Threads Of Life

The Magnetism of Traditional Textiles in Lombok

Slide 1
Lombok textiles for sale with most containing Balinese motifs

I first visited the weaving centers of Pringgasela and Sukarara on Lombok in 2004. At that time most of the products being produced were the brightly colored synthetic dyed, supplementary weft textiles called songket. Most of these textiles employed Balinese motifs and were sold in Negara, West Bali, as it was cheaper for Balinese to buy these Lombok textiles than to buy or make their own.


Slide 2
Balinese bride and groom wearing supplementary weft songket textiles

Over the last few years the local textile market in Bali has shifted to buying textiles other than the songkets from Lombok. Perhaps Balinese tired of the bright synthetic dyes which, because they were not colorfast, ran in the rain turning the wearers’ exotic colors!

Slide 3
Lolet discussing a traditional Tapa Kemalu textile from Lombok

When I visited the weavers in Sukarara in late November this year, they asked me what type of textiles and what motifs they should now be making. I could sense how desperate they were to find a market. My question to them was one I often ask weavers who ask me this question: “What did you make traditionally? What is your identity?”

Slide 4
One of the Sukarara weavers, Asih (left), showing a traditional Tapa Kemalu textile used for wedding ceremonies

Without having a strong grounding in one’s own tradition and then creating textiles from that sense of identity, weavers will always be at the whim of markets whose tastes are always changing. The weavers Threads of Life works with live too remotely to keep up with these changes, and their work takes too long to be responsive, and so they will always be left behind. As I looked through the more traditional textiles of Sukarara with the weavers, I could see that the designs and techniques were very interesting and more importantly that they are still in demand by the local market.

Slide 5
Asih (right) reconstituting indigo paste that she made from freshindigo leaves earlier this year

We have made three visits to Lombok this year, two of these by YPBB Foundation staff focusing on the recovery of indigo dye recipes. Today several of the weavers are confident in making their own dyes so we were able to order two different types of indigo textiles. One of these was an Usap, which uses a supplementary technique, and the other was a Komak, which is similar to the Balinese black-and-white poleng and is used as an offering for ceremonies.

Slide 6
The old mosque in Bayan Beleq

From Sukarara we headed to North Lombok and the traditional village of Bayan Beleq. This village clearly has a strong sense of identity. Just looking at the old mosque one can see how the community has combined elements of their old traditional adat ways with Islam. They celebrate all of the major Islamic holy days as well as traditional holy days based on their adat structure.
The old mosque in Bayan Beleq

Slide 7
Examining a Ragi Genap cloth in Bayan Beleq

Traditional textiles are used as offerings and are worn in every ceremony. Several textiles are still being made, including the striped Ragi Genap textiles that look like Javanese Lurik. Umbaq textiles are very special, and while Umbaq are still used in rituals they have not been made in the recent past.

Slide 8
An Umbaq textile. Note the Chinese coins in the fringing

The Umbaq is very sacred. When it is to be woven, a special day is chosen in accordance with the traditional calendar. The weaver must be past menopause and work in a designated place that others may not enter. An Umbaq is used during ceremonies when a child’s hair is first cut, at a circumcision, and also for medicine. All ceremonies where a textile is used are performed on a platform above the floor level of people’s houses.

Slide 9
One of two remaining Umbaq weavers (right)

This was my first visit to Bayan and it will not be the last. Seeing the strength of the culture I am convinced that we can revive the production of the Umbaq textile again, even though there are only two women remaining who have the knowledge and spiritual strength to weave it. I look forward to learning more about this culture and slowly gaining the trust of the community as we work to revive the Umbaq.