Our Ulos weaving stories from Lake Toba – the region is still actively weaving using back-strap loom.

For many years we have been trying to meet with weavers in the Lake Toba region of North Sumatra and see their weaving activities closely. Rumor has it that backstrap loom weaving here is dying out as young generation no longer interested to continue this tradition. We have also heard that senior weavers are more interested in farming than weaving today. This rumor is of course not 100 % true. In 2016 we found a village in Tarutung Region of North Tapanuli, called “Simorangkir” where weavers here are actively weaving Ulos and songket Tarutung using a back-strap loom, and it is one main income for many families in this village. Here, we found weavers, young and old and some children started weaving as young as 5 years old.

For many years, we followed stories circulated around on the Internet. Many people believe that back-strap loom weaving is declining sharply in weaving villages around Lake Toba. Some believe that old weaving villages have now stopped weaving completely, and many senior weavers have now abandoned their back-strap loom weaving activities altogether.  It is rather sad that a large number of the Batak people believe that traditional weaving using back-strap loom is in the brink of extinction here around Lake Toba. There is some degree of truth that it is declining sharply, as in the olden days’ regions around the shore the Lake was famously associated with traditional weaving. However, the situation is not exactly heading for extinction as yet,  many back-strap loom weavers here are still actively weaving, although most weavers are working individually in their own homes and often don’t belong in any weavers group, hence it is difficult to find them.

We were told that most weavers in the Lake Toba region are now working with textile agents (buyers) called “Tengkulak” in Indonesia. These buyers will usually connect directly with skillful weavers providing them materials (yarns, synthetic dyes, etc) to produce the required Ulos or songket. Once the ulos or songket have been completed, will then be collected, and an amount of money (usually in a form of weaving fee) will be given to the weavers for completing the work.  We spoke to several weavers who feel very unhappy with this type of practices, as the pricing of their work often unfairly valued, but feel helpless as they don’t have any other options due to lack of capital to create their own textiles.

However, there are still a number of weavers, working independently, were the buyers will contact them to produce a certain style of textiles, where the weavers will provide all the necessary materials required to produce these textiles, then set their own prices appropriately. These types of orders are usually come from individual buyers, ordering a small number of textiles at any given time.

After visiting several weaving villages, around Lake Toba, we are happy to share with you that back-strap loom in the Lake Toba region is still widely used, but weavers are now producing only by demand (orders), where design, colors and the type of material (cotton, silk or synthetic yarns) are decided by buyers.

In our next blogs, we will be sharing some of our stories from Tarutung, Muara and Porsea region of Lake Toba, where we met back-strap loom weavers and see how they work closely.

See you in our next Ulos Batak blog.

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