Rattan (Calamus sp.) thrives in the forest gardens of Pilang Village. The vine climbs into the trees and hangs from the upper branches in the elongated shape of a hosepipe. According to Mury Isa (63 years old), a resident of Pilang Village, the vine is ready for harvest even when it is still protected by its green and splendidly thorny skin.
Although the plant does grow wild in the forest, most residents of Pilang Village also cultivate good varieties in their traditional rattan gardens. Mury says she just takes the wild rattan seeds and plants them in her rubber plot: “Just spread them around in the plot, you don’t need fertilizer, the rattan will still grow.” To ensure the quality of the cane, Mury only cuts the older, ripe rattan climbers. According to her, it takes about six or seven years for a rattan vine to grow long and thick enough to be harvested.
Mury swings her machete, and cuts the base of a vine that hangs from an old rubber tree branch. Harvesting rattan in this way is called ‘manetes’ and involves first cutting the vine, and then gradually stripping the sheath off while pulling it from the trees.
Mury’s left hand gripped one end of the vine tightly. Her right hand skillfully handled the machete to peel away the thorny skin. Once she could handle the vine safely, she pulled at it as hard as she could. She continued to peel the dangerously thorny skin away, making the clean white cane visible on the inside.
Having harvested several vines, Mury brought the canes to her house for the second step (maruwih) of polishing the rattan. For this, she uses a special piece of bamboo that is tied tightly to a tree for stability. She also wears special gloves to hold the rattan. “If you’re not careful, your palms will get hurt when you pull on the rattan,” said Mury.
Mury inserted one end of the cane into the bamboo pole. Then she pulled each length of cane through the bamboo hole repeatedly, until the outer layer was polished clean. After polishing them, the rattan canes looked ivory white in colour. The appearance of the cane was much cleaner now.
Harvesting, stripping and polishing semi-finished rattan in this way has provided a sustainable livelihood for Dayak villagers across Kalimantan for many generations. But sadly, the size of the local market as well as the local price for this product have both dwindled greatly since Indonesia banned the export of semi-finished rattan in 2012.
Mury is one of the few remaining rattan weavers in her village, but if she does not intend to use the cane herself, she will just sell it to middlemen for IDR 215,000 per cane. In fact, she says that not many people are willing to weave rattan any longer.
“Adults prefer to sell rattan direct to middlemen, and teenagers are no longer interested in weaving rattan,” said Mury. “Most people in the village will just sell the semi-finished rattan rather than taking the time to make it into woven products like me,” she said.
Splitting of the white rattan cane is followed by dyeing and then weaving
Mury is highly skilled at weaving rattan. She not only weaves traditional motifs but also creates bright colours using traditional methods. “I only use natural dyes from plants in the forest”, explained Mury, “I never use chemical dyes”.
Ibu Mury displaying some of her woven products
In addition to making decorative floor mats, Mury produces bags, wallets, hats and baskets. Prices for her woven products vary between Rp. 100,000 and Rp. 300,000.
Rattan handbags for the export market
Mury sells her products locally, by displaying them at her sales kiosk in her front yard. “Tourists often come to our village and they will stop to buy my handicrafts,” said Mury. Fortunately, her children also help her with sales through social media. That helps her reach local buyers around the City of Palangka Raya and in other areas.
She cannot say how much profit she generates in one month. She weaves without setting any monthly targets. “Once a piece is finished, I immediately place it in the kiosk or pass it over to my children to sell in Palangka Raya,” she explained.