Hanging by a Thread: Natural Metallic Mordant Processes * A

Hanging by a Thread: Natural Metallic Mordant Processes
in Traditional Indonesian Textiles1
School of Plant Biology, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia
People and Plants International, Fremantle, Australia
Yayasan Pecinta Budaya Bebali, Bali, Indonesia
Threads of Life: Indonesian Textile Arts Center, Bali, Indonesia
Institute for Systematic Botany and Ecology, Ulm University, Ulm, Germany
*Corresponding author; e-mail: [email protected]
Hanging by a Thread: Natural Metallic Mordant Processes in Traditional Indonesian
Textiles. Despite the availability of synthetic dyes and the impact of significant religious,
social, and economic change, textile weavers in more remote areas of Indonesia continue
naturally dyed textile production as a living tradition. This paper documents mordant plants in
Sulawesi, West Kalimantan, and nine islands in eastern Indonesia (Bali, Flores, Java, Lembata,
Nusa Penida, Rai Jua, Savu, Sumba, and West Timor). These plants, such as various
Symplocos species, are hyperaccumulators of aluminum compounds. Other plants used as
sources of alkaline ash, of saponifiable oils and fats and for ritual purposes in the dyeing
process, are also recorded.
Di Ambang Kepunahan: proses mordan dengan menggunakan logam dari tumbuhan
dalam pembuatan kain tradisional di Indonesia. Ditengah maraknya pemakaian warna
sintetis serta terjadinya perubahan dalam keyakinan, keadaan sosial dan ekonomi, penenun
di beberapa daerah terpencil tetap memproduksi kain warna alam sebagai sebuah tradisi.
Jurnal ini membahas tumbuhan mordant atau perekat warna serta tantangan yang dihadapi
dalam pemakaiannya di daerah Sulawesi dan Kalimantan serta di sembilan pulau lain di
Indonesia mencakup Bali, Flores, Jawa, Lembata, Nusa Penida, Rai Jua, Sabu, Sumba dan
Timor Barat. Tumbuhan mordant yang dibahas, seperti Symplocos, menganndung zat
aluminum yang tinggi. Tumbuhan lain yang dipergunakan sebagai sumber abu alkali, minyak
dan lemak saponifiable, serta yang dipakai dalam ritual proses mordant juga dibahas dalam
artikel ini.
Key Words:
Natural mordants, oil seeds, Symplocos.
Mordants (from the old French mordre [“to
bite”]) are metallic compounds forming stable
chemical bonds needed to fix dye to textile
threads. Mordants are crucial to the dye process,
ensuring that textiles are colorfast. Centuries
before the development of modern analytical
Received 20 October 2009; accepted 15 May
2011; published online ___________.
chemistry, textiles dyers in South and Southeast
Asia were selecting plants that hyperaccumulate
aluminum (Al) for use as mordants (Mohanty et
al. 1987; this study). Al hyperaccumulation is
now known to be a primitive trait limited to
particular plant taxa (Jansen et al. 2002, 2004).
In Europe, Al–accumulating club mosses were
used as mordants (Ferreira et al. 2004), but plant
use for mordants is not universal. In Peru, for
example, no plants are recorded for use as
mordants; instead, alum from natural deposits is
Economic Botany, XX(X), 2011, pp. 1–19.
© 2011, by The New York Botanical Garden Press, Bronx, NY 10458-5126 U.S.A.
used (Antùnez de Mayolo 1989). Similarly, in
Sierra Leone, West Africa, no mordant plants
were recorded by MacFoy (2004), although this
may be due to mordant species being overlooked,
as we discuss later.
Over 260 years ago, Rumphius (1743)
recorded local ethnobotanical knowledge of the
“alum tree” (aluyn boom or arbor aluminosa, later
identified as Symplocos) used by Indonesian textile
producers. This drew the attention of European
scientists to Al hyperaccumulation in plants for
the first time. Despite early Dutch studies and
extensive academic work on Indonesian textiles
(Hamilton 1994; Maxwell 1990), mordant plants
in Indonesia have not been well documented even
in otherwise thorough descriptions of dye processes (Kajitani 1979). By contrast, plants used for
dyes and tannins are relatively well documented in
Southeast Asia (Burkill 2002; Lemmens and
Wulijarni–Soetjipto 1992). This study focused
on the following questions: (1) Which plant
species are used in natural metallic mordanting
processes in Indonesia? (2) What roles do different
plant species play in these processes? and (3) Why
are certain plants selected for use?
In this study, we worked in four participatory
ways with cotton textile producers. First, local
perceptions of priority species in terms of importance and availability were assessed in a process of
free listing plant species used in textile production,
followed by participatory methods (Martin 1995).
This priority setting was done among a network of
weavers and dyers during two Nusantara Weavers’
Festivals, one on Lembata (2005 with 94 people)
and the other in West Timor (2006, with 98
people). As weavers from 14 language groups on
nine islands were represented, we introduced the
aims of our research and were given a mandate
from weavers for further research.
Second, we worked with weavers to collect
plant specimens and information on the use of
mordant plants. This included ethnobotanical
work between 2005 and 2010 with a Dayak
community near Sintang, West Kalimantan (294
women); Sumbanese weavers from Rindi, East
Sumba (10 women); Lio weavers from Onelako,
Flores (22 women); other weavers from across
Flores (96 people); on Savu (54 women); and
Savunese weavers on the adjacent small island,
Rai Jua (10 women) (Fig. 1).
Plant specimens were sent to the Bogor
Herbarium and the Royal Botanic Gardens,
Kew (RBG) for identification, with additional
vouchers held at the Yayasan Pecinta Budaya
Bebali (YPBB). Analyses of Al content of seeds
and leaves were assessed using the method
Fig. 1. Map showing study sites and the number of species of the major mordant plant genus, Symplocos, in each
island or island group, with the number of endemic species shown in brackets (modified from Nooteboom 1975).
developed by Chenery (1946, 1948). Small
amounts (about 100 g) of crushed plant material
were mixed in a test tube with 1 ml of an
“aluminon” solution. This solution contained
0.75 g ammonium aurine tricarboxylate,
200 g ammonium acetate, 15 g gum arabic,
and 189 ml concentrated hydrochloric acid. All
chemicals were dissolved separately, mixed, and
distilled water was added to make up 1,500 ml
of solution. The test tube was then heated and
held at 100°C for 5 to 10 minutes in a boiling
water bath. Al accumulators can easily be
distinguished from non–accumulators by a
characteristic change of the pinkish “aluminon”
solution, which becomes dark red to crimson
when Al levels are higher than 1,000 ppm
(Jansen et al. 2003).
Third, during the second Weavers Festival,
we produced a poster showing Symplocos.
Copies of the poster were distributed to 30
weaving groups, as many weavers had never seen
Symplocos trees. The poster resulted in reports of
Symplocos trees from localities previously
unknown to formally trained botanists. Finally,
by working in an inter–disciplinary team, we
combined knowledge of ethnobotany, plant
chemistry, and experiments in the YPBB dye
studio to gain a better understanding of mordant
plant processes.
Results and Discussion
Across many cultures, traditional cotton
textile dye processes demonstrate local people’s
sophisticated knowledge of natural product
chemistry. Every traditional textile is the result
of this knowledge, combining the skills
required for tying, mordanting, and dyeing
cotton prior to weaving. Although there is
variation in ritual processes and in species used,
natural mordant processes observed in weaving
communities across Indonesia generally have six
steps in common.
Step One. Cotton threads prepared for
textile weaving are soaked in a mix of water
and wood ash. Preferred species for this ash
include Sterculia foetida L. (fruit shells) and
Ixora coccinea L., Schleichera oleosa Merr. or
Tamarindus indica L. (wood), though any wood
ash will suffice. This alkaline lye scours the
cotton threads, removing dirt and waxes as well
as opening the threads for water wetting. The
threads are then dried.
Step Two. Oil from seeds of selected plant
species is added to a bath of wood ash lye (Table 1).
