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Category ArchiveSOUTH EAST ASIA

ALOR ISLAND, OCTOBER 2016

One sunny morning on a day in early October 2016 I woke up to the beautiful sunrise on the horizon of Kupang, West Timor.  I had been in Kupang for a few days now and stayed at the Neo hotel, a lovely hotel only a short distance away from the Eltari airport Kupang. I headed to the Breakfast room. The smell of coffee tickled my excitement of the day, and the selection of breakfast available a bit mind-boggling, but otherwise great. I was truly excited about this trip to Alor as this was my first trip to the island.

Ira, my good friend, and also a devoted volunteer for Connect Indonesia, The Charity, picked me up from the hotel fairly early in the morning. Travelling with Ira is always exciting, she has amazing stories to share and she has kindness and generosity which are so genuine, she is truly an amazing individual. The flight from Kupang Eltari airport to Mali airport in Alor takes approximately 40 – 50 minutes long. There are around 4 flights a day from Eltari to Mali airport. Clear blue sky and warm morning sun for me is always a recipe for a great day ahead, and blue sky and warm morning really never far away from this part of the world, so my days always started with great excitement.  Checking in at Eltari airport was fairly straightforward as we didn’t have much luggage with us as we only planed for a very short visit

The airline flew fairly low, and the view is truly breathtaking, enjoying part of the Lesser Sunda Islands dotted along the ocean below. We landed safely and smoothly 40 minutes later. Here we met up with another friend who joined us from Toraja, Sulawesi, Mrs Merda Mangajun, a friend who is very interested in East Nusa Tenggara Ikat. Upon our arrival in Mali airport, we were welcomed by our driver, a friendly, 60-something-year-old man, with a punk style haircut like a Western teenager from the 1980s.  He owned the B&B were we stayed and offered a reasonable rate to drive us around in his fairly modern looking car during our visit. Sadly, the B&B were we stayed was a bit disappointing, fairly basic and wasn’t really cheap for the standard and condition it was in.  Unfortunately, online hotel bookings don’t provide many choices here in Alor, but we know that would be much better stay on our next visit.

On our first day, we headed straight to the Alor weaving studio, runs by Mama Sariat, an experienced weaver from this island, who is rather well-known in Indonesia for her work in developing Alor ikat using natural dyes. Thought we had set a date to meet and interview her on this occasion, we were disappointed to find out that she had to travel to East Timor to attend a talk on her work on natural dyes development. We were greeted by her daughter instead and gave us a comprehensive explanation about her mother’s work. Although she was able to explain some general commonly know natural dyes like indigo, morinda, and turmeric, most of the natural dyes they used have not been written down, or hard to understand the actual sources of the dyes as the materials used are named locally.  Although she claimed that Mama Sariat has developed over 200 colours in this studio and applied them successfully on their ikat textiles, it is a pity that these natural colour recipes are well guarded and they are yet willing to share these findings openly.

I strongly believe that embracing a talented weaver like Mama Sariat and work with her to share her passion, skills and ability by encouraging her to share her guarded natural dyes recipes with other weavers around the archipelago is a good way to introduce these valuable findings to all weavers in the country. Of course, it is fair that she needs to be respected for work, and appreciate her contribution by giving her credit she deserves.  It seemed that there is a feeling of concern on her part where her guarded secret recipes would be used and claimed by other weavers in other parts of Indonesia.  Is not unusual that many fashion designers or bloggers or textile traders will claim things belong to them or claimed to have initiated something they never started, so her concerns is acceptable.

When there is a will, there is away.  Embracing talented weavers like Mama Sariat is not rocket science and can be done, but it requires genuine and kind approach on her level to achieve this.  Regretfully, in Indonesia, weavers like Mama Sariat, often used as a “guinea pigs” experiment for those who seek short journey to popularity in the traditional textile industry.  Textile producing villages in Indonesia have become the playground of politicians during the political campaign seasons, and uneducated weavers often become the victims of new charitable bodies looking to build profiles in order to be elected as a bridge of charity partner by International charities who seek to implement certain projects in Indonesia.

If you are natural dyes expert and wish to share your knowledge with our weavers in Indonesia, please contact us, together we can arrange some interactions and connections to those who might be able to work with you.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. CONTACT ME if you have any queries at all.

