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Travel to South Kalimantan: Women Artisans as Global Changemakers

South Kalimantan
Travel to South Kalimantan: Women Artisans as Global Changemakers. photo courtesy of Iwan Hermawan

For generations, women artisans across Indonesia have been creating unique weaves from locally sourced materials.

Weaving traditions can be traced as far back as the pre-colonial era, where remnants of handwoven mats were found along with other historical items, further defining its importance as a part of Indonesian heritage and identity.

Different forms of beautiful Nusantara weaves are still being made today for us to enjoy. Papuan women are known to weave out Noken baskets made from the bark of trees. In East Nusa Tenggara, women weavers make Sobe; three-dimensional traditional baskets using palmyra leaves. From South Kalimantan, we have Bakul Purun, which are traditional containers and bags made from purun plants.

Purun, the Gem of South Kalimantan Peatlands

Purun is a long grass-like plant that grows naturally in peatlands that are abundant in South Kalimantan. The art of purun weaving has long been culturally significant to the local communities. It’s a heritage handicraft due to the versatility of the material which can be woven into various shapes and be used for different functions.

This has, however, been changing. Drainage, burning and mining, commercial forestry or agricultural conversion, and other forms of severe exploitations have been progressively threatening the peatlands over the years. The peatlands of South Kalimantan are no exception, with data showing 60 percent of the total area being damaged as of 2018.

Peatlands, which are natural wet areas dominated by an accumulation of peats or organic matter, mostly vegetation, are critical in preserving global flora and fauna biodiversity, minimising flood risk, providing clean water, reducing greenhouse effects, and more. Peatlands are highly significant to global efforts to combat climate change.

photo courtesy of Iwan Hermawan

Since large amounts of carbon are locked away in peat soils, they also help address climate change. When damaged, peatlands have the potential to release an estimated 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 annually. As a comparison, the recorded annual carbon emission in Jakarta is around 200 million tonnes. In other words, the impact will be 6,500 times worse than what we as urbanites have already faced in recent years.

To ensure that peatlands continue to thrive and are safe from destruction, it’s imperative to engage the local community as the key guardians in every possible way.

Traditional Weaving and Solving Global Environment Issues

The Peat Restorative Agency is tasked to coordinate and facilitate peatland hydrological restoration due to excessive burning and drainage. It has recently partnered with Du Anyam to work with weaving communities located in four villages of Hulu Sungai Utara, South Kalimantan Pulantani, Tambak Sari Panji, Murung Panggang, and Tuhuran.

Du Anyam is a social enterprise that has been working with women weaver communities since 2014 in over 54 rural villages in East Nusa Tenggara and Papua. Through comprehensive training, upskilling, mentoring, and capacity building programs for local women weavers, the heritage handicrafts have received positive responses from national and international markets and was selected as the official Asian Games merchandiser in 2018.

Du Anyam is now working alongside purun weaving artisans to co-create and promote modern, well-designed, practical products that aim to serve and appeal to business as well as retail customers, to increase its product value, and to expand the market, generating a stable income for purun weavers.

Du Anyam’s Sobe basket, made from lontar leaves (not purun) from East Flores.

In the hope to create more peatland advocates – rural and urban, young and mature – other than innovative multi-purpose purun weaved collections, Du Anyam is producing a purun children’s storybook to educate the whole family. The children’s book will also be available free to the purun weaving community, to reinforce and instil pride in them as bold guardians of the peatlands.

Protecting Them Is Protecting All of Us

When we talk about peatlands protection, it’s undeniable that the local community are important stakeholders. The dream is that every purun weaver in South Kalimantan can believe in the value of their hand-weaving creations and that purun weaving will become a viable economic activity for them, thereby getting their active support to protect the wetlands from land misuse and burning.

When these women artisans see how purun crafts can be used as corporate gifts or baskets as elegant home decor, the desire to further empower themselves while caring for peatlands will come hand in hand, naturally.

For this to work, it has to start where it matters. Climate change is a global issue, and protecting peatlands is very much the job for all of us. Support the use of purun products today and together weave a better tomorrow for our children.

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