In Search of Ikat Bentenan
Bentenan Woven cloth are once an art that had died in North Sulawesi, where the last ‘original’ weaved fabrics can only be found in museums in The Netherlands such as the Troppen Museum. It was only in the recent years that the fabric came back in the eyes of Indonesian Public, hence why the production of real weaved Bentenan is very limited as people are only just re-learn the art of making Bentenan weave.
According some online resources Bentenan weaved fabric exist in the 7th Century in the Minahasa tribe in North Sulawesi. On many online resources it said that the earliest fabric for the weave is a combination of the following: Fibre taken from Lahendong and Sawukow tree, combined with Pinaple, banana and bamboo fibres. But as per usual I don’t really want to just repeat without any reliable resource, I did a bit online research in finding out what is the scientific names of Lahendong and Sawukow, to share with you but couldn’t seem to find what they are. The closest I have got to Sawukow is that it is a Ficus species which is similar to Fig.
When I looked into fabric made of a combination of pineapple, banana and bamboo fibres, it seems to commonly appear in how people make them traditionally in the Philipines. Which make sense because of the tribes shared ancestor. The pineapple fibre is called: Piña , the specific banana tree that the fibre used is called Abacá or Musa Textilis, and the Bamboo fibre, apparently a common fibre to make clothing. Now that is something I have just found out, I have heard of cotton and hemp but apparently Bamboo Fibre to cotton is like cashmere to wool, luxurious. Well, there you are. I did not know that.
Nowadays the thread are made of cotton in general. Apparently the name Bentenan it is because in the 15th to 17th centuries Bentenan town on the southeast coast of the Minahasa region is a harbour town, where the weaved fabric was exported out of. That although the fabric itself came from the Tobulu, Tondano and other parts of the the region, it was called Bentenan.
I had a more or less 2-hour drive from Tomohon to Bentenan village by the coast on the Southeast of Minahasa region. To what I thought to be the place to find ‘Bentenan Weave’
When I arrived there, it was almost an arid village with a white church at the end of the village, beside a few dogs walking around the streets, it is empty of its inhabitant. We stopped at a warung (Indonesian style side road home stall) to ask where we can find the Bentenan Weave, to be told to find the newly build brick building and behind it there is ‘Pak Guru’ training centre.
I saw a wooden construction with white walls and bunting with some kind of traditional looking print. I went in the open door, to find a big room with 8 weaving machine which seems to be resting in the middle of production, whilst a group women are having their lunch.
When I asked is this the place where they produce Ikat Bentenan they say yes, I felt guilty to have seem to interrupt randomly their work. But they seem to not mind and were willing to impart with knowledge pondering to my continuous questions. They say that they are working in production of clothing for a local traditional ceremony of harvest that soon to happen. I respected them a whole lot, because when I offered to buy some of their work they didn’t give in and give me any of the fabric, adamant that these were for the harvest ceremony.
They say also they have not publicised their work, afraid that they can’t yet fulfill the demand as they were still learning how to weave. They suggest to buy some from Sonder (nearer to Tomohon) or in Manado. where they are properly designed, they said.
They showed me the whole process from the designing pattern, dyeing the thread, and the making of the tenun. The weave has a slightly different process where it is double tied (ikat), the technique creates a much more delicate and intricate pattern.
After taking some pictures, thank them for sharing I went into the car, and told the driver to drive back to Tomohon. He was really surprised, and was lost in wonder that I was too relax about not being able to buy anything from the weaver, he said ‘After the long trip, are you sure it is ok for you not to buy anything?’ I said ‘Yes it was fun’, it doesn’t seem that he understood it that he offered to find people who would sell it and that we can go to the next day. Hahaha.
So the next day he took me to Sonder, the place is called Karya Karema. It is the organisation that re-introduce Bentenan to North Sulawesi again. I didn’t particularly like the place, even though it is a bigger and much more professional operation, not inside a make-shift wooden building, but there was only a couple of real ikat weave, the rest of the fabric are is printed bentenan pattern in garish colours, produced in Jakarta. I did however buy the only properly weaved piece that to me reasonable in colour.
Have you heard about this particular Indonesian tradition, do you know anything more, if you do please do share.