This saponification step is the first of two stages
where mordant plants may be added. In eastern
Indonesia, the most commonly available oil is from
Aleurites moluccana L. (Willd.) seeds, although use
of seed oils from Pangium edule Reinw., Schleichera
oleosa, and Sterculia foetida seeds is also widespread
(Table 2). In Ende (Central Flores), the process of
crushing A. moluccana seeds to produce oil is called
nggapi feo. During the oiling stage of the threads
called pusi mina, bits of organ–pipe coral (Tubipora
musica L., locally known as watu waka) are used.
Dayak weavers in Kalimantan perform the most
complex oiling process studied during the ngaos
ceremony. Oils are obtained from multiple sources:
Rancid coconut, oil seeds from trees in the
Achariaceae (Hydnocarpus and Pangium edule), the
Cardiopteridaceae (Gonocaryum calleryanum Baill.
[Becc.]), the Euphorbiaceae (Aporosa species,
Elateriospermum tapos Blume), the Santalaceae
(Scleropyrum wallichianum Arn.), and three members of the Cucurbitaceae (the rainforest climber
Hodgsonia macrocarpa Cogn. and two cultivated
species, Cucumis sativus L. and Lagenaria leucantha
Rusby). In addition to these seed oils, small
amounts of fat from ritually important animals
are used: Monitor lizards (Varanus species), fresh–
water turtles (Amyda cartilaginea), chickens, fish
(Ophiocephalus micropeltoes), and snakes. According
to one Dayak weaver, crocodile fat was used in the
past, but was generally avoided due to its extreme
ritual potency.
Step Three. The cotton threads are repeatedly
soaked in the oil–water mix. In many cases, textile
weavers mix fresh leaves or whole plants (Table 2)
with the seed oils (Table 1). As we later discuss,
enzymes in these plants probably cause lipolysis
and inter–esterification of seed oil fatty acids.
These enzymatic processes work within a narrow
temperature range—a reason why oiling is a cool
process. Some weavers also add bark to this mix. In
the Ayotopas Amanatun area of West Timor, for
example, bark from Casuarina junghuhniana Miq.
(Casuarinaceae) or if this is not available, hau niko
(a Trema species (IMM A41), Ulmaceae) is added.
Step Four. The cotton threads are dried. The
unsaturated fatty acids from the drying oils
Damar (IA)
Gamas (Ib)
Kenuling (Ib)
Elateriospermum tapos (W)
Jatropha curcas (D, I)
Cocos nucifera (D, I)
Scleropyrum wallichianum (W)
Schleichera oleosa (W)
Kesambi (In)
Kelampai (Ib)
Largenaria leucantha (I)
Aleurites moluccana (D)
Perenggi (Ib), Labu air (In),
Karobu (Kam), Labu lente (Mad),
Labu ayer, (J), kukuk, (Su), Sambiki
(Ma), frangi (Mal)
Feo (Li), fenu (U), gelo (S), kawallu,
kawilu (Kam) kemiri (In), tingkih (B)
Gonocaryum calleryanum (W)
Cucumis sativus (D)
Hodgsonia macrocarpa (W)
Gaos (Ib)
Mentimun, entimun (Ib)
Tengka (Ib)
Canarium vulgare (W)
Dangkuk (Ib)
Kepayang (Ib), Palliak
(K), kluwak (In)
Kenari (In)
Hydnocarpus (W)
Pangium edule (D, W)
Local Name(s)a
Rancid endosperm
Part used
Bali (Nusa Penida), East Sumba
(Kambera, Rindi), Lembata
(Ile Ape, Wulondoni),
West Timor (Amarasi, Belu)
Lembata (Ile Ape)
West Kalimantan (Sintang)
West Kalimantan (Sintang)
Bali (Nusa Penida), Central Flores
(Ende), East Sumba (Kambera,
Rindi), Flores (Maumere), Lembata
(Ile Ape, Wulondoni), West
Sulawesi (Kalumpang),
West Timor (Amarasi, Belu)
West Kalimantan (Sintang)
West Kalimantan (Sintang)
West Kalimantan (Sintang)
Borneo (Iban)c, West Kalimantan
(Sintang), West Sulawesi (Kalumpang)
Flores. Although recorded by Koji
(2002) we have not observed the
use of this seed oil in 10 years
of fieldwork.
West Kalimantan
West Kalimantan (Sintang)
West Kalimantan (Sintang)
Species (W = wild,
D = domesticated,
I = introduced)
Table 1. PLANT
IMM 35,
IMM 32,
IMM 34,
Voucher #
Savu, East Sumba (Kambera,
Rindi), Flores (Maumere), Lembata
(Ile Ape, Wulondoni), West
Timor (Amarasi, Belu)
Sterculia foetida (W)
Nitas (In)
Part used
Local Name(s)a
Species (W = wild,
D = domesticated,
I = introduced)
Table 1. (CONTINUED).
(A Amarasi, Am Ambonese, B Bali, Ib Iban, IA Ile Ape, In Indonesian, J Javanese, K Kalumpang, Kam Kambera, Ke Ke’o, L Lamalera, Li Li’o, Ma Manado, Mad Madura, Mal
Melayu, Ng Ngad’a, Sa Savu, S Sikka, Su Sunda, U Uab Meto).
Bali: Bedugul, Nusa Penida (Balinese), Flores: Ende (Li’o), Bajawa (Ngad’a), Maumere (Sikka), Nangapanda (Ke’o), Detukeli (Li’o); Lembata: Wulondoni (Lamalera), Ile Ape
(Ile Ape); West Sulawesi: Kalumpang (Kalumpang), Sumba: Wangameti, Rindi, Parailiu (Kambera); West Kalimantan: Sintang (Iban), (West Timor: Amarasi (Amarasi), Belu,
Boti (Uab Meto).
Christensen (2002); Gavin (2004).
Voucher #
present in seeds used (Table 1) combine with
oxygen to form an elastic layer around the cotton
fiber when the oiled threads are laid out to dry.
Excess oil removal is very important; otherwise
the red dye process fails. This is similar to the use
of sulfonated castor oil or olive oil in 19th and
early 20th century processes to produce “Turkey
Red” for use in dyeing with alizarin from Rubia
tinctorum L. (Jacobs 1881).
Step Five. Root bark from Morinda citrifolia
(or from a range of Morinda ethnospecies) is
pounded and squeezed into water, forming an
anthraquinone–rich dye bath. Leaves or bark
from mordant plants are then added (Table 3).
Plant species in three families are recorded being
used, with use of Symplocaceae the most widespread (Table 3). Use of some Euphorbiaceae
(Aporosa and Baccaurea species) was probably
more widespread in the past, continuing in Bali
and Kalimantan today, while use of bark from
Xanthophyllum species as a mordant is limited to
Kalimantan. Also restricted to Borneo is the use
of Al–rich seeds from plants in four plant families
(Scleropyrum wallichianum [Santalaceae]), Hydnocarpus sp [Achariaceae] [IMM 41], Elateriospermum tapos [Euphorbiaceae], and Hodgsonia
macrocarpa [Cucurbitaceae]). Use of Aporosa,
Baccaurea, Hydnocarpus, and Xanthophyllum bark
in addition to Al containing seeds may also be the
reason why Al–rich leaves of the Symplocos
(emarik), while locally available, were traditionally
not used in Kalimantan. Gonocaryum calleryanum (Cardiopteridaceae) seed oil is also used in
Borneo, but when we tested the seeds, they did
not contain aluminum. In the Maumere area of
Flores, bark from rawamatan (Gomphandra
mappioides Valeton (Stemonuraceae) (IMM 60)
is also added, but the Al content of this bark is
currently unknown.
In Boti, West Timor, two possible mordant
sources are tree “ethno–species” closely related
in local folk taxonomy (nobah noo mutu and
nobah noo naek). These are respectively from
genera in two different plant families: The
Rutaceae (Glycosmis sp.) and Meliaceae (Aglaia
sp.). These are not included in Table 3,
because, based on independent mordanting
processes conducted by one of our team
(IMM)—a Balinese expert dyer, we are uncertain whether they truly are mordants. We
suggest that an additional mordant, undisclosed by local dyers, may be used as well.
