Whenever I am getting ready to go to visit our weaving groups in West Sulawesi I have the feeling that I am going to the end of the world. I now bring along my own provisions of food, and acidophilus tablets to balance my stomach as food is often hard to come by. Then I hope that the travel conditions will have improved somewhat from previous years. It has been two years since I was last able to make my way to the remote area where the weavers live and while I worry about the travel I think about what they have to deal with all the time. My first big surprise of the trip was seeing the new airport in Makassar which is positioning itself for international arrivals in Indonesia!
After meeting up with our Sulawesi fieldstaff, Daud, in Makassar, we traveled twelve hours by car to Mamaju. There I had my second surprise; the vehicle that takes us half way to our destination had also been upgraded! It now has seats and a tarp to keep the rain out.
When our “sturdy” Toyota could go no further, we hired motobikes for the next day’s journey. When we returned, we had to hire more motorbikes just to carry out the textiles and crafts we purchased from the weavers!
Arriving in Batuisi after our three-day journey is always a relief and the weavers are always glad to see us as well as they work hard all year to produce beautiful textiles for us and have high hopes that they will all be sold. I don’t think I disappointed them.
I have to say that this year the weavers have produced some of their best textiles yet! They have refined their oiling process and the red dye is excellent on many of theSekomandi cloths. Many of the new textiles were woven with handspun threads.
A new textile being woven for Threads of Life, called aMarilotong, is as large as the Sekomandi textile but only with black and white natural dyed motifs. It is said to be a very old technique used before red and blue dyes were introduced. The white and black colors signify heaven and earth and suggest that humans must live in the space between. This Marilotong is very much like our black and white checkered Poleng cloth in Bali which also represents duality.
Nuhayati, one of the weavers in Batuisi, made a Sekomandi textile as well as a Marilotong. She told us that the dyes for the Marilotong come from mixing mud with leaves from a tree called bilante (Homalanthus populneus). As the milky latex from bilante leaves burns the skin, the branches of the tree are cut to more easily harvest the leaves which has stressed many of the trees, making this resource harder and harder to come by. We agreed to slow down the production of this textile until we had a plan that could reverse this problem.
After walking three hours further up the mountain to meet with the other weavers in the village of Saluleke we came back down to pack up the textiles we had bought and head back home. Rather than come back to this area next year we hope that representatives of all the groups will come to Bali for a workshop. Perhaps in years to come the journey will not be so difficult and we can meet more frequently.
I was happy to get home to my family in Bali before heading off to visit the weavers in Kalimantan but was shocked to hear that by the time I got home Daud was in the hospital with Malaria and Typhus. He is recovering now which we are all so happy to hear.