a pleasure-hunting monkey.
If you ever come and visited the Lake Toba area in North Sumatra, you might be familiar with the local people that usually known as Batak people. Like other Indonesia’s local tribe, the North Sumatran Bataks has their own traditional hand woven fabric that called Ulos. It usually used in most of their traditional rituals, from birth to marriage and to their death beds. You can see the Batak people wear it on their heads, shoulders, lower torso and around the body. I was lucky having a chance to visit a village famed for the production of Ulos in Samosir, a small island located in the middle of Lake Toba. It is indeed a unique experience where I can see the transformation of threads into the colorful cloth.
As weaving Ulos is a daily activity, the best time to visit the village is in the afternoon.
Lumban Suhi-suhi village is one of the home of Ulos weaver. Like the typically small Batak village, the village is filled with the trappings of a typical Batak community: large traditional houses and pigs wandering around the buildings. Batak villages are also rich in ancient cultural objects, including cemeteries built in front the houses. The women are the weavers of Ulos and can be commonly found working in front of their houses. The skill is handed down from mothers to daughters. The view of women weaving Ulos is very common in Lumban Suhi-suhi. Sometimes, they even got an extra job to show their skill to tourists or photographers visiting the village by an advance appointment with them or the local government. A piece of Ulos cloth measuring 200 centimeters (cm) by 80 cm takes around a week. Here, in Lumban Suhi-suhi, I can see the process of making Ulos. It starts with the starching and rolling of the threads, which are then spun with a traditional tool. As dye, traditional weavers utilize natural materials found in their local environment like mud, roots, leaves or grass. After the producrion process is complete, the weavers at Lumban Suhi-suhi send the completed pieces to merchants in Kabanjahe-the capital city of Karo Regency-that distribute them to other cities. Pieces of ulos can be bought directly from the weaver and the price ranges from Rp 200,000 (US$17.60) to Rp 5 million.
I had a short chit-chat with Ria Simarmata, one of the weavers. She said that the cloth’s pattern, size and thread quality determine the price and a piece that she made ten years ago can often fetch a higher price than a more recent one. As she told me, the old piece of ulos had “its own history” and the history could related to the cloth itself or the owner. Thus, Ulos worn during a wedding or a family heirloom could be really expensive.
From Ria, I bought a brand new pink-blue-yellow-ish with gold threads accent Ulos that categorized as a Uis Nipes-the one that used for the Batak Karo tribe- for Rp 250,000. Meanwhile, my other friend bought a classic Ulos for Rp. 600,000.
According to Ria, the Rp 600,000 one has a history to her family. Maybe it has been stayed for a long time to her family. However, it is extremely uncommon for Bataks to sell the family’s ulos. Family’s usually pass down the old ulos to the next generation as a significant heirloom to be worn for special occasions.
I wrote this post and originally published on The Jakarta Post Travel