Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Weaving for Life

Indonesians normally have the village of origin (Kampung Asal). Wherever they stay and whatever their profession are, the Indonesian normally can trace their village of origin. Sometimes I joked to my clients - when I was a tour guide - that there are two things made Indonesian different from other people. They are SARUNG and KAMPUNG (or Sarong and Kampong). If you find a friend who admit as Indonesian but have no Sarung and Kampung, then she or he for sure not a truly Indonesian.
Sarung is a woven fabric wore by man and woman.

Wikipedia describe sarong as: A sarong or sarung (pronounced [ˈsaɾoŋ] in Malay, and IPA: /səˈrɒŋ/ in English) is a large tube or length of fabric, often wrapped around the waist and worn as a kilt by men and as a skirt by women throughout much of South Asia, Southeast Asia. The fabric is often brightly coloured or printed with intricate patterns, often depicting animals or plants, more often checkered or with geometric patterns, or resembling the results of tie dying.

Whilst Kampung is similar to village term in English. As an Indonesian I have my Kampung of origin too. I am native to Flores Island (about 1 hour flight to the from Bali) but now live in Makassar on the Island of Sulawesi or Celebes island.  Education made me moved from my Kampung. There was no plan to live in Makassar anyway but after graduating from tourism college I just don't think that my village will give me job according to my latest education. Then I stayed in Makassar since.

By 1995 I decided to always celebrate Christmas or New Year in my village. It was by 2003 I noticed that the people in my village have difficulties in providing money to buy the rice from government. I got the case just by coincident. It was on a family meeting to prepare the wedding of one of my sister. When come to the rice item, one of my cousin suggested to buy RASKIN. I did not know what Raskin was, then I asked. Raskin is abbreviation of beRAS misKIN (beras = rice and Miskin = poor). It is the government program to provide cheap rice for the economically disabled families in Indonesia.

The price of Raskin is Rp. 1.500/kg. In comparison to market price of Rp. 3.500 - 4.500/kg, it is very - very cheap indeed. I asked, why we have to buy Raskin for the wedding party? It was for sure will violate the main mission of the government program. But then my cousin explained: the village has the allotment of several tons of Raskin which have to be distributed to the poor families, 15 kg each per month.

So, why we have to buy it then? The problem is many families could not provide the money when the Raskin comes. Then the chief of the village take a smart policy to sell the rice to those who can afford to pay it. I asked again: why the village administration could not provide cash to be lent to the poor families? No budget for such post.

I then realized how scarce the cash in the village is. For years I heard the story that the corn crop is failed to grow due to the lessened rainfall. The villagers have to plant even up to 5 times in a season but with a minimum possibility to harvest the corn. Yes, the people have other source of income from coconut, goat, chicken or pig but the cash is not always available at anytime. I just don't know how I have to help them improving their income. It took me 2 years to come to the idea to encourage them weave traditional sarong again.

My village is part of Riung society which produces sarong for the people in the villages in the mountains. They used to use natural dyes such as indigo but the practice of using indigo was stopped by about 1970's when the government start campaigning to stop harvesting corals.

Then government introduced chemical dyes. The campaign affect on the dropped market price of the sarong. Yes, the process is simplified as many part of sarung producing process was cut off. No more cotton spinning, no more long coloring process. Yet, it also made same parts of yearly cultural activities disappeared.

To produce natural dye, people need indigo and the white powder made of the burnt fresh coral harvested from the sea nearby. The tradition of coral harvesting is done for generations in my village. They do not ruin the corals but only harvest as much as they need to provide powder to be mixed with indigo. Coral harvest is done once a year only. But the government totally ban the tradition as to protect the coral garden.

My village is part of Riung Nature Conservation Park which covers large part of Riung District (9.900 ha) mainly to protect the coastal ecosystem included the small islands off shore which known as Taman Laut 17 Pulau in Riung.

