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  • 154 BUGIS
    Sarong. Warp ikat. 1950-1960. Pagatan or Sengkang, probably.

Gay silks for all markets

The low-lying coastal plains of Suwasi are the domain of Buginese and Maccassarese, both typically coastal people: open to foreign influences; great shipbuilders (especially the former) and sailors; traders with millennia of sea roving in their genes; a history of dealing with the Chinese and the Arabs from far before colonial times; retailers far and wide who sailed southwest as far as Java and Sumatra, southeast to the Tanimbars and Babars and the Seramese-run trading strongholds on New Guinea, reputedly even to Australia and Madagascar. The Buginese still are a powerful people, with influence far out of proportion to their numbers, holding prominent positions in the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
       The iridescent, high-voltage Buginese ikat, often refered to as tenun pagatan after the chief producing village Pagatan [tenun means cloth], reflects the people's nature and their background. Done in fine commercial silk and synthetic dyes from the moment they became available, tighly woven and technically accomplished, they are radiating self-confidence, zest for life, energy, openness to modernity, even bravery, berani. They are quintessentially mundane, can be truly lurid, incorporating even gold Lurex, but when they are loud or over-sweet, then they are knowingly loud and sweet – reflecting a taste that is not just the Buginese's own, but perhaps even more that of peoples they find far and wide on the markets of remote islands. Most would of these were and are reached by the emblematic Buginese wooden ketches, the pinisi, built without use of a single nail by the Konjo tribe of Bugis-Makassar ethnicity in the Bulukumba district and on the tiny island of Bonerate, which carry some ten to twenty tons through storms and high swells. They have proven their reliability over the centuries, and allowed their owners to operate as 'sea gypsies', not above the occasional act of piracy, to rule a vast dominion without ever holding any beyond their sliver of South Sulawesi.
       Silk sarongs made by the Buginese, especially in their heartland, the Wajo area around the capital Senkang – not necessarily but especially ikated – are far and away the most popular silks in the Indonesian archipelago. Somewhat older examples of Buginese ikat are fairly rare, because collectors generally abhorred them. The ethnographically oriented collector attemps to rise above snobism, however hard that may be, and embraces these folksy weft ikat silks, part of a kind of meta-culture that, on a level above, or perhaps below, adat, covers much of the archipelago.
The tenun pagatan is traditionally ikated using fibre from the banana trunks locally called membebbe, which is why the cloth is also refered to as tenun bebbe. The dye used is mostly Wantek. Curiously, to make the dye more colourfast, traditional, not factory-made products are used: very young coconut juice and crushed cashew nut shell.

©Peter ten Hoopen, 2018. All rights reserved.