Published Garland Magazine (17 July 2020)
Updated 07 April 2022
Stephanie Brookes writes about Pejeng Kangin, a resilient weaving village just outside Ubud that has united the weavers of Bali and helped revive a long lost artisan craft.
The weavers of Bali are dusting off their looms. A long-forgotten artisan craft is coming back to a small village, just out of Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. Around 25 years ago, in Pejeng Kangin Village the women were spinning cotton, dyeing with natural dyes, and click-clacking away on their looms every day. However, with the advent of tourism hitting Bali over the 80s and 90s, many young people went to Tourism School. They gravitated towards hotel and restaurant work and simply left their looms and craft behind. Putu was one of these people, “I learnt to weave when I was eight years old,” she said, “But because of 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, plus my farming duties and had no spare time for weaving.”
Often it takes a leader to emerge. Putu indeed emerged and found a way to get the weavers back on the looms. A plan was hatched with the head of the village and a couple of local ex-pats who lived in the village. A fund was set up called The Togetherness Project, and a donation campaign kicked off to buy more looms and the raw product, reels of cotton from the market.
Putu knew from the elders in the village that one of the weavers used to make handwoven silk and cotton brocade for the daughter of Suharto (President of Indonesia 1967-1998). Putu found the master weaver, Ibu Agung and also discovered Ibu Klemik and Apel Murtini. There were not just one but three very gifted and talented weavers in the village. There was agreement that the women would share their weaving skills and knowledge with other women in the village and teach the young ones, and the plan went into action. Life in the times of COVID. Where there is a will, there is a way. Those old looms reappeared from hidden corners and saw the light of day yet again.
Once the word spread, several local women showed interest, and the Pejeng Kangin weaver’s united again. With the help of donations, extra looms were acquired, the art of natural dyeing came back into force, and regular Klungkung market trips were made for silk and cotton thread. Just two weeks later, Pejeng Kangin had re-established its ikat cottage industry. Twelve women were weaving six days a week, clacking away on their looms. Now, some eighteen months later, there are 35 weavers who are busy on the looms. They even dance the Tenun (weaving) Dance regularly at special ceremonies now.
Putu was already heading up the Village Women’s Rice Community (KWT Manik Mertasari) but happily took on the new role of leader of the weaving circle. She came up with a novel idea. If you want an ikat, you are asked to “pay it forward” at the time when 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 your specific ikat is in progress. Your ikat can even be designed with your own special motif. You just need to send a photo and the weavers, who are so masterfully skilled, can make your shawl or bed runner to order, with your own design.
Once completed, your ikat, perhaps a table runner, sarong, shawl or wall hanging, can be shipped to you. Better still, now Bali is open for tourism, you can come directly to the village and meet the weavers and collect your ikat. As of March 7 2022, Bali opened to foreigners with Visa On Arrival.
Putu has now revived her thriving cooking school called www.ubudvillageplate.com, which links tourists with local families. As Putu explained, “We all think it’s important to keep the weaving tradition alive. But, more than that, we really need jobs. Our husbands have been out of work for around 2.5 years now. Most of them in this village were tour drivers, hotel workers or waitstaff. It’s very encouraging now that Bali is open, but it’s pretty slow to start, so we must step up to the mark now.”
Local Food Packages
No one has had an easy time with COVID, and the next issue Made Astawa tackled was food delivery. Almost every family in the village, 180 people, had close to no income, and there was an urgent need for food staples. Donations, via The Togetherness Project, enabled the purchase of supplies. The Banjar was delivering 170 packs of rice, noodles, cooking oil and eggs to every household weekly. Twenty local volunteers went out on foot with a list, and every home that needed help was ticked off, and no one was left out. “That is very important,” said Made, “If we give to one, we give to all. We live by adat (traditional) law, and this is our way”.
Working with Bali Crisis Kitchen and Scholars for Sustenance, the village employed 44 cooks. They make up a hundred fresh food packs every day. These were hand-delivered to Indonesians under challenging circumstances in makeshift shacks and kos (boarding) accommodation or on the streets in Kuta and Denpasar. Many lost their jobs in tourism or construction and had no means of renting housing with a kitchen where they could cook. In fact, they cannot even afford one nourishing meal a day, and many ran out of savings.
Many of these workers are from Java, Sumba, Flores, Papua and other islands but could not get back to their villages. They relied on community projects to survive. Now that the crisis has eased, everyone on the island is looking forward to tourism returning to pre-March 2020 levels.
How can I help?
The weavers need orders.
Please consider ordering a beautiful hand-crafted ikat. You can be part of the solution and help keep this cottage industry alive, which aligns with strong artisan and cultural significance and benefits. By purchasing a beautiful hand-crafted piece, you help to keep the ancient knowledge of weaving honoured, and most importantly create inspiration for the younger generation of women weavers.
Story by Stephanie Brookes: www.travelwriter.ws
Project to Support the Weavers: www.togethernessproject.net
Local Balinese Interviews: YouTube interview channel
Weaving orders: Please order your scarf, sarong, table runner, set of placemats, ikat, wall hanging or bed runner with Wayan Ellen. firstname.lastname@example.org or WA +62 817 4773 619 (Wayan Ellen)
Head of Banjar Pesalakan – Made Astawa: WA +62 812 3960 3177. Email: email@example.com
Local Photographer and Founder – Togetherness Project: www.davidmetcalfphotography.com
Local Pejeng Kangin Homestay Guesthouse Founder – Togetherness Project: www.swallowguesthousebali.com