When looking at a map of Bali, my brother Darta always describes Bali’s shape as being like a chicken and that Nusa Penida is the egg. When I was young I feared the dark powers that came from Nusa Penida. I was told that Ratu Gede Mecaling – the deity of the temple at Ped on the island – would come and eat us! It was a place full of black magic. But my first impression of Nusa Penida when I first went there in 2002 was that it was not a dark place but a very strong spiritual place.
Visiting in February 2009, the island was deceptively green. Heavy rains had started only the week before, even though the monsoon had come to the rest of Bali in November. Everyone was busy harvesting their early corn and planting peanuts. At other times of the year, what strikes me is how harsh the land is. People work hard in these thin rocky soils. In fact, most of the islanders build water catchments to collect the rain water so that they have drinking water during the long dry season. Farmers often pave a large area of a field to collect rain water, which is stored in an underground reservoir excavated from the limestone, so they can water their crops.[separator][/separator]
But these dry lands have always supported a strong textile tradition. Thirty years ago most people planted cotton, Morinda trees for red dye, and indigo plants for blue around their houses and on the edges of their gardens. For most of the population on Nusa the income from weaving was the only cash they could make. Nusa Penida textiles, such as the brilliant red cepuk, were renowned throughout Bali as being powerful.[separator][/separator]
In the 1980s, the tradition of weaving shifted to synthetic dyeing to speed up the process. When I first came to Nusa Penida in 2002, I met Ngurah Hendrawan and his weaver wife, Ni Gede Diari, in the village of Tanglad. Ngurah was interested in learning how to use natural dyes but the biggest problem was that all of the Morinda trees had been cut down for firewood as people had stopped using natural dyes for so many years.[separator][/separator]
During my visit Ngurah showed me the 400 Morinda trees that he has planted and can harvest in another three years. The Tenun Ikat Alami weaving cooperative that he runs is busy making textiles under Diari`s direction. Until the Morinda trees are able to be harvested, Ngurah travels the island to find enough roots to make his red dyes. Threads of Life is not the only group buying the cooperative`s natural-dyed textiles, for they are sought after by the elite Balinese and even fashion designers in Jakarta![separator][/separator]
It is rewarding to see that once again textiles are a source of income for a small group of people living on Nusa Penida. I hope that when there are more natural resources available that more will benefit from this art form. I still remember the day in 2006 when Ngurah and Diari first brought us a cepuk textile. This was after two years of trial and error. Finally, they achieved the beautiful cepuk pattern of deep reds that reflect the spirit that is so powerful on this island.