Talim Baun (S)
Mat Bisra (U)
Tatook (U), wannga kuli,
wangga kulu, (Kam),
wunu kole (Li),
widuri, biduri (D)
Hau Manus, Besese
Parsonsia species (W)
Calotropis gigantea (I)
Leea indica (W)
Neoscortechinia sp. (W)
Hyptis suaveolens (I)
Hau Absa (U)
Macaranga sp. (W)
Bnafu (U)
Carica papaya (D, I)
Momordica charantia (W)
Scabiosa sp. (D, W)
Hau Mewa (U)
Rubare’e (Li)
Padu (S)
Waripaita (Kam)
Mbulung Kauku
(Kam) Bia Luken (U)
Ilex species (W)
Meke’ Taki (Li)
Local Name(s)a
Leaf, stem
Leaf and stems
Leaf and stems
Whole plant
Part(s) Used
Crushed leaves mixed in with A.
moluccana during the oiling
process (sese may be the
name of a person) (R Koro)
Mixed with A. moluccana seed oil
Mixed with A. moluccana seed oil
Used with A. moluccana seed oil.
In Timor also used in the
indigo process
Crushed leaves mixed in with A.
moluccana seed oil during the
oiling process
Crushed leaves mixed in with A.
moluccana oil during the
oiling process
Mixed with A. moluccana or
S. oleosa oil
Crushed leaves mixed with A.
moluccana oil during the
oiling process
Leaves chopped up and mixed
with seed oil.
Mixed with A. moluccana oil.
Mixed with pre prepared oil of
(Aleurites moluccana) and
(Schleichera oleosa)
Mixed with A. moluccana seed oil
West Timor (Belu)
Central Flores (Ende)
West Timor
(Belu and Looneke)
Flores (Maumere)
East Sumba (Rindi)
East Sumba (Rindi),
West Timor
West Timor (Amarasi)
West Timor
East Sumba
(Kambera, Rindi)
West Timor (Belu)
Flores (Maumere)
Central Flores (Ende)
Species (W = wild,
D = domesticated,
I = introduced)
Table 2. PLANT
IMM 28,
IMM 66,
IMM 64,
Kadati 13
IMM 61
WDK 006/
IMM 90,
IMM 85,
IMM 30
Voucher #
Scleropyrum species (W)
Capsicum annuum (D)
Datura fastuosa (D, I)
Uat Ninka (U)
Mahang (L)
Ngadembo (Li)
Leaf, stem
Part(s) Used
Mixed with A. moluccana
seed oil
Mixed with A. moluccana
seed oil
Mixed with Aleurites moluccana or
Schleichera oleosa oil
Mixed with A. moluccana or
S. oleosa oil
Crushed leaves mixed in with A.
moluccana seed oil
Crushed leaves mixed in with A.
moluccana oil during the
oiling process
Mixed with pre prepared
oil of A. moluccana or
S. oleosa
Central Flores
(Ende), West
East Sumba
(Kambera, Rindi)
East Sumba
(Kambera, Rindi)
West Timor (Belu)
Central Flores (Ende)
Central Flores (Ende)
Voucher #
(A Amarasi, Am Ambonese, B Bali, Ib Iban, IA Ile Ape, In Indonesian, J Javanese, K Kalumpang, Kam Kambera, Ke Ke’o, L Lamalera, Li Li’o, Ng Ngad’a, Sa Savu, S Sikka, Su
Sunda, U Uab Meto).
Bali: Bedugul, Nusa Penida (Balinese), Flores: Ende (Li’o), Bajawa (Ngad’a), Maumere (Sikka), Nangapanda (Ke’o), Detukeli (Li’o); Lembata: Wulondoni (Lamalera), Ile Ape
(Ile Ape); West Sulawesi: Kalumpang (Kalumpang), Sumba: Wangameti, Rindi, Parailiu (Kambera); West Kalimantan: Sintang (Iban), (West Timor: Amarasi (Amarasi), Belu,
Boti (Uab Meto).
Sterculia foetida (W)
Walabunggur (Kam),
Kecubung (In)
Ronggu (Kam)
Jasminum sp. (W)
Cabe (In), Koro (Li)
Fatoua pilosa Gaud,
Laka Toba (Li)
Lawsonia inermis (D, I)
Local Name(s)a
Species (W = wild,
D = domesticated,
I = introduced)
Table 2. (CONTINUED).
Lobha wawi (Ke)
Luaba (Kam)
Symplocos sp. (W)
Symplocos sp. (W)
Symplocos odoratissima (W)
Symplocos fasiculata (W)
Lai (Ng)e, lait (Kepo,
Waerana, Razong, Rembang)e,
lobha wawi (Li), luaba
we (Kam),
Berih (J), hafu-hafu (Simalur??)c,
jirakf, jirak sasah (Su)c, jirek,
jirek prit, jirek wulu (J)c
Jirak, jirak sapi, sasah
(Sudanese), kandueng
Loba manu (Ke)
Symplocos cochinchinensis
var. cochinchinensis (W)
Symplocos cochinchinensis
var leptophyllad (W)
Symplocos cochinchinensis
var. lucidac (W)
Symplocos cochinchinensis
var phillippinesis (W)
Emarik (Ib)
Jangau tebalang (Ib)
Jangau bara (Ib)
Kepundung (B),
menteng (J)c
Rukam hutan (In)
Local Name(s)a
Leaf, bark, used in
Batik industry
Leaf, bark, used in
Batik industry
Leaf (Detukeli),
Bark (Wangameti)
Leaf, bark, used in
Batik industry
Leaf, bark, used in
batik industry
Traditionally not used
Inner bark
Inner bark
Part(s) Used
& comments
Central Flores
East Sumba (Tanarara)
West Java, Central Java,
Central Flores (Detukeli),
East Sumba
Central Flores
West Kalimantan
Borneo (Iban)
West Kalimantan (Sintang)
West Kalimantan (Sintang)
Bali (Tenganan)
Sarawak, Borneo (Iban)
Borneo (Iban)
Symplocos cochinchinensis (W)
Symplocos adenophylla
Aporusa nitida (W)
Aporusa species
Aporusa species (W)
Baccaurea racemosa (D, W)
Aporusa basilanensis (W)
Aporusa confusa (W)
Aporusa frutescens (D)
Species (W = wild,
D = domesticated,
I = introduced)
Table 3. PLANT
Gavin (2004),
Heyne (1987)
6, RBG
Burkill (2002)
Christensen (2002)
Christensen (2002)
Lemmens and
(1992), Gavin (2004)
Christensen (2002)
IMM 21
Voucher number
or reference
sp. (W)
sp. (W)
sp. (from Alor) (W)
sp. (W)
sp. (W)
sp. (W)
spicata (W)
Xanthophyllum lanceatum? (W)
Lobha wawi (Ng)
Lobha manu (Ng)
Kokaw (IA)
Laulolo, romlolo (L)
Empag (B)
Leha (Am)
Jirak, jirak sasah
(Su), jirek (J)
Jangau upak (Ib)
Local Name(s)a
Leaf, bark
Part(s) Used
& comments
West Kalimantan
Flores (Bajawa)
Flores (Bajawa)
Lembata (Ile Ape)
Lembata (Wulandoni)
West Bali (Bedugul)
Heyne (1987)
Heyne (1987)
IMM 49
Voucher number
or reference
(A Amarasi, Am Ambonese, B Bali, Ib Iban, IA Ile Ape, In Indonesian, J Javanese, K Kalumpang, Kam Kambera, Ke Ke’o, L Lamalera, Li Li’o, Ng Ngad’a, Sa Savu, S Sikka, Su
Sunda, U Uab Meto).
