Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 24 July 2015 • Destination
“Kendari Werk was created by a man named Djie A Woi; a Chinese jewelry maker that lived in Kendari. He was inspired to make silver jewelry mimicking the intricate yet delicate spider webs. There’s no telling when he started this craftsmanship exactly, but it’s known that he was the first to do so in Indonesia and it’s been around the country since the 1920s. He’s made several impressive pieces, enjoyed by Dutch queens and royalties, complete with its certificate of gratitude. However, all evidences was lost in the Japan bombings in 1945.” That’s pretty much the silver lining of all the pieces there is online about the art and the only information I could come up with before seeing it for myself. I was in Kendari to find out if there was more to Kendari Werk than that.
Kendari Werk is an art commonly made of high concentrated silver threads, casually in gold, layered within a sturdy frame. Most of the work is in forms of jewelry, however there are sculptures and home decorations that are also made with this art. The world would recognize the technique as filigree; the ones in Indonesia is said to origin from Kendari, South East Sulawesi. Unfortunately, I have failed to differentiate the Indonesian kind to those around the world.
I visited the Dekranasda (a board for traditional crafts) in Kendari to see how much work was put into a Werk. Mata Satipa was a tough cookie. Initially, his face showed no emotion but with strokes of handsome. I was as polite as I could be, as I saw that he was the playmaker of the Kendari Werk center. The other employees followed his lead when it comes to being nice or not to visitors. The day was hot, he was under a thick shirt made of traditional cloth, one that was too thick to turn into a shirt. I approached him trying not to break trust that I had yet established. He introduced himself and answered my initial query overlooking his reading glasses.
My Kendari werk earrings.
“I have a pair of gold earrings with this technique, but I never knew they were from Kendari, since I saw a lot and bought them in Makassar. I’ve always admired the art and thought it was from Yogyakarta, since it’s famous and exported from there. But now I know, it’s from Kendari,” I came clean and was genuinely interested. Mr. Satipa saw this through his lenses and showed his first smile.
“It’s Saturday. It’s our day off,” he says. Ah! Unwanted overtime explains the hostile welcoming.
“Come! I’ll show you how we make the jewelries,” he said, nonetheless, as we walked to the casting station. The equipments were very simple. The whole process, like any other jewel making, is long and winding. Metals are first casted in a rod like shape. While still hot, the metal is then hammered and pulled continuously until it becomes small threads. Threads of different sizes are then layered within a frame that forms the jewelry. To add whiteness and sparkle, the piece is layered with silver dust, torched till it melts, and then sand papered till the shine comes out. It’s so meticulous, it’s ridiculous!
“Out of my class of about 30, I’m the only one that survived,” said Mr. Satipa. He wasn’t originally from Kendari but had lived there for sometime. He jumped on the opportunity to learn the art, when the local government decided to reintroduce it back to its hometown. About 20 years ago Kendari Werk, which means ‘Kendari work’ in Dutch, had been more famous compared to gold sellers in Makassar and silversmith in Yogyakarta.
The thing is, Kendari Werk doesn’t have a high demand. People prefer those of other areas, probably due to lack of publication. Thus, there’s no need for more artisans. Mr. Satipa explains that there are only about 15 artisans from different generations within the Dekranasda Kendari Werk center. Most of them became artisans by circumstance, not by admiration or spirit to preserve the culture. It was an open opportunity for a good living, but challenging to maintain. Many have surrendered.
“How do you determine a design? Are you the designer?” I asked a young lady layering her threads of silver. She explains, that there is a certain pattern for every shape, however she modifies when the shape she has to fill in is different that usual.
“I don’t know. I just make it as I go,” she says with an embarrassed smile, when in fact she should be smug. I realize, there is no two piece that are the same. Every one of them is custom made.
“Why are you dressed like this for such a hot and labor exhausting work?” I asked.
“We’re waiting for the minister to visit,” Mr. Satipa explains there was an official visitation and they had to be prepared, while calmly continuing the piece he made to show me the process. The team had to sit in a hot and humid white non-AC room with unnecessary formal clothes on their vacation. I had wished that I could have visited them on better circumstances.
As I am a sucker local traditional crafts, it was an honor to meet a very few artisan that preserved an art I have admired for so long. From their experience, quitting was a popular option, but they stuck with it for whatever reason. In the same time, I had to wonder how this art form can survive, when in the past it had been reintroduced due to the lack of presence in its origins. We’ll just have to see in a few years time.