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ULOS WEAVING: A TRADITION ON THE VERGE OF EXTINCTION

'Weaving Indonesia Festival 2018', initiated by the North Tapanuli District Government that will be held on the 14th - 17th of October, is a celebration of Ulos weaving traditions in the land of the Batak ethnic group. According to Robert Blust in "Notes on Proto-Malayo-Polynesian Phratry Dualism" (1980), this tradition is believed to have existed thousands of years ago around Lake Toba. This makes Ulos weaving one of the oldest traditions in the world and have a strong connection to Ikat weaving traditions found in several parts of Indonesia.

Legend has it, a long time ago, a mother had to ask a village weaver with utmost respect and humbleness to weave a small piece of Ulos. The weaving was meant to be given to her daughter before her marriage. Armed with napuran (betel with lime, which is the symbol of demand of one person to another), the mother had to make sure she chooses polite words and she had to mangelek (to convince) the weaver. If the weaver is pleased and they see that she is sincere at heart, he will fulfil her demand and weave a little piece of Ulos for her.

This tale shows how sacred the Ulos weaving tradition is. It is relatable to the Batak mythology about the first ever weaver, Si Boru Deak Parujar. She is a Goddess that is sent down from Mount Pusuk Buhit, which is also where the Batak ancestors are descended from the sky. Ulos weavers are basically successors to this noble craftsmanship, if not considered as the bead of the Goddess from the sky herself.

However, as the times progress, Ulos weaving is losing its sacred aspect because of market demand and supply chain of the economy. The weaving tradition is therefore endangered. As a matter of fact, several researches suggest that the tradition had already been extinct (Sandra Niessen, Legacy in Cloth; Batak Textiles of Indonesia, 2017). The extinction is, among other things, marked by the scarcity of old weaving gatip (motif) because they stopped being produced by the young generation. Along with the gatip scarcity, the loss of Ulos weaving skills and craftsmanship also threaten the weaving tradition. Whereas, every Batak weaving motif has its unique and irreplaceable value.

Therefore, this festival aims to help the world realize the value of Ulos weaving, both in traditional culture and in the textile and fashion industry. One of the highlighted things of this festival is the showcasing of the process of demanding Ulos weaving.

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