Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Textiles in Trade: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America Biennial Symposium, September 14–16, 1990, Washington, DC


Copyright © 1990 by the author(s).



This article focuses on fruits of looms worked by Toba Batak weavers in the Silindung Valley, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Silindung Valley weavings are characteristically bright and fashionable. They are described by the Batak themselves and by visitors from outside as the "least traditional" of Batak woven goods. They are also surging in popularity throughout all of Toba and increasingly making inroads into the market replacing the old-style textiles which are larger, of coarser yarn, and deeper/sober in colour. It is the modern style of Batak textile which today commands the highest prices locally. "Connoisseurs" of Indonesian textiles, however, usually will not even consider buying them. To the connoisseur, they are evidence of the decline that is occurring in the once wondrously sophisticated Indonesian textile arts.

In this paper I will examine some of the changes that are occurring in Silindung Valley textiles. This Valley of socalled "declining textiles" is precisely the location of rapid fashion change. The invention of new textiles is not infrequent. I believe that the vitality and dynamism of the Silindung Valley textile tradition forces us to reconsider what is meant by "decline" as it is used, for example, in the following quotation:
"To me, antique Batak textiles,especially those from Toba, represent the highest achievement of Indonesian weaving. Hence what now comes from this area is so heart-rending to look at. The contrast between modern and antique products is nowhere else so extreme ... Decline through European influence is especially evident in the imported regular yarn dyed in bright aniline colours... (Visser 1918-1919:21,22).


To discuss Silindung Valley textile innovations, I will focus on the work of a single weaver/ikat-maker, Nai Ganda (ill 1), who inhabits the village of Hutagalung. She first told me about her textile inventions in 1986, and again in 1990 she showed me several more of her creations, hot off the loom.

Each of Nai Ganda's inventions is of a different order, but each exemplifies the "modern" features for which Silindung Valley textiles are known. I shall briefly review the inventions she introduced me to, both for their innovative features and to indicate the nature of current Silindung Valley textile fashions.