Bali: Bedugul, Nusa Penida (Balinese), Flores: Ende (Li’o), Bajawa (Ngad’a), Maumere (Sikka), Nangapanda (Ke’o), Detukeli (Li’o); Lembata: Wulondoni (Lamalera), Ile Ape
(Ile Ape); West Sulawesi: Kalumpang (Kalumpang), Sumba: Wangameti, Rindi, Parailiu (Kambera); West Kalimantan: Sintang (Iban), (West Timor: Amarasi (Amarasi), Belu,
Boti (Uab Meto).
Heyne (1987).
Listed in Nooteboom (1975) as Symplocos cochinchinensis var. leptophylla.
Verheijen (1990).
Gavin (2004).
Species (W = wild,
D = domesticated,
I = introduced)
Table 3. (CONTINUED).
We know of only two cases in which lime is
added during the oiling process. In Ende
(Flores), the pink organ–pipe coral (Tubipora
muscia) is used. In Kalimantan, traces of lime
and a few leaves of Dichapetalum timoriense
(DC.) Engl. are added to the ngaos process.
Step Six. Finally, after dyeing, the threads are
dried. In most cases, they are then re–dyed with
fresh Morinda material and mordant until the
desired color is achieved, the exception being in
Ende (Central Flores), where pounded Morinda
root from the previous dyeing may be combined
with freshly pounded root bark. Ende dyers also
use an additional final hot dye process called jaka,
which over–dyes the Morinda red to a brown–red.
The principal dye materials are sliced roots of
Caesalpinia sappan, Morinda citrifolia, and other
Morinda species mixed with Symplocos cochinchinensis (Lour.) S. Moore leaf powder (Fig. 2).
The principal dyes found in Morinda roots are
morindone and its rutinoside morindin, which
are closely related to alizarin (found in Rubia
species). In Indonesia, as in the Pacific Islands
(McClatchey 2003), local people recognize a
diversity of growth forms and chemotypes in the
Morinda citrifolia complex. Some of these are
harvested for use and dye; others are not. All are
anthraquinones and have a phenolic hydroxyl
group adjacent to the carbonyl (C = O) group of
the anthaquinone system. This moiety is called a
chelate ligand, which reacts with the Al mordant
from the Al hyperaccumulator plants to form a
“dye lake,” a coordination compound that is
precipitated on the cotton fibers. Cotton fiber can
be 97 percent cellulose (Kettering and Conrad
1942). Both the pH of the solution and the
ligand type influence the bonding process with
cellulose (Kongdee and Bechtold 2009). However, Indonesian traditional textile dyers seldom
add an alkaline agent to the vat and, in practice,
the morindin lake is mildly acidic.
Studies on Al–hyperaccumulating plants, oil
seed fatty acid chemistry, and plant lipases
Fig. 2. a. The ngaos ritual is central to the mordanting process used by Dusun Dayak weavers in Kalimantan.
b. Cotton threads covered in A. moluccana seed oil and fragments of Carica papaya leaves during the oil process,
prior to drying and oil oxidization (Waimatan, Lembata).
provide very useful guides to oil seeds (Table 1),
to plants commonly added to seed oils (Table 2),
and to mordant plants (Table 3). All the genera
we recorded as mordants are Al–hyperaccumulating
species, defined as plants accumulating more than
10,000 ppm of aluminum in dried leaf tissue (Jansen
et al. 2002). This study also provides new records of
Al–rich (>10,000 ppm) seeds used in the mordant
process from five plant families (S. wallichianum
[Santalaceae]), Hydnocarpus [Achariaceae] [IMM
41], E. tapos [Euphorbiaceae], H. macrocarpa
[Cucurbitaceae], and Gonocaryum calleryanum
[Cardiopteridaceae]) (Table 1). New records of
Al–hyperaccumulating species used as mordants
(Aporosa species [IMM 37], Hydnocarpus, Xanthophyllum, and several Symplocos species) are given in
Table 3.
Oil Seeds: The Importance of Unsaturated Fatty
In eastern Indonesia, oils used for oiling
textile threads are traditionally from Pangium
edule, Sterculia foetida, and Schleichera oleosa
seeds. On islands such as Flores and Sumba,
use has shifted to Aleurites moluccana seed oil,
now abundant due to widespread cultivation. In
West Kalimantan, however, Dayak weavers
continue to use oil seeds from cultivated
Cucurbitaceae (Cucumis, Lagenaria) and oil
seeds from rainforest trees (Hydnocarpus, Elateriospermum, Gonocaryum, Hodgsonia, Pangium,
and Scleropyrum). This raises an important
question as to why more common oil–seed
sources were not chosen. Given the commercial
oil–seed harvests of “illipe nuts” from at least 20
species of Shorea (Dipterocarpaceae), why is
there no use of illipe oil in the mordant process
in Borneo as these mast–fruiting dipterocarps
produce abundant seed oils in huge quantities?
In contrast, species chosen for oil–seed use (S.
wallichianum, Hydnocarpus, E. tapos, and Hodgsonia macrocarpa) have much lower fruit production per hectare.
We suggest that dyers avoid using Shorea seed
oils due to their high levels of saturated fatty acids
and unsaponifiables that makes them unsuited to
oiling cotton skeins. Preferred oil seeds are from
species containing high levels of unsaturated (free)
fatty acids. Most seed oils used to oil cotton
threads during the mordant process contain four
types of unsaturated fatty acids. First are mono–
unsaturated fatty acids, typically oleic acid, in
seeds of Aleurites moluccana (Ako et al. 2005) and
Pangium edule (Andarwulan et al. 1999). Oleic
acid, best known from Olea europaea seeds (olive
oil, or cis–9–octadecenoic acid), was used to oil
cotton threads during mordant processes in
Europe. Also within the cis–monenoic acid group
is palmitoleic acid, commonly found in animal
fat, so it is likely to be in the chicken, fish,
monitor lizard, turtle, and snake fats used in
Kalimantan. Cyclic unsaturated fatty acids, such
as sterculic acid from Sterculia foetida seed oil,
which contain a cyclopropene moiety, are rarer.
Second are polyenoic fatty acids (or polyunsaturated
fatty acids), typically linoleic and linolenic fatty
acids in seeds of Euphorbiaceae (A. moluccana)
(Ako et al. 2005), Cucurbitaceae (Cucumis, Lagenaria, and probably Hodgsonia) (Chisholm and
Hopkins 1964), and P. edule (Achariaceae)
(Andarwulan et al. 1999). Third are acetylenic
fatty acids, characterized by santalbic and stearolic
acids in the Santalaceae. On the basis of other
studies on Santalum seed oils (Jones et al. 1999),
we suggest that these form the major component
of Scleropyrum wallichianum seeds. In contrast,
scleropyric acid, a mono–unsaturated fatty acid
recorded from S. wallichianum stems (Suksamrarn
et al. 2005) is probably in S. wallichianum seeds in
minor amounts.
No Random Choice: Why Are Plants Mixed
with Seed Oils?
As shown in Table 3, our study recorded
textile weavers mixing fresh leaves or whole
plants into seed oils (Table 1, Fig. 2b). Adding
leaves from Amaranthaceae (Achyranthes), Apocynaceae (Calotropis, Parsonsia, Tabernaemontana), Euphorbiaceae (Claoxylon, Macaranga,
Neoscortechinia), Santalaceae (Scleropyrum), and
chopped leaves from Caricaceae (Carica papaya)
is a deliberate choice that we suggest is made due
to their enzyme content, such as oxidizing
enzymes (Onslow 1921) and lipases. This has
gone unnoticed in previous studies on traditional
textile production. We suggest textile weavers
select plant species that cause lipolysis (the
hydrolysis of triglycerides into free fatty acids
and glycerol). Although C. papaya was introduced to Asia from Central America, Indonesian
textile weavers commonly add it to cotton
threads covered with A. moluccana seed oil.
