Barkcloth Odyssey

The Origin (of Our Barkcloth)

Long before cotton threads stepped into the lush, beautiful land of Central Sulawesi at the end of the 19th century, the people used to wear barkcloth as their daily wardrobe. It is made from the tree bark of certain species of plants, including paper mulberry (broussonetia papyrifera), ficus, and breadfruit (artocarpus altilis) among many others.

There’s a number of places in the region famed for their barkcloth culture and tradition, particularly the four main valleys encircling the Lore Lindu National Park – Bada, Besoa, Napu and Kulawi. Not only they produced high-quality barkcloth, but also they comprise evocative history, philosophy and cultural values of this intricate, deep-rooted art.

Despite being in the same region, barkcloth has diverse names in each of these places, which makes sense as each place also represents different tribe, even language. For example, in Besoa it's called inodo, while in Bada it's called ranta.

Slowly yet significantly, the use of barkcloth has become a rarity, replaced by cotton as well as other synthetic fabrics due to practicality and economic consideration, which began around the arrival of foreign traders and religious missionaries. In the cultural role nowadays, barkcloth are only wore in special occasions and ceremonies, even often the traditional costumes now are made from synthetic, shiny fabric like polyester-velvet.

Most of the 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 allocating their time for other jobs or activities, such as being a shop attendant or waitress in the city, hours away from their village.

Since 2015, Cinta Bumi Artisans has been working with barkcloth artisans of the Bada Valley to sustain the intangible cultural heritage of barkcloth-making and to regain the inherited skills and knowledge that would be beneficial for the communities in social, cultural, environmental and economic elements.

Started with 2 individual artisans, we now work with a total of 29 women artisans from 4 groups. Progressing one step at a time, we are proud for having the youths joined in, where they're able to earn income through their creative making process.

 

How We Made Our Barkcloth

Our barkcloth are ethically-sourced in the Bada Valley. There are more than a dozen species of plants traditionally being used as barkcloth materials, but with sustainability considerations, we only use four, with paper mulberry tree being our main material for its ability to grow and regenerate, and for the significant values of culture and spirituality it contains.

After the tree bark are collected and stripped, there are several more steps required until the barkcloth is ready, that includes cleaning or washing, boiling for hours (except the paper mulberry that doesn't require this step), fermentation by wrapping inside banana leaf, a number of beating or pounding stages to embed, stretch, soften, strengthen and spruce the fibers, air-drying it, and "ironing" which is 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 for a luxury touch in the finish piece.

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

The finish barkcloth materials made by the amazing women artisans in Bada Valley are then proceeded to the next step in our home-based studio in Ubud, Bali.

The products are designed by our founding artist, who gathers and embraces the inspiration and ideas from her travels and her daily life – beautiful natural landscape, kind-hearted people, and drizzles at one sunny day are some parts of it.

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

In assembling materials, 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 principles by creating minimum waste in our production.

From prototype to final result, our team optimally give our artisanal craftsmanship skills; creating authentic handmade barkcloth bags and accessories for you.