SYNOPSIS:   In pursuit of more traditional crafts.  About textiles and a music performance.  A visit at my guide’s home.  About a girl who needs medical help.

Two nights in a row I visited a small performance hall in Bukittingi in which given at least 10 visitors in attendance nightly performances of martial arts and music were presented by a different crews of dancers and musicians.  Going twice was a good idea only when you have a point of reference do you know good from bad…  One night was definitely heads and shoulders above the other even though similar pieces were performed.

From traditional music accompanying the entrance of a wedding couple, to dances celebrating the life of local fishermen, from music expressing the romances of young couples, to sounding the traditional drum for a variety of occasions each drum beat signals a different event the 1.5 hour performance showcased a wide spectrum of Minangkabau instruments and the Minangkabau musical traditions

Once again, culture trumped religion.  One of the most spirited, foot-tapping dances accompanied by wild drumming was performed in celebration of the arrival of Islam in the region.  The Saudis would shit a brick, the Indonesians are having fun and seamlessly integrate foreign ideas into their own traditions, disregarding potential doctrinal conflicts.

To Western ears the music sounds somewhat out of tune and even a bit random.  The drums seem to be tuned in one scale, the accompanying flutes go their own way.  But somehow it all comes together in the rhythm and in a spirited affirmation of the love of life through music and dance, not to forget the ever-sparkling costumes.

In pursuit of more information on musical traditions I went on a bit of a wild goose chase  going all the way to Padang Panjang a nearby town with a Conservatory for the preservation of traditional performance arts.  A beautiful campus with auditoriums, a dance department, a music department, a theater, an auditorium, and lots of administrative and classroom buildings attested to the government’s financial support for this endeavor.  But, alas… the semester had not started and the campus was more or less abandoned.  However, Billy, who was driving me there, ran into a person who directed us to a nearby music store that sold traditional instruments to students and faculty.  And so I spent an hour with the owner who was eager to showcase his instruments, costumes, and his store in general.  He even dressed up for me for little videos playing some of the instruments at hand.   

One more traditional craft was on my itinerary:  Songket weaving.  It is an art particularly associated with the village Pendai Sikat, not far from Bukittingi.  It is a particularly expensive kind of weaving as gold and silver threads are woven into either cotton or silk fabrics.  Depending on how much silver and gold is used, the price of the cloth rises to astronomical levels.  These are showy pieces of fabric that are purchased by the wealthy for special occasions or by the middle class as dowry items or heirlooms.  Of course, I had to have a small sample of it. 

The weather was beautiful.  Why couldn’t it have been like this yesterday?!  I could have gone paragliding…  Well, I have one more chance tomorrow.

Billy had been asking about me coming for dinner to his house.  Both his pregnant wife and his mother-in-law were eager to cook for a visitor from so far away.  In typical Minankabau fashion, Billy lives in his wife’s home together with his mother-in-law and if need be, with younger siblings of his wife.  That is one of the surviving parts of this once fully matrilineal and matriarchal society.  His MIL owns a rather stately home with two full levels, a roof garden, and a balcony sporting classical pillars.  She has a small home-business of making traditional shoes and purses that she sells informally among friends and neighbors or presents one as gifts. 

My polite request before dinner was for the chili to be if at all possible on the side.  But no, the dishes were cooked in the typical, extraordinarily spicy Minang way.  I dutifully nibbled my way through each dish, tasting at least a tiny piece, breaking out into the unavoidable sweat, until I could settle on the white rice, calming down my spice-wrenched stomach. 

As expected, the wedding pictures were produced and shown off with great pride.  The women insisted on fitting me a pair of their homemade shoes as a “gift” which Billy was quick to add “would surely make me uncomfortable, that’s why I could pay them $10”. 

I did not fully appreciate this kind of sales tactic.  Sure, I would have paid the family something for the dinner anyhow, but to have a pair of unwanted shoes forced on me was another thing.  Language barriers are painful in situations like this and thankfully, I had planned on attending another music performance, which cut the evening comfortably short.

Billy presented me with one of his relatives, who is suffering from a horrible skin condition since birth.  She has been presented to numerous Indonesian doctors without any results.  The medical establishment is clueless as to how to diagnose her, let alone how to cure her in any way.  As uncomfortable as that was, I took a close-up of her face and am going to post it here in the hope that some of you perhaps can send this to a doctor you know.  If there is anyone out there who has any ideas on what to do, let me know.  The girl is pretty much confined to her home as she would on one hand be the ridicule of the neighborhood, but even more so, is too light sensitive to stand the light and the sun.  She has lived this way, shunned and kept from view for over 15 years…

She, more than anything else once again reminded me of what to be thankful for!