Tribal Trappings – Asian Ethnic Art, Artifacts, Textiles and Folk Art Tribal Trappings – Thoughts about Thailand, Chiang Mai, things tribal including textiles, ethnographica and folk art <data:blog.pageTitle/>

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sad news from Sumatera

This past week Mother Nature got angry and West Sumatera (that's how they spell it) was the victim of her rage, suffering a 6.3 level earthquake. We visited there about 10 years ago and have very fond memories- in fact we've been wanting to return for quite a while. The people are kind and gentle, the terrain beautiful with jungle-covered mountains, and the traditional arts refined and unique. Padang is the major port and airport in the region; Solok to the east was the epicenter of the quake; both suffered greatly. Our thoughts and sympathies are with the people there as they struggle with the devastation and try to put their lives back together.

Here are some images from a happier time.

Inhabited by the ethnic group 'Minangkabau', this area is known for their distinctive architecture, with the roofs having exaggeratedly pointing ends which are thought to mimic the water buffalo, as are the women's similarly configured headdresses. The finest houses have ornate details including fine wood carving and polychrome; most are wood.

Their society is also distinctive with a matrilineal kinship tradition and a strong adherence to Islam- two seemingly disparate characteristics. We were fascinated by the unusual social mores, especially while living with the strict Islamic tenets of Saudi Arabia. As the name suggests, descent and inheritance are traced through the women rather than men; houses and land belong to women and often they run the businesses. Sadly, this system is now dying out as Minang emigrate to other parts of Indonesia, and the world.

Another notable feature of this region is the plethora of spices and other valuable commodities grown: coffee, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, and kapok to name a few that we saw. We even saw a medicine man with various exotic animal bits.

Up into the Minang Highlands, and down a winding road with 44 switchbacks lies Lake Maninjau, an enormous, ancient crater lake. Tho smaller than it's more famous neighbor Lake Toba, in north Sumatra, nonetheless it is quite impressive, especially when one considers the amount of earth displaced in its formation: said to be 220-250 km cubed! (Mother Nature has long been letting off steam in this region.) Approximately 17 x 8 km in size, it is fairly unspoilt and very beautiful, with small villages sparsely scattered around its edge.

No discussion of this region would be complete without a mention of their very fine traditional weavings: this was one of the things that attracted us in the first place. The Minangkabau are known for their very rich, but refined silk and metallic thread ('songket') ceremonial weavings, especially those used for shouldercloths and the women's horned headdresses.

Such weaving continues in the village of Pandai Siket, outside of Bukittinggi.

For more current information on the quake situation there, please see this posting on Reliefweb.