The effects of C. papaya extract and latex as
biocatalysts in lipid modification and synthesis
have been studied in detail (Foglia and Villeneuve
1997; Palocci et al. 2005). Experimental
studies have shown that enzymes in C. papaya
and C. pentagona Heilborn latex are very
effective and are selective for short chain fatty
acids (Dhuique-Mayer et al. 2001; Villeneuve et
al. 1997). Lipolytic latexes are also known from
latex of some Apocynaceae and Euphorbiaceae
(Palocci et al. 2005). With the exception of the
study on Euphorbia characias L., by Fiorillo et al.
(2007), research on plant latex lipases in the
Euphorbiaceae is poorly studied compared to
research on the Caricaceae. However, unlike
most Euphorbia species, Acalypha, Macaranga,
and Neoscortechnia do not produce milky latex.
Instead they produce a clear exudate. Due to use
of whole Acalypha plants (including their roots)
or chopped Macaranga and Neoscortechnia leaves
in the oiling process (Table 2), we nevertheless
suggest that clear exudates from these Euphorbiaceae either contain lipases or oxidizing
enzymes (or both). These need further study,
with due recognition given to the intellectual
property of the traditional textile weavers concerned. Furthermore, we consider that textile
producers long ago recognized the advantages of
adding chopped plants to the mix when oiling
threads (Fig. 2b), possibly to increase short–
chain fatty acid availability. In Nigella sativa L.
seed oil, lipases cause enzymatic hydrolysis,
increasing free acid content by 40 percent or
more (Üstun et al. 1990). These outcomes
increase the efficiency with which cotton threads
are coated in seed oil before drying and oil
Mordants: Only the Best Al Hyperaccumulators
In contrast to industrial dye processes, where
metallic salts of chromium, aluminum, tin,
copper, and iron are the main mordants, traditional dye processes depend on Al mordants from
plants or in mud–cloth, metallic salts of iron. It is
no surprise that use of Al–hyperaccumulating
plants as mordants is widespread in Indonesia.
First, because the Symplocaceae have the highest
Al levels recorded in plants. Second, mud dyes
produce duller colors than Al mordants. Third,
mordanting cotton threads in mud in any
quantity requires dyers to take the cotton threads
away from the household to an area with iron–
rich muddy swamps, where they need to be left
for two nights. Mordanting at home using
Symplocos rather than mud is more convenient
and secure, and avoids the ritual potency of
swamps. A final reason for using Al mordants
may be because, as Kajitani (1979) points out,
iron mordanted cotton threads start to break
down and are weakened due to the catalytic effect
of iron oxidization.
We postulate that in the past, many more
Symplocos species were used. Fewer are used today
due to the loss of local knowledge about natural
dye processes. Most of the world’s 250 Symplocos
species could probably be used as natural mordants. There are several reasons for these suggestions. First, all Symplocos species tested in the
YPBB dye studio are excellent mordants. In
practice, it is unlikely that all would have been
used, as some species are rare or in inaccessible
forests (or both). Second, Jansen et al. (2002)
found that 141 of 142 Symplocos species they
tested (99.3 percent) qualified as Al hyperaccumulators. Third, the highest levels of Al found in
any plant materials are from the genus Symplocos,
with 72,240 ppm recorded in Symplocos spicata by
von Faber (1925), a mordant species used in Java
(Table 3).
Our study also raises several questions. In the
following section, we try to answer these questions on the basis of current information on plant
chemistry, noting that definitive answers require
further studies on the chemistry of mordant
plants and processes. First, why are mordants
sourced from only three plant families when
Jansen et al. (2002) document that Al hyperaccumulation is found in 45 families? We suggest
that natural mordants are only sourced from a few
plant families due to the much higher aluminum
levels in these three families and in the species
selected within them. Textile weavers have
certainly selected plant species that are the most
efficient Al accumulators, storing aluminum at 10
times higher levels (i.e., >10,000 mg/kg) than the
baseline level used to define Al–accumulator
plants by Jansen et al. (2002). Based on this
prediction, it is possible that in the past, when
natural textile weaving thrived, the following
genera were used as mordants in addition to
those we have recorded: Helicia (Proteaceae), such
as Helicia javanica Blume and Helicia serrata
Blume in the Asia–Pacific region, Miconia (Melastomaceae) in tropical Africa and the Americas,
Polyosma (Grossulariaceae) in South and Southeast Asia, and Vochysia (Vochysiasceae) in tropical
America. In addition, it is tempting to predict on
the basis of their high Al levels (Jansen et al.
2003) that several genera in the Cardiopteridaceae, Icacinaceae, and Rubiaceae families have
been used in the past by textile weavers across the
tropics. We suggest that of the plants in the
Rubiaceae, weavers may have used Craterispermum
in tropical West Africa and Madagascar, Coccosypselum and Faramea in tropical America, and
Coptosapelta in Asia. In the Cardiopteridaceae, we
consider that Heyne’s (1987) record of kayu loba
(which he thought may be Stemonurus), is
probably Gonocaryum, a genus where 11 of 14
species tested (79 percent) are Al hyperaccumulators (Jansen et al. 2002). We also suggest that in
South America, textile dyers may have preferentially used bark more than leaves, as Al hyperaccumulators in the Memecylaceae (Memcyclon,
Acisanthera, Henriettea), Melastomaceae (Miconia),
and Voschsyiaceae (Qualea, Vochysia) have higher
Al levels in their bark than their leaves.
Second, given that copper metallic salts make
good mordants and some plant species are copper
hyperaccumulators (Baker and Brooks 1989),
why are there no records of their use as mordants?
The apparent lack of use of copper accumulating
plants may be due to a combination of restricted
distribution of these species or low availability of
copper salts affecting the value of these plants as
Third, why are no Symplocos species traditionally
used as mordants by Dayak dyers when we know
the local Symplocos species (emarik, IMM 33) is an
excellent mordant? This is puzzling for two
reasons. One is that Kalimantan has the highest
diversity (and highest endemism) of Symplocos
species in Indonesia (29 Symplocos species, compared to just four species in East Nusa Tenggara
[Fig. 1]). The second reason is that Symplocos
(emarik) is more common in the forests of Sintang
than any of the Aporusa or Xanthophyllum used as
mordants. Heppell (1994) points out that in Iban
society, the ritual potency of the mordant process
restricts this practice to older women. We suggest
ritual belief systems may have conservatively
restricted women to traditionally use bark from
Aporusa and Xanthophyllum, preventing experimentation with a wider range of species, such as
Symplocos. This may have occurred because Symplocos (emarik) was considered inauspicious as its
Al–rich leaf mulch suppresses rice growth in
swidden agriculture systems.
Fourth, why have no Melastomataceae been
recorded as used as mordants in Indonesia when
they seem to be good candidates for selection by
local dyers? The second highest aluminum levels
recorded in plants occur in the Melastomataceae
(66,100 ppm in Miconia acinodendron leaves
[Chenery 1948]). Several genera share the same
habitats in Indonesia as Symplocos. From field
observation, these Melastomataceae also share a
common characteristic of Symplocos and Al hyperaccumulators in several other plant families in the
yellow color of their dried leaves. This is due to a
reaction between the flavonoids and aluminum
compounds in the leaves (Nooteboom 1974) and
is a useful visual cue for local people. One reason
may be the relatively low Al levels in Clidemia,
Melastoma, and Memecyclon compared to South
American Miconia species.
A final and puzzling question is why our study
did not record any Rubiaceae used as mordant
plants in Indonesia? The Rubiaceae family contains 32 percent of all Al–accumulating plant
species recorded (Chenery 1948) and is a source
of traditional dyes from the Gynochtodes, Morinda, and Psychotria species. The same question
could be asked across the tropics, where textile
traditions are widespread, such as in West Africa,
Asia, and tropical America. Burkhill (1997) and
MacFoy (2004), for example, mention use of
Craterispermum laurinum Benth. as a yellow–
brown dye in West Africa. This species is known
to have natural aluminum levels exceeding
36,000 mg/kg, the highest in the Rubiaceae
family (Jansen et al. 2003), and so may have
been used as a mordant.
