Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
There are hundred types of weaved cloths in Indonesia, mostly known as ‘songket’ or ‘ikat’ and mostly varied by pattern of origin. But, the ‘geringsing’ technique caught my ears when I heard about its distinct difference and the fact that there were only three countries in the world that could do this.
As a lover of traditional textiles, I dramatized by thinking the world had cheated me, having something so rare kept from me all this time when it was right under my nose. Hence, I couldn’t help feast my eyes and add knowledge with another stop in Bali at the Tenganan Tukad Dauh Village.
Ibu Mia, my former Belgian boss, had mentioned this to me, knowing I have mutual love for traditional cloth. She was also astounded that I had never heard of such cloth, as much as I claim to love them (which pretty much says I’m a lazy fan). Having lived in Bali for 15 years and had a jewellery business in the past, Ibu Mia understood much of the fine arts and tradition of the island, more than I can say for myself as an Indonesian. Thus, I trusted her recommendation to see this ancient tradition. Another case of foreign eyes reminding me, an Indonesian, of the wonders I have in front of me.
Pak Ketut, my official and appointed guide at the village upon arrival, said that Tenganan Tukad Dauh is one of the two main Aga villages, or ancient village of Bali. Bali Aga people are said to have dwelled on the island before the Hindu Javanese came to the island. Pak Ketut made it clear to me that the two were different although they fall under the same category as Balinese.
When visiting Bali Aga people, most would be more familiar and would probably visit the bigger Tenganan on east of Tukad Dauh. Hence, Tukad Dauh remains a small quiet little village inland of Bali, with little tourists and a lot more traditional ambiance. Mostly it was locals that were seen walking the wide alleys of the village, and most were still in traditional clothes. Activities were mainly about grooming chicken, weaving, and preparing offerings.
My main purpose of the visit was to see the double ‘ikat’ technique. After doing a dust of research, I learned the other countries that have this technique are India and Japan. No one really knows how this came to be, but there are traces of the Gujarat in patterns, which indicate distribution through trade.
Pak Ketut brought me back to his house, for good reasons. He asked his wife to demonstrate the technique, which is a common service to all tourists that drop by. The missus said it’s a tradition passed on through generations of women and the cloths are then mandatory worn during traditional ceremonies. Thus, the tradition can be found in almost every household.
If the usual weaving is done with pattern set on the loom, then the double ‘ikat’ is having the pattern on the loom and the thread that is weaved through it. So, patterns aren’t only set on the latitude of the loom, it’s also pre-colored in every longitude string. To put it in simple analogy, it’s a giant puzzle where all four sides of each piece have to be a perfect fit. It’s ridiculously meticulous!
There are no modified ways of making the cloth, none that they could find. All of the process is still as it was a long time ago. The threads are coloured in organic material such as candlenut and wood. It’s such a gruelling and disgusting process; many of the youngsters have rejected to continue doing it.
“There are maggots and fungus all over the thread because it’s organic. Each colour can only be applied every three months, that’s why it’s got all of those creatures on it once it’s completed. It’s dreadful. Now, only the old people that still do it for us,” said the missus (can you tell I forgot her name?).
“But then, how would you pass on the tradition?” I asked in a worried tone.
“There’s some that will still do it, but not so many. I wouldn’t. Because we don’t wear the cloth as much nowadays, and the fact that it is hard to sell, we will still have enough thread for quite some time.” she said. My heart broke a little.
I sat there for the next 10 minutes watching her continue a half made ‘selendang’ or an equivalent to a scarf. I could see how annoyingly hard the process was. Like most ancient weaved cloth, the loom was strapped around weaver’s back and pulled tight as the weaver sits straight. Then, the placing of each thread through the loom takes about three minutes so that it’s positioned perfectly to the pattern.
A bat’s bone is used to set the position of each thread, before the cloth is tightened. Yes, it has to be a bat bone, for simple reasons that it’s stronger than wood or anything else. Complicated, right? It’s even complicated to explain through words.
Did I mention that the women and their families needs to conduct a ceremony of blessings before she starts to weave?
“I take my time. If I’m bored, I leave it. I can continue on another good day. You can’t have a bad heart doing this. It can wreck the whole process,” she says as she picked the cloth with the bone.
The ‘geringsing’ isn’t as flashy as other weaved cloths in Indonesia. The colors are the basic red, black, brown, and yellow. The patterns are still within tradition of nature-inspired shapes like flowers, fruits and such. As simple and dull as that might sound, once it’s partnered with the rest of the Balinese attribute, I could see how the cloth compliments the other attributes without losing the attention to it. It’s beautiful!
I gasped at the price. A 1.2 m by 20 cm cloth can cost millions of rupiahs (which is about a few hundreds of US dollars for today’s rate), but the price is negotiable. There goes my chance of having a double ikat cloth. However, considering the grueling process, this price is understandable.
Aside to the double ‘ikat’, the village also has a few other beautiful crafts. One of them is the art applied to Palmyra palm leaves. Many of the drawings are traditional and are in forms of decorative pictures, calendars, or bookmarkers (you still read printed books, don’t you?), which can be custom-made to your likings. It’s also a very meticulous art known most around Bali, but I think the prettiest ones I’ve seen are in Tukad Dauh.
Another art that was shown to me was the patterns on Pak Ketut’s back. Once a year, the people of Tukad Dauh celebrate the year’s rice yield by commencing a rattan whipping competition between men. Blood must be spilled on the ground for future fertility. Pak Ketut’s back was full of permanent scratches and scars from years of competition, ones that he’s very proud of. Every man is obligated to participate, aside that it is also a macho test amongst men.
“I still participate in these ceremonies. It’s a happy time and it’s fun. I’m always anxious to participate. My body itches and I just have to do it,” he tries to make me understand. I nod and shake my head at the same time.
“You must come back for the ceremony. It’s such a festive time. You’ll like it,” he says. I nodded hard for that statement. Hmm.. shirtless men, whips, blood and their women watching. Sounds like an intriguing awkward time. Unfortunately, I haven’t returned after 2 years, but I still have that rain check to follow up in mind.
Oh, Bali! When can I not love you? It’s true that we built Indohoy to disperse interest to other parts of Indonesia, but it’s clear that I have been arrogant to think you have given it all, when you still have tricks up your sleeves. I’ll be back for that festivity and other ancient treasures you’ll show me!
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