I took this picture in a tiny market, in a very small weekly market in a village called “Lumban Lobu” near Balige, Lake Toba, Indonesia, in 2012. We had a charity project there for a few years, so I used to visit the market when I was visiting the village. These textiles are traditional textiles of the Batak people of North Sumatra, called ULOS.
I know, this brightly colour textiles look beautiful and pleasing to the eyes, but our ULOS does not suppose to be these colours. Originally, Ulos was created purely for ceremonial purposes, and some were also used for everyday wear as a blanket, baby sling, head-scarf, shoulder cloth or as a sarong. The old Ulos textiles were created using high-quality cotton, dyed using natural dyes and woven using a back-strap loom, and usually just made for family consumption, not to be traded in the markets like today. The colours were normally very subtle. But today, ULOS were made for the markets and for-profits, when they are often made into fashion apparels, fashion accessories, etc, hence the weavers have to adjust with market demands, and this was how we lost a beautiful culture and tradition.
Today, a lot of Ulos is created using the shaft loom, and some are made in factories and the colours are a bit electric too, so different than our old Ulos. The quality is also very worrying, many of them were woven using far too much gold and silver threads in them, materials never used by our great grandparents before.
Currently, we are campaigning to preserve the old ways of producing the Batak Ulos, encouraging weavers to share and pass on their amazing skills to the young generations, and to weave like the old ways, using good cotton and to dye the yarns using natural dyes. We are planning to implement a natural dye project working with weavers in Silalahi, Dairi region of Lake Toba. We feel that by encouraging the weavers to grow natural dye plant, we will give them a better chance to adopt and sustain these processes. The weavers have so much empty and dormant lands around their homes, we only need to show them what to plant and how to use these materials for their ULOS. We are very positive it can be done and this will a great project to help combat global warming in the long run.
Come and join me to visit Silalahi on the shore of Lake Toba next year, let’s give something back to mother Earth, plant trees, and preserve some lost culture and tradition. All future plans are available in https://www.facebook.com/indonesiatextiletours Hope to see you there.
Nelly N Andon (Br Torus)