Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I've got mail!

I’m one of those people who turns on the computer first thing in the morning. Because of the time difference between Holland and Indonesia, my Indonesian news often arrives in the night. This morning I was overjoyed to find an email from Restuala Namora. He wrote a short email in his usual modest style, but it was still possible to discern excitement and pride between the lines. There was also an attachment: a photograph of his beautiful mother holding up a blue Batak textile with red sides. Both colours, wrote Restuala, were from natural dyestuffs. He said that textile revival was well underway in Muara and that his motto is “Nothing is impossible”.

A bintang maratur textile made in Muara with all natural dyestuffs
 Muara is located in the bay in the southwest corner of Lake Toba. This is the headquarters of what remains of the production of the blue Batak textiles: the sibolang, surisuri, bolean and bintang maratur. (The textile that was just woven was a bintang maratur.) My happy visit there in 1986 yielded the photo of weavers that is now found on pages 10 and 11 of Legacy in cloth. It is one of my favourite photos and so I earmarked it for years as the frontispiece of my book. Little did I know that some of those same weavers would later become active in the revival of Batak weaving in Muara.

Muara is also the bay that hosted the “weaving workshop” in October 2010 that I just couldn’t miss. When I heard about it, I made every effort to attend. Restuala Pakpahan was the engine behind this workshop and when he learned that I would be able to come, he transformed it into a celebration of me as the author of Legacy, one of the sources of his inspiration. During the workshop, he asked me to function as the foreign ambassador for Muara textiles and Muara’s intention to re-invent itself as a Batak settlement for the future: clean, prosperous, in harmony with nature, and a place where Batak culture can revive, survive and thrive.

The workshop was one of the most profoundly moving experiences in my life.

Shortly after that, I brought three members of Threads of Life to Muara. Restuala was hungry for information about natural dyes and strategies for reviving textile traditions while Threads of Life was looking for potential places in the Batak area where they could work their magic. It was a good match and a meeting of like minds. Every night the members of Threads of Life talked until the wee hours with Restuala and his right-hand man, Goodman Ompusunggu, juxtaposing Restuala’s vision with the experiences of Threads of Life. Since then, Threads of Life has been back to conduct step two in the revival of Batak natural dyes. The picture of the textile that Restuala sent me through the email today was the first product of their inspiring collaboration.

I expect that that textile will soon be on a plane heading to Bali. A group of Batak weavers has been selected to attend a series of workshops put on by Threads of Life in Ubud. There they will see the Threads of Life shop, meet weavers from other parts of the archipelago, and learn about international marketing as well as natural dyes. How I wish I could be there with them!

Congratulations to ito Restuala! Congratulations to my weaver friends in Muara! Congratulations to Threads of Life!

I see the small child in the photograph. As she looks at the textile in her grandmother’s hands, she is looking at both the past and the future of Muara. Because of Restuala’s initiative, her future is becoming increasingly bright.