “nasi bungkus” and it takes hardly any time before women arrive carrying small children and a few weavings to sell (the weavings, not the children!). We resist them all and set off for the village centre. Its frankly an astonishing place; a large empty area bordered on both sides by huge wooden homes raised off the ground on short stone pillars and covered in very high, very thick thatched roofs. Running up the middle are old stone tombs and traditional or “adat” totem stones, smalls shelters for the spirits of ancestors, and the occasional satellite dish. Underneath the houses in the deep shade, are a few black pot bellied pigs, but there are women down there too sitting at their looms. Again we are greeted with friendly curiosity – its not every day that four bule (whiteys) turn up and soon every women in the village with something to sell has heard that there are potential buyers in town. I’d love to buy a lot, but we have to consider how likely we are to sell these large pieces. Nevertheless, we can’t go away empty handed, especially when the women tell us they need the money for the kids school.

Realities of rural life…

At Ende ikat market, I had been talking to Eddy Koko one of the traders we know there. He had told me to “go to the villages and see how much they want, then come back to me. I will be the same price or cheaper”. So how do you manage that? – I go there when they need money. Especially when they need money to pay for the kids school fees. He tells me totally unabashed.   So, on the way there I quizzed our driver Tobias about the price of education as I know he has two small children.

– This fucking government, he starts, and gobs out the window in disgust. Enough said! Anyway he reckons that the cheapest you can pay for the village Primary school is 6 million rupiah per child per year. That’s about £300 and must be beyond the reach of some rural families. As the kids get older and go to SMP (junior high school) and SMA (senior high school) it gets harder still. If you want to get your child into a Catholic run High School its going to cost up to 20 million a year – never mind books and uniforms. And if you live in a village, a long way from the nearest High School, the kids have to board somewhere in the week and get meals too. Tobias’s wife Denti is running a restaurant and has four rooms she rents out at around 350,000 rupiah a night. Tobias himself is driving people around every day and we’re paying him 500,000 rps for the day, so I can imagine that it will be fairly easy for them to send their children to the Catholic run schools of their choice. (I’m not being sectarian here, its just that Tobias tells me that the Catholic schools are best and the most expensive) The women in villages like N’gella weaving ikat sarongs have more of a problem. A sarong must take a month or two to tie and weave, even if they buy ready dyed yarns, and they can’t sell them for more than about one million rupiah, and that is top side. This represents two days driving for Tobias, or just one night of renting out rooms

So, when Eddy Koko gets down here with his wallet full of red 100,000 rupiah notes, timed, no doubt, to coincide with the annual school fee collection time, the women need the money. These are the realities of life in rural Flores, and knowing all this, it makes it very hard to withstand the pressures to buy from these women. Add to that the fact that the ikat they weave is seriously gorgeous and you will understand why I am now looking at excess baggage allowances.

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