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A Traditional Rattan Basket Carries a Load
Only skillful artisans can weave baskets made of rattan strips, designed with bold motifs, and continue to sustain their forests and traditions. The artisans of the Dayak Benuaq, a subtribe of Dayak who live in West Kutai, East Kalimantan, Indonesia, are that skilled. Currently, about 75 artisans from the Eheng village are actively hand weaving Anjat baskets from the natural and naturally-dyed bast fiber rattan.
The sega rattan species is planted by the Dayak Benuaq, the group members that specialize in planting and growing to sustain their culture and tradition. The rattan is harvested after an eight-year growth cycle, using only the mature rattan stems and leaving the immature ones for harvesting at a later time. The rattan canes are cut and then cut to about a meter in length. It’s then scraped clean until the peel is removed, dried in the sun, and the nodes removed. It’s then further split into thin strips, using the shiny outer layer for weaving. These strips, called rawai, are colored black using a natural dye derived from soaking and boiling the rattan fibers in mud, leaves, and roots, or colored red using a seed called jerenang. The baskets are made from the natural rattan color and the naturally dyed rawai strips.
The Anjat is a tightly-woven basket used as a backpack to carry one’s belongings. The artisans weave these baskets from the top (the mouth or rim), and then work their way to the bottom, thus creating a sturdier basket.
The decorative motifs vary from basket to basket, and depict creepers, ferns, fruits, shoots and vines. But the plaid-motif basket is one of the most traditional in form and motif.
While traditional, they fit easily into a contemporary environment. You can buy them in the ClothRoads shop. I’ll introduce you to other fine artisans and the people who help support them in the upcoming weeks.
Special thanks goes to Cristina Guerrero and Merry Tobing of the non-timber forest products exchange program for South and Southeast Asia for providing images and details.