Sunday, March 2, 2008

Housing and Batik ... Two Reconstruction Activities in Banda Aceh

Today I have some photos I took some time ago, when Brad Philips was still with the project as our Director.

One Sunday afternoon, Brad and I went out for a walk from our Guest House to the "Rumoh Batik," where an industry is trying to recover from the devastation of the tsunami of December 26, 2004. Here's what we saw!

(For a change, the commentary will FOLLOW the picture instead of preceding it, as in previous blogs.)

On the way to the "Rumoh Batik," we see one of the many reconstruction projects, this one an urban drainage project. We stop and inspect the drain. We can't help ourselves --- we're hydraulic engineers!

A young mother shows off her baby along the way. Her features reflect the centuries of interaction that the Aceh sultanate has had with traders, missionaries, and settlers from Arab, Turkish, African, and European countries.

We pass a newly re-constructed mosque on the way. The gleaming silver dome is typical of many mosques in Aceh.

A close-up shot of the dome reveals the houses of its parish reflected on its shiny surface. Kinda neat!

We come to a fork in the road and take one that takes us to a resettlement area for people whose houses were destroyed by the tsunami. Along the way there, we pass permanent housing being constructed to house these folks.

In the meantime, many folks are still housed in temporary barracks erected in the months following the tsunami. It's three years after the tsunami, and the housing reconstruction program is behind schedule somewhat. (Our project doesn't do housing --- we do water supplies, landfills, roads, ports, and drainage.) Note the satellite dish on the roof above the lady doing her laundry.

The folks seem to be in pretty good spirits, though. Here they wave and pose for me.

But communal housing is still a hassle for the families in the barracks. They have to go to a communal water tank to draw water. The replacement housing for these folks will have running water and all basic infrastructure. Nearly 105,000 houses have been constructed by the government and NGO's, but over 2,200 households still need housing. See the BRR website for more information.

We resume our trek to our destination for the morning, and pass by a construction program administered by the Swiss Red Cross using Swiss foreign aid funds: a boarding school for tsunami orphans. We note the fine quality of reinforcing steel --- deformed bars, highly unusual for here. (Sorry, we can't help noticing!)

We finally reach the un-maintained park in which the "Rumoh Batik" --- batik house --- is located. The park celebrates traditional housing in the various districts of Aceh, but the houses on display are not labeled! We first go into the rather sparse showroom and see various batik items on display.

A man's shirt is on display. The patterns are traditional Acehnese motifs, we are told.

A close-up (click on photo for 1024 pixel version) reveals a pattern change in the middle of the shirt. Again, these are traditional batik patterns. See this website to view some "modern" (non-traditional) batik patterns.

A further close-up reveals that the material is a relatively coarse material (could it be silk? not sure...) that is made locally. The folks in the showroom offer to take us to the workshop where the batik material is being made.

First stop is the stamping operation. Our guide tells us that the tsunami killed most of the experienced batik craftsmen. Today the surviving craftsmen are training a new generation of workers in the hope of reviving the industry.

The stamp ("cap" in Malaysia) is dipped in hot wax and applied to the cloth.

This leaves a wax mask that, taken together, forms part of a pattern. The process is repeated as needed. In this case, I believe, a border is being created.

This is a pattern created completely by stamps. See this website for more photos and text on the stamping batik practice in Malaysia. (The Wiki article, on the other hand, mostly talks about Indonesian batik.)

This woman is applying wax to fine patterns that are drawn by pencil on the fabric. The fabric itself has been dyed purple. The wax is applied by a fine applicator that lets her apply fine dots and lines. She re-fills the applicator from the bowl of molten wax on the stove next to her.

Here you can see the applicator. (The Wikipedia article calls it a canting needle. Whatever!) The hot wax is poured into the hole at the top.

Another craftsman uses the applicator to create a larger-scale pattern in wax.

You can see how the stamped borders and the hand-applied fine patterns go together in the photo above.

We were then shown the loom which is used to create the material on which the batik is created. The weavers were not in residence that day, but the showroom staff showed us the equipment.

The loom sits in a large, mostly empty room next to the wax room. There is a battery of spools that feed the loom. The hope is that the industry will rehabilitate itself to the extent that the room (and others like it) will be full of weavers and wax craftsmen.

I rather liked the rack of spools... it makes a neat photo!

Being a Sunday, there was no dye-ing activity going on in the "Rumoh Batik" either. Dyeing is done in these racks located under the traditional houses, which are typically built on stilts. Also stored here were big blocks of wax that are melted and used to create the batik patterns.

We continued outside to see the traditional houses on display. The only one with a label or sign was this building from the "Aceh Besar" district (kabupaten) of Aceh province. It's awfully big to be a house; it's probably what a district official would have lived in.

Another magnificent house...

And another. If they'd only label the houses with some explanations! The whole park was rather overgrown when we went there. Maybe in a few years, there'll be enough funds to re-do the exhibits! In the meantime, efforts are going into housing and basic infrastructure... first things first!


busymum100 said...


The guy printing the block reminds me of my 1975 trip to the batik factory in Kota Bharu :-)

Acheh's batik is unique. I wish you have more pix of them.

And, thanks to you, now I know Noor Arfa has its own website :-)
And with online shopping facilities too? Not bad...

Your last posting from Acheh? I guess you are really leaving? Don't know why, but I kinda feel sad. Our only correspondent in Acheh is leaving? Soon, I can no longer refer to you as "our friend in Acheh" :-(

busymum100 said...

Please go to my comment page of the "Kemubu" blog. My friend has asked you a couple of questions :-)


naim said...

Took a while (especially after the 'accident' at our web-host), but 1st part of our recent Aceh trip is now up. Pls visit:


busymum100 said...


More reply on my Kemubu blog :-)

I hope you'll have another blog when you've left Acheh. We will eventually know where the next destination will be, right? ;-)

Howard said...

Sabariah, I think there'll be one more blog from here.

You know, your SM Sains blog inspires me to start one using old photos from the 1975-1978 Peace Corps days.

Noah, formerly of Malsingmaps, also keeps bugging me to dig up old 1975 Kuantan photos (where we did our 10-week Peace Corps language/culture training before we report to our positngs)...

We'll see!

Naim, great photos!

Justin said...

Reminds me of a trip we took to some batik printers in Malaysia. Was it Penang? I really don't remember.

Howard said...

Justin, if it was a Dalat School trip, it would have been in Penang (didn't know they made Batik there), but otherwise, Mom or I took you to Che' Minah's factory in KB.