Selection of Species with Symbolic Significance
Red thread for traditional textiles is difficult and
time–consuming to produce, so textiles with red
color were worn as a sign of status. Mordants are
crucial to the production of colorfast natural red
dyes. Ritual processes are closely linked to mordanting. Red flowers are often added to red dye baths to
“evoke the spirit of red.” Common sources are
flowers from Erythrina variegata L. (Flores), leaves
of Clerodendron squamatum Vahl (Flores and
Kalimantan), fruits from garden plants such chiles
(Flores, Sulawesi), or in Kalimantan, in a communal ceremony (ngaos) (Fig. 2a), use of Hibiscus and
Bougainvillea flowers.
Hot–cold classifications are widespread when it
comes to foods, health, ritual practices, and color
symbolism. We suggest three reasons why hot–
cold classification applies to the mordant process.
One. Although most mordant practices are
cold in terms of temperature, the process is hot
with ritual potency. This is a reason why only the
most accomplished women weavers (some only
from a particular lineage), are capable of leading
the ngaos ritual. Status within a community is
commensurate with this skill. In Sabah (Malaysian Borneo), for example, Iban women who were
skilled dyers had ritual status:
Skill at dyeing, or at least the preparation of the
mordant, was what set one woman apart from other
women, and all women apart from men. As women’s
work of the highest ritual order, dyeing was
recognized as of the greatest importance in the
designation of the consummate master weaver as a
woman tau uar, tau ngakar (who can dye and
prepare the mordant) (Heppell 1994).
In Sabah, the whole ngar ceremony took 10
to 15 days and was performed in June–July or
December–January (Linggi 2001). The similar
ngaos ritual we observed in Kalimantan is much
shorter, probably due to religious change. In
both cases, women who were able to measure
the ingredients for the mordant of the ngar and
ngaos rituals were held in special esteem and
considered gifted with the spiritual power and
the knowledge necessary for leading the complex ritual. The necessary skills are passed
down from mother to daughter, or given by
the ancestors through dreams, or passed to an
unrelated student by a teacher possessing the
necessary protective amulets (Linggi 2001).
Two. The use of a high diversity of
Zingiberaceae (Table 4) may have less to do
with their active ingredients, as suggested by
Christensen (2002) and more to do with their
conceptual role as “hot” foods (and medicines).
Three. The use of red flowers and chiles may
relate to the fact that while two of the symbolic
color triad, white and black, are “cold” colors, red
is a “hot” color.
Symplocos Use and Trade: Tying Up Some Loose
Indonesia has had trade links with India for
centuries. Barnes (1989) points out that, based on
the derivation of kapas, the word used for cotton
throughout Indonesia (from the Sanksrit karpasa),
cotton (Gossypium spp.) arrived from India. We
also suggest that this link to Indian trade and
textiles also extends to Symplocos, commonly
called lobha, luba, or luaba in eastern Indonesia.
In India, several Symplocos species, including S.
racemosa Grah., are known as lodhra (in Sanskrit,
Bengali, and Marathi) or lodhar (Gujarati).
Although our study has raised additional
questions, we have been able to answer two
intriguing questions raised by Barnes (1989) in
her authoritative study on Lamalera textiles. We
also provide botanical details on a controversy
about the ngar process in Dayak–Iban textile
production. The first question relates to the
source of aluminum used by textile weavers on
Lembata. Barnes (1989) suspected the aluminum
mordant might have come through the use of clay
dye pots. These pots are made in Nualela from
local clay mixed with fine volcanic earth. The
second question is the identity of the “roman tree”
that Barnes (1989) observed was added as dried,
powdered leaves during the dye process on the
neighboring island of Solor, speculating on the
basis of a study by Kajitani (1979) that it was
“likely to be the source of aluminum needed in the
mordant combination such as Symplocos fasciculata.” It is clear from our fieldwork that the
mordant source in Lamalera (and neighboring
villages) was from Symplocos leaves rather than
clay pots. Leaves from this Symplocos species,
locally called romlolo, were regularly collected
30 years ago on Mt. Lebalekang for local use
and trade by villagers living an hour’s walk from
Lamalera. Based on this name and historical trade
patterns, we suggest that the “roman tree” leaves
that puzzled Barnes (1989) on Solor came from
this Symplocos species.
Based on discussions with textile weavers and
Symplocos harvesters and traders on Flores, Lembata, Savu, and Sumba, there is no doubt about
the long history of inter–island trade in Symplocos
leaves, often “branded” by being wrapped in
Symplocos bark. In addition, because weaving
takes place in households on the coastal fringes
of islands and Symplocos is from montane forests,
Symplocos is featured in ritual exchange networks
between the coast and the mountain areas where
traditional (adat) villages are located. The value
placed on Symplocos leaves in the contemporary
cash economy, in historical barter economies, and
in ritual exchanges reflects the value placed on
this tree genus by weavers. In Lamalera, in the
1960s, just three Symplocos leaves could be
bartered for six cobs of maize. Today, in Ende’s
market (Flores), a glass full of powdered, dry
Symplocos leaves (70 leaves weighing 50 g) sells for
Karabitang (K)
Winggir (Kam)
Temu lawak (In)
Kenchur (J)
Lia (Ib)
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (D, I)
Areca catechu (D, I)
Piper betle (D, I)
Clerodendron squamatum
Alpinia officinarum (D)
Boesenbergia aurantifolia (W)
Cucurma domestica (D)
Cucurma zedoaria (D)
Kaempferia galanga (D)
Zingiber officinale (D)
Sembika (Li)
Keu (Li)
Nata (Li)
Pucuk (IA)
Aju kare (Sa), blata (S),
dedap (Li), neansa, nenas
poat (U), puho
(L), walakeri (Kam)
Flower, rhizome
Flower, seed
Seed: ritual food
for the ancestors
Bark, Flower
Part(s) Used
Ritual use before beginning to dye.
Ritual use before begin dye process
as offering along with areca,
lime and tobacco.
Red flowers invoke the spirit of red
during over dye (Jaka) hot process.
Worn by dyer during ngaos
during oiling process.
Ritual: ginger as a source
of “warming”
Ritual: food for the ancestors,
colours the rice yellow
Ritual: evoking the spirit of red
Ritual use before begining
the oil process (Ngaos)
Red flowers invoke the spirit of
red during over dye
(Jaka) hot process.
West Sulawesi (Kalumpang)
East Sumba (Kambera,
Rindi), Borneo (Iban)c,
West Kalimantan (Sintang)
Borneo (Iban)c
Borneo (Iban)c
Borneo (Iban)c
Borneo (Iban)c,
Central Flores (Ende),
West Kalimantan (Sintang)
Central Flores (Ende),
East Sumba (Kambera,
Rindi), Flores (Maumere),
Lembata (Wulondoni),
Savu (Seba), West
Timor (Belu)
Lembata (Ile Ape), West
Kalimantan (Sintang)
Central Flores (Ende)
Central Flores (Ende),
Borneo (Iban)c
West Kalimantan (Sintang)
(A Amarasi, Am Ambonese, B Bali, Ib Iban, IA Ile Ape, In Indonesian, J Javanese, K Kalumpang, Kam Kambera, Ke Ke’o, L Lamalera, Li Li’o, Ng Ngad’a, Sa Savu, S Sikka, Su
Sunda, U Uab Meto).
Bali: Bedugul, Nusa Penida (Balinese), Flores: Ende (Li’o), Bajawa (Ngad’a), Maumere (Sikka), Nangapanda (Ke’o), Detukeli (Li’o); Lembata: Wulondoni (Lamalera), Ile Ape
(Ile Ape); West Sulawesi: Kalumpang (Kalumpang), Sumba: Wangameti, Rindi, Parailiu (Kambera); West Kalimantan: Sintang (Iban), (West Timor: Amarasi (Amarasi), Belu,
Boti (Uab Meto).
Christensen (2002).