The park is now one of the must visit destination in Flores after Kelimutu colored lakes and Komodo National Park. Unluckily the visitors never stopped in my village but drive through to Riung which is just 11 km to the west of the village. There is no reason for tourists to stop in the village as there is no hotel or even small guest house. And the main point is, there is no point of interest in the village which is worth seeing.

As the tourism practitioner I come to conclusion that the village need to attract visitors. Then the village potentials have to be dug. What I found:  (1) People are friendly and the social bond within village is strong. (2) There are many woman weave traditional sarongs although use chemical dyes. (3) There are still many woman know how to produce natural dye. (4) The village has beach boundary with the Riung Natural Conservation Park and traditionally most of the islands off shore which is claimed by the government as part of Nature Conservation park are belong to the village. (5) People accept the presence of Riung Nature Conservation Park. (6) The village is located on the main road connecting Riung (11 km to the west) with Kelimutu Colored lakes in the east. (7) People in the village are very co-operative and eager to find alternative sources of income.

Recognizing the fact, I invited the villagers which are all have family relation with me to have an informal meeting at my parents home. It was on Christmas Day of 2005. I discussed with them about my concerns and what I could help them. The discussion come to the agreement that the ladies in the village will form a group who will: (a) weave regularly, (b) Find a way to find and collect the old weaving utensils which has been abandoned for years since the introduction of chemical dyes. (c) Reproducing natural dye starting by planting indigo in their respective "kebun" or dry field starting this season.

The group will be assisted by (1) Chief of the village who graduated from university, (2) Vocational High School Master (have passed away last year, I suffered a loss on his death). And I on behalf of my company I gave them initial cash. The money is a donation from my company (3) I wish I could give them more but the company still needs more cash to grow). I promised them that I will give them chance to make such a comparative study to some destinations I am specialized in.

It is now three years already. 4 persons have been invited to make a comparative study to Larantuka when I handled cruise ship visits. The last one was on January 31, 2008 when MS Columbus visited Larantuka. Our last meeting was after Christmas 2008 as shown in the picture. The meeting was held at a house of the member of the group.

I wish to made this village a kind of tourism village. So, they could earn the living from tourism too. To be part of tourism industry development in the area. On our last discussion I persuade them to actively invite government officials to stay in the village. I also suggest them to invite church organizations from the neighboring parishes to stay in the village if they would visit Riung Nature Conservation Park. I also discussed with Kepala Desa and others to plan to provide one room in each houses for visitors. Of course there is not enough resources in every family to do so but by recognizing the income potentials any effort could be done. No matter how small it is.

Lots of work have to be done. My resources are limited as my company is now just a small institution. I wish my company would grow bigger and I work hard to make it happen. Although inbound tourism is a fragile business. Bird flu, international terrorist threats and now global financial crisis. Anyway, people in the village says: there is not always good harvest, you have to experience the bad seasons too.

I wish there are volunteers who could come to the village to teach them simple English for daily communication. To teach them how to make pancake, how to build their overall capacity in developing their own economic potentials, etc.

What I normally do is to talk and discuss with them whenever I visit my village during Christmas holiday or at other occasions. People in the village believe in Mata Bo Ngapongi, literally translated as Dead by Talking. It actually means: sit together, talk and discussion could solve problems and produce positive results.

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  1. very informative and helpful,make sone want to visit Indonesia and see everything , oh i love sarongs! and batiks!... very good too for helping the villagers way to go Mr Ng

  2. Hai, My name is Haji Rozman from Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. I'm in property business industry and from last 2 years had been studied to start frozen fish trading business. Early this year I completed my factory building and now buzy on completing my cold room. Right now I'm searching fish resources from anywhere in the world to buy it's with wholesalers price. Did your kampung or your island have fish traders whom can discuss with me regarding this matters?

    I can be contacted by email: or
    Facebook using name of hjrozman
    Mobile phone : +6 012 3393711 or sms

    Thank you. through the readings from your blog, make me eager to visit the island and your kampung.

  3. Hi.. thank you for the appreciation.. we are pleased to welcome you in Indonesia.. It would be nice if you can be a member of this Blog..