Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bark Bag from Manokwari of West Papua

Tropical rainforest of West Papua has been the source of food for the indigenous people for thousands of years. It still plays an important role for the whole earth's inhabitants by converting CO2 emissions into fresh air that we breath everyday together with forests in Brazil, Borneo and other parts of the world.
In recent days, this forest is facing rapid illegal logging. Businessmen come to this island and convert the forest into large palm plantations that only give little benefits to the local people. When an area of the tropical rainforest has been cleared, various species of plants, mammals, birds and insects lose their habitat.
Last week, I and my friend went to the Table Mountain to take some bark for making traditional bags. We had to climb up several steep hills before we could find the tree that we need for making the bark bag. More than a century ago, tree barks were used by the indigenous Papuan people as textiles. They had not known how to make cotton thread and for making clothes. It was 4 p.m. when we took the bark from a small tree that would regenerate again after its trunk had been cut.
Then we decended from the Table Mountain of Manokwari. While we were in the middle of our way home we found a burnt land in the middle of this protected tropical rainforest which has just been cleared for vegetable patch by a local farmer. The indigenous people usually cut trees and burn them to clear the land of the forest to make it as their farmland. We could not do anything because we were not the forest authority.
Back to the story of bark bag. Arriving at Paul's house, I was given a seat to watch him pounding the bark to spread its fiber and make it tender. He needs three days to process such raw bark into a traditional bag.

As I don't have enough time to wait for that process, Paul asked his daughter to take the already made bark bag. Yes, it looks just a simple bag which the locals don't use anymore in their daily activities. Modern leather bags have replaced the existance of this bark bags which frequently are decorated with attractive ornaments related to local culture.
Writing the profile of Papuan artists who live in Manokwari is one of my ways to promote eco-tourism that is expected to improve their living quality the local people thus discouraging deforestation.

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