The Dayak artisans focused on weaving their plaited arts and crafts in the same intent manner their ancestors have applied for hundreds of years.
Their practiced hands intricately wove the bamboo and rattan into wide brimmed cahung, or solar hats, baskets to hold paddy seeds, anyaman weave mats and ulap doyo cloth from the fibers of curculigo leaves.
Their deft touch came from constant practice and hundreds of years’ worth of tradition, turning everyday objects into works of art.
“The craftsmanship on this rice paddy basket can be seen by its weaving. Up close, the weave is indistinguishable; but look at it from a distance, and you can discern distinctive shapes from its cross patterning” said Cecil Mariani, a representative of the Total Foundation who brought the artisans to Jakarta.
“The colors used to dye each item come from natural sources. The red coloring is from the fruit of the rattan tree, while black is from charcoal. Both use beeswax as an adhesive to make the colors stick to the rattan or bamboo.”
The artisans are among the indigenous peoples of East Kalimantan who enlivened the Sei Mahakam Festival, which is held at the Bentara Budaya cultural center in Jakarta.
Sponsored by French oil giant Total, the festival highlights the subcultures and peoples of East Kalimantan’s Kutai Kertanagara district, many of whom depend on the Mahakam river for trade, travel and livelihood.
These include the Melayu ethnic group who are part of the Kutai Kertanagara sultanate, which dates back to the fourth century AD. It includes the Dayak tribes of Kenyah or Aoheng that live inland, as well as the Bugis and Banjar ethnic groups that live on the coasts.
In a statement, Total said the festival is shares its mission of “raising public awareness about Kutai Kartanegara’s culture to the public and its standing as an Indonesian cultural heritage that has to be preserved.”
Cecil echoed the company’s sentiments: “The Sei Mahakam Festival is one of a number of annual events in Kutai.
They are usually held to mark the agricultural calendar, such as planting the rice paddies or other crops and harvesting them.”
“[The festivals] are also opened by the chiefs, as the preeminent member of the Dayak tribes, or the kings of Kutai Kertanegara, depending on the area. So this festival is our way of sharing our traditions with the Indonesian public.”
True to its name, the Mahakam river’s bounty of fish is a major theme of the exhibition, as shown in an array of items like the rectangular hempang, a bamboo net tied with rattan that’s used to store fish, and the hinjap, or net used to store fishing gear. Others include fish traps like the bubu, which are designed to capture or trawl fish in the swamps or mangroves.
Read more: The Jakarta Globe