It was the same scene I had seen over and over again all throughout Indonesia; in the lands of FLores, in the highlands of Malino, and now, In the land of the Kings - Tana Toraja. Golden lights filtered through the cloudy afternoon, falling carelessly upon the greens of the rice fields - and I was, fortunately, there with my camera. Like much of the famous cultures of the world, however, Toraja is enveloped in a cocoon of tourism, with signs for touristic objects can be seen all throughout the city of Makale and Rantepao. Looking for a glimpse of truth into the culture, therefore, could be a little difficult - or is it?
Perhaps the truth is that being so closely in touch with tourism and the rest of the world, is a fragment of a culture's last means of survival; this is definitely true for Toraja's dying art of traditional cotton threading. Located by the river of Saddang, lies an area - upon which the river takes its name from - where the last remaining cotton threaders work; Grandma Ippang was one of the two last ones, according to herself.
Grandma Ippang introduced herself to me as she performed said dying art of cotton threading. Surrounded by cotton tapestries - all dyed with natural products, such as redwood and leaves - she spun hundreds of years old wooden wheel, which, combined with the pull of her left hand, somehow turned a lump of cotton into a thread. "This thread will then be used for weaving to produce these tapestries," she pointed at the tapestries behind her, "this one is approximately two million rupiahs (approximately two hundred Dollars)," she continued. Throughout our conversation, Grandma Ippang never once ceased her threading, the art which is as much chore as theatrical diplay nowadays. "The art is dying," she said, "the young prefers to practice weaving instead of cotton threading - it's much easier."
At the age of 84, the only other person she knew could do the traditional cotton threading method, was her daughter, making her bloodline the last Cotton threaders in Toraja. The rise of mechanized cotton weaving in factories drove traditional cotton weaving to the brink of extinction; this is only right, due to the low cost of production. The only people that could afford - and appreciate - traditional cotton threaded weavings, therefore, were foreigners. "They (the foreigners) love these kinds of stuff - natural and handmade," Grandma Ippang told me; she went on to explain the natural dyes used in each threads. Perhaps, Grandma Ippang's daughter will pass on the skill of cotton threading to her daughter, to ensure the survival of her people's art. Even if passed down, however, at this point it seemed as if it's merely prolonging the inevitable.