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Jakarta Post

The charm of Gorontalo'€™s Karawo embroidery

  • Syamsul Huda M. Suhari

    The Jakarta Post

Gorontalo   /   Fri, January 23, 2015   /  11:17 am
The charm of Gorontalo'€™s Karawo embroidery

Flower touch: A craftswoman shows Karawo embroidery motif usually applied on fabrics.

Karsum Dunda still can'€™t believe where fate has taken her. Once a simple fabric-cutter, she now runs her own embroidery business.

For 30 years, the widow with three children worked in Gorontalo as a fabric-cutter at an embroidery center owned by her aunt, Iko Mantali.

Now, the 48-year-old is a businesswoman in her own right, using her wealth of experience to set up her own firm. Naming the company Sumber Usaha Karawo, Karsum'€™s Karawo embroideries have sold so well she is now a homeowner, a car-owner and was able to pay for the wedding of her eldest son, Anwar Nusi.

'€œThank God, I can now afford to employ 100 workers, from [fabric-] cutters and Karawo stylists to embroiderers. They mostly come from our neighborhoods,'€ Karsum said.

Sumber Usaha Karawo is located in Mongolato village in the Telaga district of Gorontalo '€“ the center of the regency'€™s signature Karawo embroidery.

Karawo-embroidered fabrics are priced based on their motifs, material-quality and design technique. An ordinary fabric with a simple motif costs Rp 250,000 (US$20), while silk ones cost Rp 500,000 apiece.

According to a recent study conducted by Bank Indonesia, there are currently about 10,000 Ta Mokaraowa (the local name for Karawo craftsman) scattered across Gorontalo, the majority of whom practice the craft in their spare time after completing work and domestic chores.

Gorontalo'€™s late cultural observer Farhah Daulima once described Karawo as an acronym created by combining three Gorontalo'€™s words.

'€œKa'€, she said, derived from kakaita (intertwined); '€œRa'€ from ranteya (in sequence); and '€œWo'€ from wowoalo (interconnected at the edge of a cloth hole).

A local touch: Karawo embroidery is also used to adorn a fan.A local touch: Karawo embroidery is also used to adorn a fan.
Gorontalo State University sociologist Funco Tanipu Farhah added that Farhah also cited that Karawo embroidery came into form after descendants of the Arab Bani Ba'€™alawi people visited Gorontalo and introduced their native embroidery techniques.

Karawo is also believed to have originated from the words Alawiyah/Alawo/Ayita '€” meaning '€œdelicate linkage'€.

The high price commanded by Karawo embroideries are a function of the high degree of precision demanded by the craft.

First, the cloth has to be cut by a skilled worker, as even the smallest of errors can ruin the whole piece. The fibers are then pulled to make the fabric ready for embroidering.

'€œThe process must be done with accuracy and patience,'€ embroidery maker Selviana Djuba explained. The 33-year-old mother of two has been working as a Karawo fabric-cutter since junior high school, following in the footsteps of her mother, who was also a skilled craftsman. Later, Selviana decided to specialize, becoming a cutter for fine fabrics like silk.

'€œCutting silk is a very delicate job that must be done extra carefully. But it'€™s highly paid,'€ she said, smiling. It takes her two weeks to complete the cutting, which nets her about Rp 1 million. For ordinary fabric, compensation ranges fromRp 5,000 to Rp 50,000.

In addition to being used for official uniforms, Karawo is also made into headscarves, ties, handkerchiefs, fans, shawls and more.

Hoping to lure younger customers, modern motifs, including soccer-club logos, have been included in Karawo designs.

In earlier times, Karawo motifs favored flowers and coconut trees.

The regency administration has been working hard to introduce Karawo to the outside world, holding festivals in each of the past three years complete with exhibitions, carnivals and arts performances.

'€œThrough such activities I hope Karawo will be known, loved and used by people from all circles, especially our community in Gorontalo province,'€ Gorontalo Governor Rusli Habibie said.

He called on government offices, banks and private companies in Gorontalo to wear Karawo clothes at least once a week, officially designating Jan. 23rd as Karawo Day.

Photo by JP/Syamsul Huda

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