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Published: 10 April 2021

By Andy Ross

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Discovering Textiles - Sulawesi Banana cloth

The North Sulawesi Province of Indonesia is home to a native species plant, closely related to bananas, and one that has been used to make textiles for wearing and decoration. 

The Abaca plant rejoices in the Latin name of Musa textilis, testament to its use in weaving textiles, and it was this plant to was used to make rope in the 19th Century. Before that the plant was used to create intricate weaving to wear and to make decorative shelters outdoors. The fibres were dyed using natural dyes derived from mangroves, kesumba and the Morinda tree, and the weaving was done on backstrap looms, like this one from South Sulawesi. Once the pieces were woven they were polished using shells; probably, I would imagine, burnishing the fibres to a glossy, silky sheen. 

This short photo essay on Google Arts and Culture shows some of the intricate pieces that were once created. It sppears that the craft of making these is dying out but, now that there is a gathering interest in natural fibres and dyes, perhaps there will be a revival.