Weaving in Bali – Indonesia Expat
Stephanie Brookes writes about Pejeng Kangin, a resilient weaving village just outside Ubud that has united Bali’s weavers and helped revive a long-lost craft.
About 25 years ago, in the village of Pejeng Kangin, women spun cotton, dyed with natural dyes and clicked their looms every day. However, with the advent of tourism in Bali increasing in the 80s-90s, many young people left their previous jobs and took up tourism. They turned to work in the hotel and restaurant industry and simply left behind their looms and crafts. Putu was one of those people. “I learned to weave when I was eight,” she says, “but because of the economic reality, a job in tourism paid a lot more than weaving. I got busy working full time in the tourism industry, raising three boys, as well as my farming duties and had no free time for weaving.
It often takes a leader to emerge. Putu did indeed emerge, and she found a way to put the weavers back on the looms. The motivation to revitalize weaving in the village was directly related to COVID. Many people in the village were out of work. When Bali closed its international airport and Visa on Arrival (VoA) ceased in March 2020, around 80% of the workforce employed in tourism was no longer in paid employment. A plan was worked out with the village chief, Made Astawa, and some local expats who lived in the village to rekindle interest in local weaving traditions. Interest in weaving began to grow. A fund was created called The Togetherness Project and a donation campaign was launched to purchase new looms and spools of cotton from the market.
Putu knew from the village elders that one of the weavers made hand-woven silk and cotton brocade for the daughter of Suharto, the former president of Indonesia from 1967 to 1998. Putu found the master weaver , Ibu Agung, and also discovered Ibu Klemik and Apel Murtini. There was not just one but three very talented weavers in this small village. There was an agreement that the women would share their weaving skills and knowledge with other women in the village and teach the young people, so the plan went into action. All because of COVID and the ingenuity of these village women, these old looms have reappeared from hidden corners and seen the light of day again.
Once the news spread, several local women showed interest and the Pejeng Kangin weavers got together again. Thanks to donations, additional looms were acquired, the art of natural dyeing came back into force, and regular trips to Klungkung Market were made for silk and cotton yarn. Just two weeks later, Pejeng Kangin had reestablished his ikat cottage industry.
Today many orders come in asking for natural dyes. Back to the old ways, again. The botanicals used to make the natural dyes come from Mango Leaves (Yellow), Cacao Leaves (Grey), Banana Leaves (Green), Secang Wood (Red), and everyone’s favorite is Cocoa Leaf. indigo (blue).
Twelve women were weaving six days a week, slamming on their new looms. Some 18 months later, 35 weavers are working on the looms. They even dance the Tenun (weaving) dance regularly during special ceremonies. The revival of dance as well as the revival of artisanal craftsmanship!
Putu was already the head of the Village Women’s Rice Community (KWT Manik Mertasari) and is happily taking on the new role of leader of the weaving circle. She had an original idea. If a customer wants an ikat, they are asked to “pre-pay” it at the time of ordering so the weavers can buy the materials they need to get started. Putu also encourages contact with the customer personally and sends photos and videos as his specific ikat progresses. Your ikat can even be designed with your own unique pattern! Just send a photo to Putu’s WhatApp number, and they will assign one of the most experienced and skilled weavers to make your shawl, placemat set, rug or bed runner with your own design.
Once complete, your ikat, perhaps a sarong, shawl or wall hanging, can be shipped to you. Even better, now that Bali is open to tourism, you can come straight to the village, meet the weavers in person, and pick up your ikat. Since March 7, 2022, Bali has been welcoming foreigners with VoA.
As Putu explained, “We all think it is important to keep the weaving tradition alive. But, more than that, we really need jobs. Our husbands have been unemployed for about 2.5 years now. Most of them in this village were tourist drivers, hotel workers or waiters. It’s very encouraging now that Bali is open, but it’s quite a slow start so we have to step up to the plate now.
Local food packages
Nobody had it easy with COVID, and the next issue Made Astawa tackled was food delivery. Almost all families in the village of 180 people had virtually no income and there was an urgent need for basic foodstuffs. Donations through The Togetherness Project helped purchase supplies. In 2020, the Banjar delivered 170 packets of rice, noodles, cooking oil and eggs to each household every week. Twenty local volunteers walked out with a list, and every household that needed help received it; no one was left out. “It’s very important,” Made said, “If we give to one, we give to all. We live by adat (traditional) law, and that’s our way.”
Working with Bali Crisis Kitchen and Scholars for Sustenance, The Togetherness Project employed 44 cooks in the village. They made a hundred packs of fresh produce every week. These were hand-delivered to Indonesians in dire circumstances, many of whom lived in makeshift shacks and kos (boarding schools) or on the streets of Kuta and Denpasar. Many lost their jobs in tourism and construction and had no way of renting accommodation with a kitchen to cook. In fact, they couldn’t afford even one nutritious meal a day, and many had no savings left.
Many of these workers are from Java, Sumba, Flores, Papua and other islands and have been unable to return to their villages. They relied on community projects to survive. Now that the crisis has subsided, everyone on the island is eagerly awaiting the return of tourism to pre-March 2020 levels.
Along with the weaving business and a new era of cooks, Putu also revived the village cooking school. You can find them at www.ubudvillageplate.com. This culinary experience, in the home of a Balinese, connects tourists with local families. The company is slow to start at the moment. Yet, as foreign and domestic tourist arrivals continue to increase, business will pick up and prosperity will return to this village. Taking a cooking class in Ubud has always been in the top 10 things to do, so the village is thrilled to welcome tourists back and provide another authentic way to connect visitors to Balinese culture – through the food.
How can I help?
Weavers need orders. Please consider ordering a beautiful handcrafted ikat. You can be part of the solution and help keep this cottage industry alive, aligning with strong craft and cultural significance. By purchasing a beautifully handcrafted piece, you are helping to preserve the age-old skill of traditional weaving and, most importantly, creating inspiration for the younger generation of female weavers.
Information pack project to support weavers: www.togethernessproject.net
Local Balinese Interviews: YouTube Interview Channel
Weaving orders: Please order your scarf, sarong, table runner, placemats, wall hanging or bed runner from Wayan Ellen. [email protected] or WA +62 817 4773 619 (Wayan Ellen)
Chief of Banjar Pesalakan, Pejeng Kangin – Made Astawa: WA +62 812 3960 3177. Email: [email protected]
Photographer and founder of Togetherness Project: www.davidmetcalfphotography.com
Local Pejeng Kangin Homestay Guesthouse Togetherness Project Founder: www.swallowguesthousebali.com
Story by Stephanie Brookes: www.travelwriter.ws