Sasak Sade | Life in Spools of Thread
This portrait of a Sasak Sade woman has been sitting on my laptop’s screen for weeks now. I am groping for words on how to tell her story. My ideas seem to peter out fast before I can start. I am slaved by the pressure of the blinking cursor.
Should I begin from her wrinkles that have stood as mute witnesses to their labor of the land? Should I start from her drooping lips that narrate the lore of Lombok?
Or should I open from her eyes that paint the story of her people’s vivid culture? So where do I begin?
Sasak Sade: A Tapestry of Stories
“Berem bay khabar?” She greeted me with her toothless smile as I peeked through her door. She waved at me to come in. I stooped underneath its door, customarily built low to remind everyone of respect & humility.
She pulled me a wooden stool & dusted it off with her hands that are obviously calloused by hard work. She rests back on the floor of hardened clay & cow dung.
Stillness momentarily filled the air as faint streaks of light crept from the slits of plaited bamboo walls.
“Look mother, he got one of my newest sarongs.” Her daughter who spoke a smattering of English broke the awkward silence.
I stood up, turned around & proudly modeled it infront of her. She rolled into chuckles & told me I could easily pass up like a native Sasak with my looks.
The Sasak Sade people are known for their exquisite & laborious pieces of handwoven fabrics called nensek. It’s a time-honored craft whose designs & techniques are heirloom trademarks of each family of weavers.
She asked me if I am married. I replied, no. “In our culture, if a lady knows how to weave, she can already marry. Would you be interested to know my grand daughter?”
That was the most hilarious joke I haven’t heard in ages! But I couldn’t help but imagine too that I could build an empire from its rich tapestries (minus the bride, of course) & call myself the Sasak sarong mogul.
“Or you can kidnap her & we’ll marry you off without the daggers as long as you have the fine or the uang adat ready!” Oh heavens, our laughter surely rocked her tiny hut.
In their ancient customs, menfolk from different caste kidnap the ladies to become their brides. This is the reason why men sleep in the lumbung or the balcony to guard their unmarried women from being spirited away.
There are about 700 people in their village & all of them are close relatives because they marry their cousins. This may be incestuous in other societies. But in the Sasak Sade tradition, it is to protect their lineage & property.
Soon after, some young men joined us in the conversation. One blurted out, “if you marry one of our ladies, make sure you’re circumcised.”
Circumcision or nyunatang is a celebration to mark the local boys’ coming of age. They are carried around town on decorated wooden horses & a traditional dance called petuk is performed on this occasion.
Syncretic & Spectacular
To many holidaymakers, the village of Sasak Sade is just like any other tourist traps that litter in vacation spots around the world.
But in a far away place, where emerald islands, chic cafes & bars matter most to tourists, who is there left to tell its people’s story?
Sasak Sade Village is one of the living museums of Lombok’s indigenous art, culture & traditions. Here, its people live their ways of life in the customs that they have grown up with.
Visitors are welcomed with an extravaganza of folk dances, ethnic martial arts & pulsating drum beats from the gendang. But more that it being an entertainment, the pageantry actually shows its opulent past that is unknown to many.
The Sasak community was once intensely feudal. But the invasions of the Balinese & Javanese kingdoms and the beguiling aid of the Dutch constrained the powers of their aristocrats & pushed their peasants into forced labor.
These episodes of struggle eventually led to the bloody puputan rebellion.
Wetu Lima is the predominant religion among the ethnic Sasak. They follow the five tenets of Islam but occasionally syncretize it with indigenous practices.
The Sasak’s religion, art & traditions are traits that they got from the Balinese Hindus & the Javanese Muslims. These are integrated with their pre-colonial customs to form a mosaic of unique cultural identity.
Spinning by a Spool of Thread
After a while, grandma began to offer me some snacks but I already refused because I didn’t have much time left. Instead, I asked if I can take her photograph, to which she gladly granted.
As I was fixing my focus, she mused, “thank you for buying a sarong because this will help us get new threads to spin.” At that moment, I knew she meant more than that. I felt that the small earnings they get from what tourists buy goes a long way to keep them going.
I bade goodbye to them. Grandma poked my belly & said, “yak la low,” a wishful “see you again” that pinched my heart.
Cultural villages are more than just showpieces to the tourists. It actually paints the plight of our indigenous people. It tells us their forgotten stories of love & aspirations.
And just like grandma’s portrait, their lives go on spinning like spools of thread to form a myriad of colorful life patterns.
Check out this short video about the Sasak Sade indigenous people.