Bulletin 23 April 2012

Rotary Club Bali Ubud Sunset
District 3400/No.79571
Meeting every Monday at 5:30pm Maya Resort, Ubud

BULLETIN 23 APRIL 2012

“There is no such thing in anyone’s life as an unimportant day.”
Alexander Woollcott

Attending: Rosalind, Rucina, Patricia, Mandy, Fred, Bruce, Mr. Chu, Cat, Allan, Danielle, Bill

RC Guests: Rich Foss (USA), Lucia (RC Gambier, AU)

Non-Member Guests: Julia (Austria) is seeking water filter projects, Michael Bryants (AU), William Ingram (guest speaker, Threads of Life), Margaret Mockler (USA)

Announcements, C0rrespondence, Reports

Rosalind announced the raffle prize, a combo of a CD by local group No Stress and a rare and collectible spider plant.

Cat announced the good news from Joady Barnes of RC Manningham (AU) that they are donating A$7120 for tanks and toilets in Sumba. Cat will also be accompanying Wasrag Regional Coordinator Stew Martin to Sumba on May 1 to look at the tanks and toilets installed with the help of his club’s Matching Grant, and to discuss more potential projects.

Rosalind reminded guests that they can purchase our fundraising cookbooks. She noted that with Marilyn, Sue W, and LLoyd all in the US, the agenda was a bit light tonight, so she introduced William Ingram, our guest speaker, who used his extra time to excellent advantage with a fascinating education on Indonesian textiles.

Guest Speaker: William Ingram

William works with 2 organizations in Bali: Threads of Life (TOL), a fair trade business, and Yayasan Pecinta Budaya Bebali (YPBB) (Foundation for Sustainable Culture and Livelihood). TOL works with traditional weavers’ coops in Indonesia, currently 50 groups on 20 islands including about 600 women and their extended families. Most of the islands are in Eastern Indonesia but Sumatra, Bali, Kalimantan and Sulawesi are now included.

William came to Indonesia 19 years ago with his partner Jean. They planned to stay only two months from their post in Japan, and had shipped all their things to the United States. They spent the next 15 years bringing it back to Bali. In the early days they led tour groups exploring Balinese culture, and Jean was one of Bali’s first yoga teachers. The tours led them to the eastern islands,where they found the visual traditions rapidly diminishing. What remained were mainly clan houses/architecture, and textiles used as traditional dress, offerings and ceremonial paraphernalia. They started using textiles as a lens through which to explain the communities.

The economic crisis of 1998 caused many poor villages to fall off the economic map. The exchange rate of one US dollar went rapidly from Rp 2,000 to Rp 17,000. Many communities were reliant on commodities, and these prices crashed. Desperate for cash, people put their heirloom textiles up for sale; they had nothing else to sell to raise money. Although they felt it was very important to maintain the culture, they had no options. They needed money to send children to school and buy food and medicine.

Threads of Life (TOL) was initially founded on the assumption that it would create a structure and space in which the traditional textile skill sets could be continued and people could choose to make traditional textiles. Because textiles seldom last more than 50 years in the tropics, they must be constantly remade.

TOL initially started working with individual weavers and sold their textiles in the US. The textiles take one to two years to make as plant dye harvesting is dependant on the seasons. It is a complicated and lengthy process incorporating complex natural dyes (red from bark of tree root, blue from indigo, a leguminous plant, etc.), and hand-tied ikat.

William then displayed a variety of textiles from different islands and explained their differences.

 

Timor

West Timor. The narrow looms mean that many textiles are joined to make wider cloth. This region had weavers’ coops long before TOL arrived because the Department of Industry was promoting its own agenda by encouraging weavers to use chemical dyes, simplify motifs, increase production and find a mass market. But these remote communities have no access to infrastructure or markets. TOL encouraged these groups to return to traditional dyes and motifs and to work out a fair price. They started with two or three women, and now work with over 20. The group developed to the point that it was lending money to members from the group’s surplus cash. The groups initially form around a master weaver or dyer, usually an older woman who has the technical skills. The younger woman usually manage the administration, which can be problematic. So TOL helped set up a local credit association in which money was only added by purchasing textiles with the women adding a percentage.

 

Flores

Central Flores. TOL works in several interesting villages. People traditionally bury their dead at home in a tiled grave outside the house, and often guests are invited to sit there. It’s Adat (tradition) first, Agama (religion) second here. It has been proved that weavers make a lot more money making traditional rather than commercial textiles despite the long time required to finish them. A direct comparison was made by the World Bank using a value chain analysis between the production of traditional textiles from natural dyes, and textiles from chemical and synthetic dyes. It was shown that weavers make 370% more per unit of time by using natural dyes.

It’s important that ritual textiles be made from dyes that grow on the land where the people live, reflecting their deep connection to the land. It takes at least a year for each weaving to be finished due in part to the availability of the natural dyes. Red dye from moringo tree roots is harvested in the dry season and indigo is prepared at the end of the wet season. The actual weaving is done in the dry season. All the textiles are made of local or imported cotton. (The history of cotton goes back about 2,000 years in Indonesia, and indigenous cottons originally came from India.)

Sulawesi

Sulawesi. Tanah Toraja motifs reflect the traditional architecture and are used to define ceremonial space rather than being used for clothing. The textiles are made a three-day walk west of the main village on a very dangerous road or by foot. The average age of the weavers is early twenties. It took a long time for TOL staff to win the weavers’ trust because dealers would exploit the community by waiting until the very end of the dry season when the community was desperate for cash and then force the price down. The weavers made lower-quality textiles as a result. It took a while for one weaver to start working with TOL, and when the others saw that she was making money they joined in. Now TOL works with six coops in four villages who send sack loads of beautiful textiles to Bali. TOL supplies the cotton because the traders mix in rayon and other textiles; this does not show with synthetic dyes, but does with natural dyes.

Java

East Java. The batik is made a few hours from Surabaya. The villagers grow the cotton, spin and weave it,grow the dyes, and make the batik — the steps from beginning to end. A young woman and three others recognizedthat the art of batik was deteriorating and set up a class after school for young girls to learn the skills. The textiles were sold to pay for their education. The small original area was covered by a lean-to roof that now extends to cover the area of a basketball court, where a second generation of young women is studying.

Kalimantan

Kalimantan. TOL works with Dyak weavers in West Kalimantan. The main challenge in maintaining their textile traditions is the loss of forest. The ceremony attached to making red dye used to be a women’s 72-hour secluded event. They use a very complex oiling process for the threads. The chemistry is mind boggling, involving saponification using natural aluminium salts and red dye, and many different plant, animal and fish oils. Thus the power of the landscape enters the cloth. Loss of landscape means the meaning of the cloth is compromised. The coop buys from members and when the textile sells, 30% goes to the coop and the balance to the weaver. But the coop can’t survive on 30% — they are sharing the gross profit, not the net profit, so the business model is not working. When TOL first started there they found 300-400 weavers interested in natural dyes. Now TOL works directly with the weavers instead of coops–at this point just 12 women. Hopefully it will be successful and demonstrate to the coops that they need to change their business models.

Bali Nusa Penida. TOL works with one man who is using natural dyes and several weavers to make complex, beautiful ikats.

Textiles are symbolic of traditional value systems. TOL consciously honours and communicates these value systems. All the coops they work with said to TOL staff that they’d been told that they had to choose between maintaining their traditional culture or make a living, that the two were mutually exclusive. How do we respect and express cultures and identities to make fair and sustainable  livings while doing so? TOL’s long-term experiment is to answer that question.

The Raffle was won by guest Lucia.

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