Threads of Life has been working for many years in West Kalimantan around the area of Sintang which is about a 9 hour drive from Pontianak. Our work in Sintang continues but we decided to head more inland towards Putussibau in the district of Kapuas Hulu to see if there are other weaving traditions that Threads of Life might be able to support. Kapuas Hulu is home tothe Taman Dayak, Iban, Kayaan and Punan, Kenyah, Kelabit ethnic groups among others.
Last October Frog, myself and Lius, our Dayak fieldstaff, visited Putussibau and then headed up to the Danau Sentarum National Park on the Indonesian-Malaysia border. Three years ago we had met Pak Heri who works with Riak Bumi, an Indonesian organization that supports livelihood in local communities around the lake through weaving and basketry as well as sustainably collecting wild honey from within the National Park.
Danau Sentarum National Park protects one of the world’s most biodiverse lake systems. It is a wetland forest of 1,320 sq km and during the rainy season it may grow into a single body of water. To get to the lake we drove from Putussibau and traveled 4 hours by motorbike to Selimbau on dirt roads that were in bad condition, especially when it rained.
From Selimbau we took a speed boat up the Kapuas River to Semitau where we stayed overnight at the office of Riak Bumi before heading into Lake Sentarum.
Once on Lake Sentarum, we went up to a remote area on the north edge of the lake called Sungai Pelaik where there are still weavers making textiles and using natural dyes.
However, on this trip we decided not to return to Sungai Pelaik but to visit more communities around Putussibau as we had heard from Ibu Fransiska Mening that there are still weavers and basket makers around this area. Ibu Fransiska operates The Kerawing Gallery which displays and sells local art and is very interested in the work of Threads of Life.
We found that there are still communities making traditional baskets from rattan harvested from the local forests. The black patterns are made from mud dyes.
In the village of Melapi, we met Pak Dadang who is from the Dayak Taman ethnic group. Pak Dadang is still doing beadworkthat decorates clothing for ceremonial use. He uses a banana fiber (Musa sp) as the thread for the beadwork.
We also met a Kayaan man, Victorinus Lirung, who is a talented woodcarver who uses traditional techniques and designs. Victorinus was unable to walk at birth. Ibu Fransiska has some of his work for sale in her gallery and Threads of Life is interested in supporting his work as well.
Together with Ibu Fransiska, Frog and I traveled to a Kaayan longhouse. We had to drive by motorbike another few hours andacross two rivers to reach our destination.
We arrived in a very traditional Kayaan community. There was no longhouse, yet the people still maintain their traditions and value the material artifacts that are part of this tradition. It was fortunate that Ibu Fransiska was with us and that she has family in this community as the people were very suspicious of us, particularly as we were Balinese.
Over the years agents and collectors from Bali have come to buy old heirlooms such as textiles, beads, drums, pottery and anything with antique value. They often came when ceremonies were being held, when they knew the people were desperate for money, or during times when harvests failed so that they could force the prices down. Ibu Fransiska was able to tell the community that we were not here to buy their antiques but wanted to help them revive production.
It will be only with repeated visits that people in this community will become more comfortable with us and know we are coming to help continue their culture and build up their clan treasury, not empty it. We now have a number of new potential communities to work with along with a variety of different traditional arts. Over the next years we will see what might emerge.