Earlier this year, I met a wonderful weaver called Ibu Pelita, who generously welcomed me into her home and introduced me to so many other talented weavers in her village.
Ibu Pelita is a Dayak woman. The Dayak people are indigenous to Borneo and encompass over 200 different ethnicities, all of which have their own customs, dialects and cultures. Ibu Pelita began weaving at age 18 and is now 40 years old. As weaving isn’t taught in schools, Ibu Pelita was taught how to weave by her mother, upon returning home on her school holidays. She is a member of one of The People’s Fabric’s partner organisations, Jasa Menenun Mandiri – a women’s weaving Cooperative based in West Kalimantan, situated on the island of Borneo in Indonesia.
“If we are part of the Cooperative, it’s easier for us to buy materials and often we can’t find these materials elsewhere. It’s also easier for us to sell our ikat – they help us and you can easily borrow money when you are a member. Usually, this means we can pay for extra things like our children’s education or things for our home.”
When I met with Ibu Pelita, she had begun weaving an ikat using the boat motif. This motif signifies how people in her community still rely on waterways and boats when carrying out activities, such as fishing and journeying to the gardens or the fields. In Dayak culture, the boat motif is also a symbol of kindness.
“I haven’t dyed this piece yet as one of my family members recently passed away and we’re not permitted to weave during this time – we have to wait 40 days until we can weave again.”
Ibu Pelita is part of a weaving community that live in a Rumah Betang – a type of traditional longhouse that is inhabited by indigenous communities throughout Borneo. The longhouse is significant in Dayak culture as it connects the community with their ancestors, and acts as a place of village governance and social organisation. It is the centre of their communal life where a strong cultural value system is maintained.
“We have grown up in the Rumah Betang and our families have lived here for generations…there aren’t any other traditional longhouses like this in the area.”
“The women here really support each other. For example, if they don’t understand something, the women will help each other, like explaining a difficult process of weaving.”
The Cooperative have an overall membership of 1,500 highly skilled women weavers, all who are committed to their art form, cultural preservation and improving the lives of their families and communities. We are so grateful to artisans like Ibu Pelita for sharing their culture with us and weaving their stories into the beautiful pieces that adorn our homes.
Founder and Managing Director
The People’s Fabric work in partnership with a not-for-profit organisation, Planet Indonesia, and a women’s weaving Cooperative based in West Borneo, Indonesia. Through purchasing a product from The People’s Fabric, you are supporting programs that revitalise traditional art works and economically empower indigenous artisan women and their communities.
From community to couch.