Borneo Adventure – Pontianak, The golden kingdom

The long car journey from Sintang to Pontianak has exhausted me, drained any energy I had in my body and wore me out completely. It took us over 12 hours to reach Pontianak from Sintang, but of course, this extra long journey was due to my habit of wanting to stop here and there to capture images of any interesting things along the way. No regret, in fact, it was an incredible journey, so interesting and I have learned a great deal about Borneo, the people, the culture and to see the truth about the damaged to one the most talked about rainforest on the face of this earth.  We arrived here on a Saturday night but opted to head to bed to recuperate.

My trip to Pontianak and Sintang was accompanied by Fifiyati Hoesni, a charity worker from People Resources and Conservation Foundation (PRCF) Indonesia, and a member of her team, Ully Sasreefa, who is also a great-granddaughter of one the Sultans of Pontinak. I felt so blessed to have accompanied by two amazing individuals who inspired me and provided me with amazing insights into Indonesian traditional textiles of Borneo. On a long journey like this, and passing amazing views and seeing incredible places and people along the way, no chance I would rest my head to sleep, apart from when the sun has gone down, and all that you can see outside was a few unlucky moths committing suicide on the car screen attracted by the headlights. Fifiyati and I spent a lot of time chatting and exchanging information and ideas, whilst Ully snored away in the back seat, undisturbed by any shaking or jolting as result of the never-ending potholes and bumps on the roads.

I love sampling new food, and always excited to find unusual fruits wherever I go. On this journey, I have sampled some fruits I hadn’t seen before in my life, forest fruits which you probably only found here in Borneo. I am always on the lookout for some local snack or delicacies, though I don’t really eat much of them, I am always curious about their tastes and how they were made.  Ully is a very quiet girl rarely spoken, but one day, out the blue she blurted out sentences which made us all roared with laughter. Ibu Nelly is a very funny lady, she does only two things when she is awake when she is not talking, she would be eating” Ibu is the term used of a married woman in Indonesia. Maybe there is some truth in this, I do like talking, I am a fairly talkative person but I am not actually a crazy eater, it is more like I am curious about the food I am not familiar with and I do like to sample them in a small quantity. The trip was truly memorable. Spending 5 days with Fifi and Ully was priceless.

The next day, on the morning of the Sunday, I have arranged to meet my old high-school friend, Dr Bambang Suberkah who is now working and live in Pontianak with his family. I also arranged to meet a Facebook friend, a young English school teacher, Mardalina Mukunimau, meeting her in person for the first time. Dr Bambang Suberkah was very kindly arranged my transportation during my stay in Borneo, and it was great to spend a bit of time with him and his family on this visit. We had a wonderful lunch followed by a city tour to the Pontianak Sultanate and the visit to  St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Pontianak (only the external part of the church this time).

The Pontianak Sultanate was founded in 1771 by explorers from Hadhramaut led by al-Sayyid Syarif Abdurrahman al-Kadrie, a descendant of Imam Ali ar-Ridha. He had two political marriages in Kalimantan, first with the daughter of Panembahan Mempawah and then with the daughter of the Sultan of Banjar. After the explorers arrived in Pontianak, they established the Kadariah Palace and received an endorsement from the Sultan of Pontianak by the Dutch East India Company in 1779.[1] The Pontianak Sultanate had friendly relations with the Lanfang Republic. Pontianak Sultan Syarif Muhammad Alkadrie was executed by the Japanese in the Pontianak incident along with all the other Malay Sultans of Kalimantan. Two of his sons were also beheaded by the Japanese. The last Sultan was Syarif Hamid Alkadrie, who was deposed by the Indonesians; he had earlier been interned by the occupying Japanese forces. (Source; Wikipedia).

The external and the internal decoration of the Sultan Palace was decorated in the bright yellow shade. We toured the inside of the palace guided by one of the Sultan’s granddaughters, and involvement of Ully on our trip to Sintang was an added bonus to create a special bond between us and the people in the palace on the day, although Ully was not present during our visit.I learned a great deal about Indonesian history during this visit, as one of the sultans of this palace (Sultan Hamid the 2nd, Syarif Abdul Hamid Alkadrie, the eldest son of the Sixth Sultan of Pontianak, born in Pontianak on 12 July 1913, and died in Jakarta on 30 March 1978) was the creator of the Indonesian national symbol Indonesia “Garuda”. He was apparently a great friend of the late President Soekarno, Indonesian 1st president.

I hope to return to Pontianak again in the near future and see the explore the city a little closer. If you have any question about this blog, please feel free to contact me.  Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. Send me a message if you wish to visit Pontianak.