Without fail, the most common asked question to an artisan or maker, is “How long did it take you to make that?” In the case of this Anjat basket which is handwoven and naturally-dyed from the bast fiber rattan, the answer would depend on whether it includes the growing and harvesting of the rattan. Or just the weaving time alone.
This Anjat carrying basket, woven in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, is used every day for carrying light loads such as clothes, food, and other items—their version of our backpack and far more interesting. The basket is woven from strips of rattan skin, a very strong and pliable bast fiber. Starting at the top of the basket, the loops are integrated into the body of the basket for strength. The weaving technique uses black, made from a natural dye derived from soaking and boiling the rattan fibers in mud, leaves, and roots, and undyed rattan strips to create the motifs. The decorative motifs vary from basket to basket, and depict creepers, ferns, fruits, shoots and vines.
The Makers and Making
Basket weaving is primarily women’s work, most of whom are farmers by day and weavers at night and during the rainy season. It takes them several days to make a rattan basket from harvesting the rattan in the forest, drying it, cleaning, thinning, and preparing the strips into the desired widths and lengths, dyeing the fibers, and weaving the basket. Weaving time varies depending on the basket type and size, as well as the skill of the weaver, but on average it takes a half to two days per basket.
Can this Tradition Endure?
Massive deforestation of tropical forests and an increasing number of commercial plantation estates, mostly oil palm, hinders the local access to the fiber and dye plant resources needed for making the naturally-dyed baskets, hats, and mats.
The young people are leaving their villages for education and jobs in the large cities of Indonesia and Malaysia. They don’t have access to the dye and plant resources or the time to dedicate the many years required to learn the harvesting, dyeing and basketry techniques.
It’s challenging for the weavers to make a decent living from weaving even if they are able to access outside markets as it’s difficult for them to weave a quantity of baskets on a consistent production schedule with consistent quality controls. And, as local demand declines, some of the traditional baskets are no longer in production.
There are workshops in Java and Bali which are mass producing Borneo-type Anjat baskets and selling them at cheaper prices, but they are not as finely woven nor do they use the complex motifs and patterns found in the Borneo-style ones.
In Aid to Artisans
Thanks to Sharon Lumbantobing for supplying the information and photos about these artisans and their baskets. She has been working with master craftspeople in Indonesia on an initiative called “The Artisan’s Table”, where she seeks out artisans who are undertaking the whole production cycle themselves, with a focus on naturally-dyed baskets and textiles. We met Sharon last year and were so impressed with the artisans’ work.
We hope you are quite taken with these baskets from Indonesia too. While traditional, they fit easily into a contemporary environment. Sale of the baskets helps generate income for these women from non-timber forest products. Take a few moments and share this on with others.
To learn more about Indonesian artisans and weaving traditions, visit Threads of Life.com. They have worked for years helping preserve textile culture through the traditional arts.