Barkcloth Odyssey

The Origin of Our Barkcloth

Long before cotton threads arrived in Central Sulawesi, the people used to wear barkcloth as their daily clothes. It was made from the tree bark of paper mulberry (broussonetia papyrifera), ficus, and breadfruit (artocarpus altilis) among other species of plants.

In the region, barkcloth has always been an integral part in the lives of the people, particularly in the four main valleys encircle the mountainous range which is now called the Lore Lindu National Park – Bada, Besoa, Napu and Kulawi valleys.

Slowly the use of barkcloth had become a rarity, replaced by cotton and synthetic fabrics mainly due to practicality and economy consideration, which began around the arrival time of foreign traders and religious missionaries in the 19th century.

Most artisans who still have comprehensive knowledge and skills – and not less importantly carry on patience and dedication in the process – are elderly. Younger generations tend to have less interest in barkcloth-making as it is considered as time-consuming and not beneficial economically, hence a lot of them prefer to allocate their time for other jobs or activities, such as being a shop attendant or restaurant waiters in the city hours away from their village, or make a living in other places like Java.

Since 2015, we've been working with barkcloth artisans of the Bada Valley.

Started with 2 individual artisans, we now work with 29 barkcloth artisans. Progressing one step at a time, we are glad for having some young artisans joined in.

This collaboration aims to sustain the ancestral heritage of barkcloth-making skills and knowledge that are beneficial for the communities in social, cultural, environmental and economic elements. 

 

How We Made Our Barkcloth

Our barkcloth are grown, ethically-harvested and handcrafted by barkcloth artisans in the Bada Valley. There are at least 18 species of plants traditionally being used as barkcloth materials, but with sustainability considerations, we only use five of them: béa (paper mulberry / broussonetia papyrifera), nunu (ficus), malo, tepulu, and kalekau; with paper mulberry tree being our main material for its ability to grow and regenerate, and for the significant cultural and ecological values it contains.

After a tree bark is harvested, the outer bark is peeled and the inner bark (which will be the barkcloth) is stripped, washed and fermented in a banana leaf blanket, before it goes to the next stage: beating the bark. A number of bark beating tools made of wood, rattan and carved marble stones are used to stretch, soften, strengthen and spruce the fibers. Once the beating process is done, the cloth is then air-dried and ironed by pounding it with flattened wood.

The process of some special-intended barkcloth, such as for wedding attires, are even more intricate as they require specific method of traditional natural dyeing and hand-painting process.

In the big picture, it takes at least two whole weeks of work to create a good quality of 2 x 1 meter barkcloth – and also depends on local custom-based circumstance during the process, for example no one is allowed to work when there’s grief in the village such as death or funeral to honor and respect the family in mourning, sometimes for several days, some other times for weeks.

How We Made Our Barkcloth Bags and Accessories

Our barkcloth products are designed by our founding artist Novieta, who gathers and embraces the inspiration and ideas from her daily findings – beautiful natural landscape, blooming flowers and the bees surround them, sounds of the winds and the river, the encounters with kind-hearted people, and even culinary experience.

The earthy (yet can also be so vivid and vibrant) colors on the barkcloth are attained from slow process of natural dyeing.

In assembling the barkcloth, we make the most efficient cuttings and patterns as best as we can -- respecting the elaborate making process of the barkcloth itself, as much as striving for sustainable design and production by creating minimum-to-zero waste in our production.

From prototype to final result, we work our best and keep doing improvements to create authentic, impactful handcrafted goods and wearable poetry.

❤ ❤ ❤