Titus Christ Pekey has been known as a noken (traditional Papuan woven bag) campaigner since his successful bid to get the Papuan traditional bags recognized by the UNESCO as one of the world’s objects of intangible cultural heritage on Dec. 4, 2012 in Paris.
Noken was added to the list of objects of intangible cultural heritage from Indonesia after wayang (shadow puppets, 2003), kris (2005), batik (2009), angklung (bamboo musical instruments, 2010) and Aceh’s saman dance (2011).
The struggle waged by Titus, however, isn’t over yet. “The recognition of noken as a world heritage is the beginning rather than the end of our struggle to make noken well known all over the globe, because as a cultural heritage it should be preserved by involving the entire world population,” the 39-year-old pointed out.
Titus has campaigned for the opening of noken museums currently under construction in the provinces of West Papua and Papua. He is also striving for the inclusion of the study of noken as part of primary school curriculum in Papua and West Papua. According to him, noken makers are now mostly senior citizens while younger people are rarely involved, some even completely ignorant of the item.
The Education and Culture Ministry’s directorate general of culture has organized a seminar on noken in the Papuan school curriculum. “It’s now time for Papuan governors, regents and mayors to incorporate the study of noken so that children become familiar with noken from an early age,” appealed Titus.
Titus is also initiating the setting up of noken studios or centers all over Papua. Apart from functioning as noken sale centers, such studios can also serve as training workshops where tourists can also observe the weaving or knitting process of the typical Papuan bags. “Today, noken bags are sold by women on sidewalks,’’ he said.
Titus was born in Wakeitei, Deiyai regency, Papua, on Sept. 19, 1975. The 2008 graduate of Atmajaya University, Yogyakarta, is now a researcher at the Papua Ecological Institute focusing on Papuan cultural and environmental issues. Since his childhood, Titus has used noken to carry his books to school and keep packed rations on long journeys, thus practically serving all purposes of daily activity.
The Papuans living in the central mountain ranges also use noken as portable beds for babies and children. “While traveling or going to plantations, women put their children in nokens and carry them round. I was frequently asleep in the bag till the age of nine,” said Papua Governor Lukas Enembe at the first anniversary commemoration of noken as a world heritage in Jayapura on Dec. 4.
People carrying noken are found everywhere in Papua, including on campuses, in churches and supermarkets. Especially during cultural events, noken bags are mostly used by those present. At the Baliem Valley Cultural Festival held annually in August in Wamena, Jayawijaya, Papua, for instance, nearly all the women attending carried noken as part of their attire.
Noken can also be modified to become head covers and even adorned as clothing. At the meeting of religious leaders, communal figures and government representatives from 16 regencies in the central ranges zone in Jayapura on Dec. 9-12, all female committee members and dancers wore noken along with dresses. Small-sized bags are usually strapped to the body while bigger ones with more stuff are fastened to the head.
The materials for noken crafting vary, notably dried tree bark turned into yarn for knitting, besides the skin of orchid stems. Orchid-based noken can be very expensive, reaching the price range of Rp 2 - 3 million (US$164-246) per bag. The orchid bags are only found in the region of Paniai and its vicinity, and are used only by selected people, mostly being granted as gifts to respectable personalities.
The traditional bags made by most Papuan women are knitted from modern yarn sold in shops. They are easy to obtain and come in a variety of colors, making the price of such noken lower — between Rp 50,000 and Rp 300,000 per bag. The large quantity of noken made from ready-made yarn also worries Titus because the genuine noken from Papua’s natural materials may gradually vanish.
Lince Mote, 26, a noken maker, admitted that it was more convenient to use yarn from shops to weave noken compared to raw materials like tree bark.
“The widespread use of yarn is indeed feared to result in the loss of noken’s philosophical meaning. Bark-based noken bags are transparent, which means openness. Yarn-made bags are tightly closed. This is an inevitable trend, but noken imbued with Papuan culture should be preserved,’’ he added.
Meanwhile, Papua Governor Enembe will issue a regulation stipulating provisions on the protection, preservation and utilization of noken so that the traditional bags will not only enjoy the recognition as a cultural heritage but also become one of the economic resources of the region’s population.
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