THE 7th Asean Traditional Textiles Symposium is currently going on in Jogjakarta, Indonesia. Jogjakarta is a fitting site for a cultural forum as it is the premier city for fine arts and culture in Java and Indonesia as a whole. It is also a renowned educational center.
Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) countries are all well represented, as weaving is a common aspect of their cultures. There are many affinities in the weaving traditions of Asean countries that reveal themselves in symposiums like the one going on in Jogjakarta. And almost the same problems.
This year’s theme is “Embracing Change, Honoring Traditions,” which indicates that the modernization Asean countries are undergoing brings about change which, if not managed well, could create disruption, if not destruction, of traditional ways. The point, therefore, is to manage change so that it is positive, innovative and useful. So, rather than blind resistance or stubborn refusal to accept the new, a society can accept it within the traditions that it has practiced over time. In other words, change without losing identity.
Moreover, there are guidelines for hand looming like the sustainable development goals by the United Nations, which include poverty alleviation, a regard for the environment and the introduction of technology that will result in sustainable textile design and use of materials that will improve the weaving craft, which is now recognized as an art form.
Thus we heard what is being done to accomplish the goals cited. For example, in the matter of natural dyes, which can result in pollution as the debris of the process is dumped into rivers or streams overloading them with natural chemicals, Brunei has shown a way out by treating sago, a main source of natural dye, turning it into paste that can be reused again and again. By turning the material into sago paste, which is organic in the sense that it can break down without polluting the environment and using it many times, the process of dyeing with the use of sago becomes sustainable.
In Indonesia, the batik industry has come up with a non-fossil oil wax that is made from palm oil that does not harm the environment as its waste products also break down organically, thereby eliminating the risk of pollution.
In the matter of the number of weavers which modernization has seemingly curtailed with fast clothes along with fast food and a fast way of life, governments are becoming pro-active by establishing schools for traditional crafts, establishing assistance and competitions and most practical of all, providing commercial opportunities for their products through innovative design and marketing as well as using new materials that are acceptable and desired by today’s societies. Indonesia’s batik industry has 47,000 businesses and 200,000 workers and $17 billion in exports aside from its domestic market, which is huge because by tradition batik is everyday wear for all classes of the large archipelago of 17,000-plus islands. In other ways and on a lower scale, other countries could aim for more uses for their weaving crafts and come up with improved returns.
Other work going on in the weaving industry is the digitizing of patterns, not only for present information and use but for availaibility for future generations. One Indonesian textile expert reported on her digitizing work in Tenggan, Bali, where she went through 22 kinds of patterns that she encoded and later showed to the Tenggan community. The latter recognized their patterns and accepted the digitization as an information bank and reference point.
The above are just a few of the innovations and breakthroughs reported for the hand-weaving industry in Southeast Asia. Other aspects like historical origins, similarities, different materials used for clothing according to environmental factors, as well as art forms observed and explained in weaving patterns, were part of the symposium. There were over a hundred registered delegates and 27 speakers from the 10 Asean members as well as from Europe and the United States and other countries. The conference halls were a sea of Asean costumes and colors. The Indonesian Textile Society, acting as host, went all out with a market fair, a fashion show, cultural presentations, tours of heritage buildings and visits to weaving communities. After the symposium, there will be trips to tourist sights like Imogiri, a royal cemetery and Borobudur, an ancient temple site that is the world’s largest Buddhist monument.
The Philippines showed off its piña industry at the symposium, bringing one of Aklan’s pre-eminent piña weavers Raquel Elisorio and her son Carlo, an expert piña knotter, and a range of piña embroidered products that attracted the attention of the participants, including Indonesian first lady, Iriana Jokowi and the Malaysian queen, who gathered at the Philippine booth to admire and buy. One of the 27 speakers was cultural researcher Felice Prudente Sta. Maria who presented for the Philippines what piña means to Filipino society and cultural identity.
As the 7th Asean Traditional Textiles Symposium drew to a close, there was an air of synergy and optimism that weaving is now recognized as not only a valued craft but an art form that is traditional but can also be modern. It has a future in the changing world.