Lia (Ib)
Erythrina variegata (D, W)
Padi (Ib, In)
Oryza sativa (I, D)
Local Name(s)a
Species (W = wild,
D = domesticated,
I = introduced)
Table 4. PLANTS
the equivalent of 50,000 rupiah/kg ($5.00 per
kg), compared to rice, which sells for 5,000
rupiah/kg ($0.50) in the same market.
As discussed earlier in this paper, the ngaos
ceremony in Kalimantan (known as ngar in Iban
communities in Sarawak [Malaysian Borneo]) is a
ritually potent, complex process requiring a high
level of skill. As this process is culturally equivalent
to headhunting by men (Gavin 2004), ngar has
received considerable attention by textile experts
and anthropologists (Gavin 2004; Heppell 2006),
but less so by botanists (Christensen 2002).
Based on the species used as mordants (Table 3)
and the diversity of oil seeds used during ngaos
(Table 1), we suggest mordant plants are used
during the ngar ceremony. These include known
bark from Al–hyperaccumulator plants, such as
Aporusa basilanensis Merr., A. confusa Gage, and
A. nitida Merr. (Christensen 2002); jangau upak
bark (Linggi 2001; see Table 3); and Xanthophyllum bark supplemented by Al–rich seeds from E.
tapos, G. calleryanum, H. macrocarpa, and S.
Habitat loss most seriously affects the forest
tree species used as mordants and oil–seed
sources. Most mordant species are wild harvested.
In East Nusa Tenggara, Symplocos species are only
found in remnant montane forests above 600
masl. In West Kalimantan, plant species producing oil seeds are rapidly declining due to logging
for their timber (E. tapos, Euphorbiaceae) and due
to forest clearing for rubber and oil palm
plantations (S. wallichianum [Santalaceae], G.
calleryanum [Cardiopteridaceae], and H. macrocarpa [Cucurbitaceae]). In central Flores, some
forest patches with Symplocos are less than one
hectare in extent, in one case, with just 30 trees
remaining due to agricultural expansion and the
spread of A. moluccana agroforestry systems. In
other places, Symplocos populations are larger, but
have been affected by destructive harvest for a
commercial inter–island trade, due to a “quality
assurance” practice of packing Symplocos leaves
within a roll of bark. Shifting away from bark
harvest to use for wrapping dried Symplocos leaves,
coupled with community–based resource management plans, is necessary to sustain these plant
resources and their associated knowledge and
textile traditions for the future.
Whether demand for a plant resource can be
sustained or not depends on the extent of the
demand versus the supply as well as the intensity
and frequency of harvest (Cunningham 2001).
Fast growing plant species with a wide distribution whose leaves, flowers, or fruits are harvested
for local demand is much easier to sustain than
destructive harvest of slower growing habitat–
specific plant species. Although some Symplocos
species such as emarik (IMM 33) grow at low
altitudes (c. 40 masl), most are found in higher
altitude forests (generally above 600 masl),
including Symplocos cochinenchinesis, S. buxifolia
Stapf., S. deflexa Stapf., S. johniana Stapf. and S.
zizyphoides Stapf.
There is hope, however. Over the past four years,
the high value of dried fallen Symplocos leaves has
provided an entry point into our work with a local
community in Ende regency to undertake a
community–based forest conservation initiative in
the largest—and one of the last—remaining forests
on Flores. The fact that this forest is rich in S.
conchinchinensis and other useful plants is providing a key incentive for community forest
management (YPBB 2008). This initiative is
making good progress and has received regency–
level political support under Indonesia’s forest
decentralization policy.
Many communities from across the Indonesian
archipelago wish to modernize and achieve
material progress while maintaining the integrity
of their traditional culture and individual, family,
and clan identity. Within the Indonesian province of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT), where
most of our fieldwork was conducted, 130,000
women or 10.2 percent of those aged 15 to
70 years old and 45.8 percent of all villages
continue to practice weaving (Anon 2003), with
an estimated 13,000 women still making natural–
dyed traditional textiles. The 50 members of the
Sanggar Bliran Sina cultural cooperative in Sikka,
Flores, for example, do not see modernity and
tradition as an either–or choice. They maintain
their music and dance traditions and have
developed cooperative textile sales worth over
$20,000 a year, which is equivalent to more than
the Provincial per–capita Gross Regional Domestic
Product (GRDP). This is an example of how a
strong export and tourist–based market can support
economic development and local cultural aspira-
tions. For members of the Bou Sama Sama
cooperative in Ende (Flores), the sale of natural
rather than synthetically-dyed textiles can improve
hourly income by over 370 percent. Even without
an export trade, local demand can support the
continuity of the textile arts. In Atadei on the south
coast of Lembata, bride–wealth textiles sell within a
village for Rp 3 million to Rp 4 million ($300 to
$400) each while highest status textiles in Ile Ape
can cost as much as Rp 30 million ($3,000) on the
local market. In Bajawa, Flores, community members will pay Rp 2.5 million to Rp 3.5 million
($250 to $350) for a Lawo Butu beaded ceremonial
textile. In all these three cases—Ile Ape, Atadei,
Bajawa—local prices are higher than the international market value chain will bear and are very high
when compared to a Provincial per–capita GRDP
in 2007 of Rp 4.3 million ($430) (BPS 2008).
Through working with textile weavers in
Indonesia we have been able to record local
knowledge of mordant plants that is being lost in
other parts of the tropics. While industrial
mordant processes are centered on chemistry,
traditional dye processes have to deal with
chemistry, cultural requirements, and resource
management. In terms of plant chemistry, textile
weavers select the most appropriate plant species
for their ash, oils, or natural sources of mordants.
In addition, symbolic and ritual steps, often with
long historical roots, including those linked
through oral histories to particular plant species,
also need to be carried out correctly. Quite
literally, plants and their chemistry, culture, and
ritual are bound together in each woven cloth.
We are grateful to all participants at the two
Nusantara Weaver’s Festivals, with special thanks
to Tamu Rambu Hamueti (Rindi, Sumba); Ita
Yusaf, Zailani Aksa, (Ndona, Flores); Kornelis
Ndapakamang (Labanapu, Sumba); Veronika
Kanyan (Sintang, Kalimantan); Yohanes Beda
(Tapobali, Lembata); Marta (Malolo, Sulawesi);
Daud Mangalatung and Nurhayati Masika (Sulawesi); Willi Daos Kadati (Kupang, Timor);
Rosalia Bubu (Belu, Timor); Robert Koroh
(Amarasi, West Timor); Eu Rosina Dane
(Mehara, Savu) and Obo Tede Dara (Seba, Savu).
Thanks are also due to Rogier de Kok, Brian
Schrire and Tim Utteridge, Dick Williams, Jack
Cannon, Kate Weatherley and Roy Hamilton.
We would also like to thank The Ford Foundation, CIFOR and People and Plants International
for their financial support.
Literature Cited
Ako, H., N. Kong, and A. Brown. 2005. Fatty
acid profiles of kukui nut oils over time and
from different sources. Industrial Crops and
Products 22:169–174.
Andarwulan, N., D. Fardiaz, G. A. Wattimena,
and K. Shetty. 1999. Antioxidant activity
associated with lipid and phenolic mobilization
during seed germination of Pangium edule
Reinw. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry
Anon. 2003. Analisa Potensi Desa di NTT.
National Bureau of Statistics, Jakarta, Indonesia.
Antùnez de Mayolo, K. 1989. Peruvian Natural
Dye Plants. Economic Botany 43:181–191.
Baker, A. J. M. and R. R. Brooks. 1989.
Terrestrial higher plants which hyperaccumulate metallic elements: A review of their
distribution, ecology and phytochemistry. Biorecovery 1:81–126.
Barnes, R. 1989. The ikat textiles of Lamalera: A
study of an eastern Indonesian weaving tradition. Brill, Leiden.
BPS. 2008. Selected Socio–Economic Indicators of Indonesia. Badan Pusat Statistik,
March 2008.
