Watubo is one of the local weaving community based in Watublapi, Maumere. It consists of talented members who can do ikat weaving and natural dye. Their head group, Rosvita Sensiana (RS), is one of our friend, who helps us produce high-quality traditional textiles. Today, we had a chance to have a casual conversation with her about her stories, which we have been curious about it for a while. We talked through a phone call, in Watublapi, her hometown. In the background, we can hear the cheerful voices of the workers and children. (interview conducted by Bimantoro Jaya)
BJ: Mrs. Rosvita, you are the head of the weavers group in Watubo, your hometown. You have a unique and interesting group, could you tell us when the group was formed?
RS: All right, well the group was formed two years ago, the crafters were the members of Sanggar Bliran Sina and had experience in attending exhibitions even before we formed the group. The crafters here, are 50% young people, and 50% older people. We would like to have more than 80% of young people members in the future, who are concerned about weaving and natural dyeing.
BJ: What did you do before the weavers group formed? Are your previous activities connected to art/culture as well?
RS: Before I become the head of the weavers group in Watubo, I was a fabric crafter as well in Sanggar Bliran Sina since I was an elementary school. I got to college, but unfortunately, I was sick thus had to come home. Then, I went back to the Sanggar Bliran Sina and worked for several years, after that we formed the Watubo group.
BJ: The Watubo’s weavers group has skilled and talented members, did they also come from the same background as you?
RS: We have about 20 members, and 10 of them were natural dyers and weavers too. Their background is all about art, music, and ikat weaving. And there are members who loves music and dance, but technically they are not official members. However, every time there were parties or activities, they participated.
BJ: Talking about skill, it seems that you and your friends have hereditary talent, or were some of them trained by other people?
RS: They were taught by their parents since their elementary years, and weaving became their regular after school activity in junior high school years. So, they were already skilled after they graduated from junior high school. Not to mention, that it is compulsory for women in Watublapi to do weaving and Ikat. And there are some new members who have been using synthetic dye and learned to use natural dye instead after joining Watubo.
BJ: Now that we know your hometown is the place where the weavers are, how is Watublapi itself? We heard that it is a beautiful village, what do you think about Watublapi? What are the unique things that can be found here and nowhere else?
RS: In Watublapi, there are several places you can visit, such as traditional houses, tribal houses, and a bunch of sceneries you can find here. The temperature is cold. Watublapi is a cool place, you know, even in the summer season.
BJ: Are there tourists visiting Watubo? What kind of activities attracts and interests them?
RS: Well, if they do come then, I could tell that they love traditional music and dance, and they also want to see the process of weaving, from kapas to the dyeing itself.
BJ: Back to the weaving business, as the head of the group, have you ever faced difficulties and obstacles? For example, you probably have a hard time managing the other weavers, or maybe run out weaving materials.
RS: Yes, of course. The first difficulty of being a weaver who uses natural dye is that we must organize everything carefully in each season. There are summer and rainy season in Watublapi. Every color has its best season, for example, if we want to use red, we have to do it in the summer season because of its petroleum process. Blue can be done in both seasons. As for Jati, we can only use it in December to February, because that color comes from Jati leaves and it will dry up in summer. Next, we often face difficulties in training new members to start using natural dye. As I said before, they have been using synthetic dyes before joining Watubo. What we do is to share the knowledge so we can help them even when they’re having difficulties when dyeing.
BJ: We believe that the weaves you produce are of high quality, where do you sell them? Are they just sold locally or people around Indonesia also buy your products?
RS: We’re selling it to people around Indonesia, usually we take pictures of our products and send them. There are also buyers who buy directly from here because they have visited Watublapi before and they know about our product marketing and prices. We haven’t sold them online yet, but, we’re already assisted by Noesa for a larger market. Although the products remain in Maumere, we only send pictures and send them via a delivery service if there are incoming orders.
BJ: Have you ever attended events such as exhibition? If so, what are the comments from people who saw your products?
RS: Many of them gave us inputs, and sometimes we ask them what they thought about our products. We also told people that our fabric patterns have their own meaning and philosophies, that was what made them interested. In short, we did get a lot of comments from people.
BJ: As many of us may know, weaving doesn’t attract young people, especially because of the impacts of trends around the world. What can you do to encourage more young people there to start weaving again?
RS: There are some young people in the studio, and then I gave them an input to create traditional clothes that suits nowadays youngsters, for example, a naturally dyed shirt. And then they started to wear it on some occasions and events such as wedding parties, or church day. What I mean is they indirectly promote these traditional clothes, and people start to ask where did they get it. I think it’s a good start, at least people become curious of what we create. We also create two types of clothes, for older people, which is only using basic colors, and for younger people, we use more variant and bright colors.
BJ: What are your hopes and wishes for the fate of weaving products that somehow become “extinct” in people’s life nowadays?
RS: I hope next generations, young people, maybe in another 10 or 20 years they’ll begin to love Ikat, weaving, and natural dye because it represents our true culture, Indonesia’s Identity. That’s what our ancestors taught us, and by loving those things means we are also preserving our ancestor's identity. Nowadays, some people use a machine to create these textiles, different from those in the past, they did not know what school is, they only lived in villages.
BJ: Do men also weave in Watubo?
RS: Yes, but more women than men, all of the men in here can do the dyeing process, however, only one man can do weaving. Because weaving really needs some serious patience (laughing).
BJ: Watubo’s weaving products are natural dyed, when did you start using natural dye technique for the color of your fabrics? Did you learn it from someone?
RS: For natural dyeing, I was used to it since my senior high years if I’m not mistaken. My mother used to teach me that, but I was only taught red, blue, yellow, and green by her. Those four colors are basics and the most used from generation to generation. I discovered new colors from Watubo and Noesa, because colors are born from experiment, experiment, and experiment. Not only that, this is also what we do for a living, that’s why our brains must keep trying new ideas so we can stabilize our economic condition as well.
BJ: Why did you choose weaving and natural dye? Are there some kinds of rituals or requirements before doing the weaving and dyeing process?`
RS: The reasons why I prefer natural dyeing are because, first, they do not contaminate the environment, their produced waste can be turned into fertilizers. If we’re using synthetics, the waste will cause contamination and plants will die because of the toxic. Second, is for the sake of our health sake, you may know that people wear mask and gloves when using synthetic dyes, right? In natural dyeing, we don’t have to use any protection because it is no harm for us at all, I often eat while my hands are covered with colors. Now for rituals and stuff, we don’t need to do rituals for dyeing, except when we want to make a dragon motif.
BJ: Dragon motif? What kind of ritual do you do if you want to make a dragon motif?
This specific motif must be done by a specific person who really can create a dragon motif. The ritual itself is binding the person’s whole body, from head to toe, and not letting any body part left unbound.
Finally, the fruitful interview was over and we satisfied our curiosity. Rosvita wished us a good day and invited us to come to Watublapi. We hope we could see them more often!