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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Weaving Destiny

Click clack clickity clack. The sound of woods against wood as the weaving machines do what they do. Burst of color everywhere. Patterns magically appear on the cloth. And on and on they go, until the clump of thread become a beautiful intricate cloth, ready for sale.

I have had the luxury to visit an Endek workshop/makers a few days ago, and it was humbling. For those of you that did not know, Endek is a traditional Balinese cloth that is made with single tie-dye procedure and weaved with non-mechanical weaving machine (ATBM - Alat Tenun Bukan Mesin. It takes months to completed a single cloth, even the dyeing itself can take a solid month.

The workshop was actually a hall, with 10 or 12 ATBM and their operator working for about 8-10 hours a day. A New Yorker next to me gasped and said she would take desk work at the office anytime. But of course, why wouldn't she? That is what she (and also I) trained for. Yet these women also created magic, and when I looked closely each machine had a specific doodles on it : be it notes on the length of the cloth they made, their names, or even fading stickers of their favorite celebrities. These are their "cubicles", these are their "e-mails and roster", this is their "office".

The vertical threads were placed on every machine by a dedicated "technician", and the dyed threads were to be weaved horizontally to completed the cloth. This was where the magic happen. The dyed threads looked just like a long clump of thread with a few spots of different color here and there, it was only after it was weaved into the bland color threads that the pattern sprung to life. How the dyer/pattern maker can dye the threads to make the pattern is simply beyond my imagination.

And thus, the cloth was created. Each "department" work their magic: the ones that spun the thread until they were ready to dyed or to be used, the ones that dyed the threads, the pattern maker/designer, the "technician" that placed the basic threads, and the weavers. With each stroke of the machine the threads are pulled together and closed to form the perfect cloth. It was like weaving a basket but in much, much denser scale. Slowly the pattern emerged and repeat itself. I was watching the birth of the cloth, the birth of beauty.

As a Balinese, I used Endek quite regularly as my praying cloth. Yet I never thought beyond whether the color and pattern matched my kebaya/praying blouse. I realized now that it worth so much more than that. The energy and concentration of each person involved in the making, the sheer strength of each weaver that weave a specific cloth, it all imbued the cloth with a life of its own. Thus, no cloth is the same, you can't find copy as each of them is unique and have the life and story of its own. The cloth to me also represent human life itself, a friendly reminder that God has laid patterns for us, one that we cannot see until it is weaved into our existence. Small wonder that this cloth was regarded in high respect and thought to be sacred in the old era!

With all the efforts and energy pour into it, Endek is more than just beautiful pattern on colorful cloth. It is life itself. To me, it should be use with utmost care, ways that befitting the life in it: proper praying outfit, elegant formal dress or shirt. The rise of using Endek print (and for the ones that can afford it, real Endek) as common fabric for bags or shoes or a mere accent on fashion (or worse: a horribly matched mix-up dress) greatly disturb me. True, it is a way to popularize the Balinese heritage; but we must never forget the value of Endek itself and these "popularizations" risked the diminishing of those values by making (and treating) Endek as nothing but pretty pattern and colors. To think you use a material with life woven in it, it is truly an experience and a great honor indeed. And it does not matter if you own one or a thousand of those, as each of them is unique and priceless in its own way.

Back to the workshop, the group of American next to me soon went on a shopping spree, stating that you can't find an artisan work like this in US and definitely not as low as USD 50. My heart quivered. What will happen to them afterwards? Locked in a trunk or Linen cupboard for safekeeping? Hanged on the wall like exotic tapestries? Making round as "exotic gifts" for friends that, in their own bafflement of what to do ewith it, send them over to another baffled friends? Sewn into skimpy dresses or tasteless fashion? Will they ever be used for what they were created for: a dignified outfit fits for the nobles, a beautiful fashion fits to present oneself to God during praying session. But I have to stop. Is it not just another part of life? For one to go to the big big world and see where destiny landed them. Not all human ended where they should be, or do what they are meant to do. Endek fare no better. Yet there will be Endek that landed in the hands of people that can appreciate them and put them in proper use, just like human do. And I will cherished mine ever more.

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