Burkhill, H. M. 1997. The Useful Plants of West
Tropical Africa, Vol. 4. Kew Publishing, Kew,
Burkill, I. H. 2002. A Dictionary of the
Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula,
Vols. I and II. Ministry of Agriculture
Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.
Chenery, E. M. 1946. Are Hydrangea flowers
unique? Nature 158:240–241.
——— 1948. Aluminum in the plant world, I.
General survey in dicotyledons. Kew Bulletin
Chisholm, M. J. and C. Y. Hopkins. 1964.
Fatty acid composition of some Cucurbitaceae seed oils. Canadian Journal of Chemistry 42:560–564.
Christensen, H. 2002. Ethnobotany of the
Iban and the Kelabit. Sarawak, Malaysia:
Forest Department and NEPCon, Denmark:
University of Aarhus.
Cunningham, A. B. 2001. Applied ethnobotany:
People, wild plant use and conservation.
Earthscan, London.
Dhuique-Mayer, C., Y. Caro, M. Pina, J. Ruales,
M. Dornier, and J. Graille. 2001. Biocatalytic
properties of lipase in crude latex from babaco
fruit (Carica pentagona). Biotechnology Letters
Ferreira, A., N. Hulme, H. McNab, and A.
Quye. 2004. The natural constituents of
historical textile dyes. Chemistry Society
Review 33:329–336.
Fiorillo, F., C. Palocci, S. Soro, and G. Pasqua.
2007. Latex lipase of Euphorbia characias L.:
An aspecific acylhydrolase with several isoforms. Plant Science 172:722–727.
Foglia, T. A. and P. Villeneuve. 1997. Carica
papaya latex–catalyzed synthesis of structured
triacylglycerols. Journal of the American Oil
Chemists Society 74:1447–1450.
Gavin, T. 2004. Iban ritual textiles. University of
Singapore Press, Singapore.
Hamilton, R. W., ed. 1994. Gift of the cotton
maiden: Textiles of Flores and the Solor
islands. Los Angeles: University of California
Los Angeles, Fowler Museum.
Heppell, M. 1994. Whither Dayak art? Pages
132–134 in P. M. Taylor, ed., Fragile
Traditions, Indonesian Art in Jeopardy. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.
——— 2006. Women’s war: An update of the
literature on Iban textiles. Borneo Research
Bulletin 37:182–92.
Heyne, K. 1987. Tumbuhan Berguna Indonesia.
Vols I– IV. Yayasan Sarana Wana Jaya,
Jacobs, A. M. 1881. Process of manufacturing
oleaginous mordants. U.S. Patent Office letter
245633, 16 August 1881.
Jansen, S., M. R. Broadly, E. Robbrecht, and E.
Smets. 2002. Aluminum hyperaccumulation in
angiosperms: A review of its phylogenetic significance. The Botanical Review 68(2):235–269.
———, T. Watanabe, S. Dessein, E. Smets, and
E. Robbrecht. 2003. A comparative study of
metal levels in leaves of some Al–accumulating
Rubiaceae. Annals of Botany 91:657–663.
———, ———, P. Caris, K. Geuten, F. Lens,
N. Pyck, and E. Smets. 2004. The distribution and phylogeny of aluminium accumulating plants in the Ericales. Plant Biology
Jones, G. P., T. G. Watson, A. J. Sinclair, A.
Birkett, N. Dunt, S. S. D. Nair, and S. Y.
Tonkin. 1999. Santalbic acid from quandong
kernels and oil fed to rats affects kidney and
liver P450. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical
Nutrition 8:211–215.
Kajitani, N. 1979. Traditional dyes in Indonesia.
Pages 305–325 in M. Gittinger, ed., Indonesian
textiles, proceedings of the roundtable on
museum textiles. The Textile Museum,
Washington, D.C.
Kettering, J. and C. Conrad. 1942. Quantitative
determination of cellulose in raw cotton fiber.
Simple and rapid semimicro method. Industrial
Engineering and Chemical Analysis 14:432–434.
Koji, T. 2002. Kemiri (Aleurites moluccana) and
forest resource management in eastern Indonesia: An eco–historical perspective. Asian and
African Area Studies 2:5–23.
Kongdee, A. and T. Bechtold. 2009. Influence
of ligand type and solution pH on heavy
metal ion complexation in cellulosic fiber:
Model calculations and experimental results.
Cellulose 16:53–63.
Lemmens, R. H. M. J. and N. Wulijarni–Soetjipto,
eds. 1992. Dye and Tannin–Producing Plants
(Prosea 3): No 3 (PROSEA—plant resources of
South East Asia). Kerkwerve, The Netherlands:
Backhuys Publishers.
Linggi, D. A. M. 2001. Ties that bind: Iban Ikat
weaving. Tun Jugah Foundation, Kuching.
MacFoy, C. 2004. Ethnobotany and sustainable
utilization of natural dye plants in Sierra
Leone. Economic Botany 58:66–76.
Martin, G. J. 1995. Ethnobotany. Earthscan,
Maxwell, R. 1990. Textiles of Southeast Asia;
Tradition, trade and transformation. Periplus,
McClatchey, W. 2003. Diversity of growth forms
and uses in the Morinda citrifolia L. complex.
In: Proceedings of the 2002 Hawai‘i Noni
Conference, ed., S. C. Nelson, 5–10. Honolulu,
Hawaii: University of Hawaii at Manoa, College
of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
noni5_10.pdf (12 March 2011).
Mohanty, B. C., K. V. Chandramouli, and H. D.
Naik. 1987. Natural dyeing processes of India.
Studies in Contemporary Textile Crafts of
India, Calico Museum of Textiles. H. N.
Patel, Ahmedabad.
Nooteboom, H. P. 1974. Symplocaceae. In: Flora
Malesiana, Vol. 8(1), ed. C. G. G. J. van
Steenis, 204–274. Alphen aan den Rijn, The
Netherlands: Sitjoff and Nordhoff International Publishers.
——— 1975. Revision of the Symplocaceae of
the Old World New Caledonia excepted.
Leiden Botanical Series Vol I. Universitaire
Pers, Leiden.
Onslow, M. W. 1921. Oxidising Enzymes. IV.
The Distribution of Oxidising Enzymes
among the Higher Plants. Biochemical Journal
Palocci, C., F. Florillo, C. Belsito, E. Cemia, and
G. Pasqua. 2005. Plant latex lipases: Physiological role and applications. Recent Research
Developments in Biochemistry 6:87–99.
Rumphius, G. E. 1743. Herbarium amboinense
(Het Amboisch Kruid–boek), Vol. 3, ed., J.
Burmannus. Amstelaedami : Apud Fransicum
Changuion, Joannem Catuffe, Hermanum
Suksamrarn, A., M. Buaprom, U. Udtip,
N. Nuntawong, R. Haritakun, and S.
Kanokmedhakul. 2005. Antimycobacterial
and antiplasmodial unsaturated carboxylic acid
from the twigs of Scleropyrum wallichianum.
Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin
Üstun, G., L. Kent, N. Çekin, and H. Civelekoglu.
1990. Investigation of the technological properties of Nigella sativa (black cumin) seed oil.
Journal of the American Oil Chemists Society
Verheijen, J. A. J. 1990. SVD, Dictionary of
Plant Names in the Lesser Sunda Islands
(Pacific Linguistics Series D–83). Department
of Linguistics Research School of Pacific Studies,
The Australian National University, Canberra.
Villeneuve, P., M. Pina, A. Skarbek, J. Graille,
and T. A. Foglia. 1997. Specificity of Carica
papaya latex in lipase–catalyzed interesterification reactions. Biotechnology Techniques
Von Faber, F. C. 1925. Untersuchungen uber die
Physiologie der javanischen Solfataren–Pflanzen.
Flora 118:89–110.
YPBB. 2008. Pages 1–34 Hasil Lokakarya
Pengelolaan Hutan Adat Tendambepa. Yayasan
Pecinta Budaya Bebali, Ubud, Indonesia.