Ulap Doyo: Traditional weaving passed from mother to daughter

By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
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The traditional practice of weaving Ulap Doyo – a cloth made from leaf fibers of the Doyo plant (Curcologo latifolia) – has been passed from generation to generation among the female community of the Dayak Benuaq in West Kutai Regency, East Kalimantan province, Indonesia.

It is said that the tradition goes back to the Kutai Kingdom long before the 17th century.

During the Non-Timber Forest Product – Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP) Carnival held at the Waterfront, Kuching, from November 30th to December 4th, Borneo Post SEEDS was fortunate to meet Indonesian weaver Tilita Renata and talk to her about the well known heritage from Dayak Benuaq.

The process

For Tilita who is of Benuaq descent from Kampong Tanjung Isuy of West Kutai Regency, she learnt how to make Ulap Doyo from the older generation in her hometown.

According to Tilita, it is still a common practice among her community to pass down the knowledge of making Ulap Doyo from mother to daughter.


Tilita Renata of Kampong Tanjung Isuy of East Kutai Regency, East Kalimantan

The process of making Ulap Doyo is a long and tedious one, often taking at least a month to complete.

The process begins by collecting Doyo plants and then soaking them in water to soften the leaves before separating the leaves from the fibers.  The Doyo leaves which are a type of pandan leaf, is chosen because of their strong fibers.


During the NTFP carnival, besides the opportunity to see a live demonstration of Doyo weaving by Tilita, visitors also got to purchase some items made out of Ulap Doyo at the NTFP booth such as handbags, purses, clutches and also scarves.


Scarfs made from Ulap Doyo

Scarves made from Ulap Doyo

After that, the fibers which the Benuaq call ‘sniq’ will then be left to dry under the hot sun.

“It depends on the weather. Usually the drying process will take about half a day for the fibers to dry, but if it is a bit cloudy then it will probably take about a day,” said Tilita.


A sniq that has been rolled to form a coarse yarn thread

Once the sniq is dry, it is then twisted and joined to form a coarse thread yarn which can then be used for weaving. The sniq are then coloured using natural dyes and then ready for weaving.

Natural dye

According to Tilita, Ulap Doyo was used to make clothes in the olden days, but in the present, it is common to see the fabric used for other things likes bags and scarves.

“These days, you can see a lot of things made with the Doyo cloth but now it is also common to see it mixed with other types of materials such as cotton and silk,” said Tilita, pointing out that the pink blouse she wore was a combination of Ulap Doyo and silk.

Romawati of NTFP-EP, Indonesia (left) with Tilita

Romawati of NTFP-EP, Indonesia (left) with Tilita

Also accompanying Tilita during the five-day carnival was Romawati of NTFP-EP, Indonesia.

According to Romawati, NTFP-EP, Indonesia has been supporting the Doyo weavers in the doyo weaving industry and has been encouraging the Benuaq community to use natural dye to colour their Doyo materials.

“Among the plants that they use as natural dyes are bekakang, empekay and terujak plants,” said Romawati.

Ulap Doyo is said to normally comes in three colours, which are red, black and light brown. The red is made out of ‘buah glinggam’, ‘kayu oter’ and ‘buah londa’ while black and brown are from ‘kayu uwar’.

A live weaving demonstration by Tilita drew curious crowds to stop and admire her works

A live weaving demonstration by Tilita drew curious crowds to stop and admire her works

Besides being used to make everyday clothing, Ulap Doyo is also worn during special occasions such as rituals and wedding ceremonies.

In the olden days, it was said that the patterns and motif on Ulap Doyo signified a person’s status or social identity due to the existence of the caste system during the Kutai Kingdom governance.

The ‘mount nguku’ motif, for example, was typically worn by a nobleman or those of upper class while the ‘waniq ngelukng’ motif were worn by the commoners.


Motif Udoq

While the tradition of weaving Ulap Doyo is treasured among the Dayak Benuaq community, Romawati said that it is under threat.

The Doyo leaves once found abundantly in Tanjung Isuy grows wild in the area but the growing number of palm oil plantations affects the amount of Doyo leaves available.


Motif Berabang

Nevertheless, Romawat said that more and more of aware of the value of Ulap Doyo. Besides being a cottage industry in Kampong Tanjung Isuy, the material has been gaining a lot of attention from local fashion designers who see the potential of the material as a high end product.

In 2013, the Indonesia’s national education and Cultural Ministry (Kementerian Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan) listed Ulap Doyo fabric as intangible heritages from its national cultures (Warisan Budaya Tak Berbenda Nasional).

A tradition that has been passed from mother and daughter, the ancient practice of weaving Ulap Doyo is more that just a source of income or economy driver, is it a priceless piece of heritage worth preserving for the future generation to inherit.

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