Published On:Sabtu, 16 Juni 2012
Posted by AchiyaK Deni

Behind the golden headdress

Wedding march: Young women wearing suntiang take part in a parade. JP/Syofiardi Bachyul Jb 
Wedding march: Young women wearing suntiang take part in a parade. JP/Syofiardi Bachyul Jb

For the brides of Minangkabau in West Sumatra, the suntiang is a weighty matter – literally. These spectacular golden headdresses can weigh up to 3.5 kilograms, and must be worn during the wedding party, which usually runs for a day and a night.
No wonder prospective brides, known as anak daro, approach their wedding day with fear they will not be able to carry the load.
Modern manufacturing methods bring the anak daro some relief. Whereas in the past a big suntiang could weigh up to 5 kilograms, and was put in place piece by piece with pins to secure it into the hair roll – meaning that if a wedding party ran for two days, the bride had to sleep in the headdress – nowadays they are more like hats that can be dismantled.
The artisans behind this elaborate headgear, so distinctive to certain cultures in Indonesia, are to be found not in Bukittinggi city, as is widely believed, but in a village called Pisang Kampung in the Empat Koto subdistrict of West Sumatra’s Agam regency
If most people have never heard of the village, and believe Bukittinggi is the origin of the headdresses, it is because the city is home to most of the shops that sell suntiang.
“Customers only know about Bukittinggi,” says 49-year-old Amzon, usually known as Jon, one of Pisang Kampung’s suntiang manufacturers.
“No customers come here except the shop owners from Bukittinggi. Maybe because this place is remote and not on the main road.”
Pisang Kampung is about eight kilometers from Bukittinggi via Matur. But the suntiang buyers are not just from West Sumatra, Jon said. As Minang people have moved within Indonesia, ethnic Minangkabau weddings are sometimes held in other parts of the country, so buyers also come from Jakarta, Riau, Jambi and North Sumatra. There are also customers who order not Minang suntiang but Batak suntiang – customary in Palembang – or suntiang that adhere to Malaysian customs.
But such buyers never find their way to Pisang Kampung. “They aren’t directed to come here,” Jon said. “We only get orders from shop owners.”
Three families in Pisang Kampung actively maintain small suntiang businesses. As well as from Jon, who works with the help of his two sons and his sister, there are also the families of Edi and Asril.
Jon, who has a junior high school education, started his cottage industry in 1979 by learning from his father, Mansyurdin. He began by making bridal accessories such as earrings, bracelets, necklaces and crowns made from baking pans. Some years later, he turned to making suntiang.
“I don’t know how long the small suntiang businesses have been running,” he said. “What I do remember is that my father and grandmother made these handicrafts, as did some of our neighbors. My understanding is that there was no one else who made them.”
To make the suntiang, mansi, or wires, are bent into shape to fit the head; other wires are then attached vertically. These are installed on a frame of aluminum or zinc, also shaped to the wearer’s head. Then, at least five types of decoration are attached to the wires. The five decorations are called suntiang pilin, suntiang gadang, mansi-mansi, bungo and jurai-jurai.
These decorations, often made from copper, are crafted by another resident of the village, who is a specialist. All in all, Jon needs up to 12 hours to make the biggest suntiang.
The size of the suntiang is measured according to the number of mansi. The biggest suntiang have 25 wires; the next size down has 23 wires. Headdresses with 21 wires are the most commonly used nowadays.
The artisans also make smaller suntiang, which are used by students who take part in Independence Day carnivals and other ceremonies. The 19-wire size is for senior high school girls; the 15-wire size for junior high school students, the 13-wire size for elementary school girls and the nine-wire for girls in kindergarten.
The suntiang are also divided into three types depending on the material used. The heaviest and most expensive, which are still made these days, are manufactured from mansi padang (a mix of aluminum, zinc and brass). Then there are the mansi kantau or the standard headdress, which are now starting to be worn especially by students; these suntiang are made from plastic and are therefore much lighter.
Anak daro also need suntiang accessories, which are made from brass and copper. These accessories are usually made by a specialist, also based in Pisang Kampung.
The suntiang take many shapes, with the standard being semicircular. Special suntiang are made to represent each region in West Sumatra. Among these are the suntiang from Sungayang, Tanah Datar (Flat Land) which favors a crown shape, suntiang kurai from Bukittinggi, suntiang Pariaman, and suntiang Solok, which are built without using wires.
What’s more, Jon said, there are also many new creations in the style of suntiang minang.
Apart from the standard silver color, there are also gonjong, shaped like the roof of a customary house.
“We make them all, even the suntiang that follow the customary designs of Batak, Jambi and Palembang,” Jon said, adding, “In 1990 we got an order to make 150 suntiang to the customary design of Malays in Malaysia.”
For artisans like Jon, the suntiang is a simple handicraft – making them does not involve any mystic rituals or customs, or, as rumored, prayers being said to make the suntiang feel lighter on the head, or to make the wearer more beautiful.
“I have never heard of people who adorn a bride and who follow a special ritual like that, because suntiang are just accessories,” he said, prosaically dismissing the notion. “If the materials are heavy then the headdresses will certainly be heavy on the head.”
Yet although the Pisang Kampung cottage industry supplies suntiang throughout West Sumatra and other regions, financially, the manufacturers are not doing too well, as orders are seasonal.
Students order suntiang in the lead-up to Independence Day, while orders from anak daro increase during the wedding season. There are almost no orders during the fasting month of Ramadan.
The artisans’ average monthly income is only Rp 1 million (US$80).
“The price of the materials keeps going up, but that is the only cost that is factored in when the retail price is increased,” Jon said. “Workers’ wages haven’t risen, so there are many people who used to make the copper suntiang accessories who have instead chosen to go and work in the rice fields.”
The situation is tempting Jon to set up his own shop so he is no longer dependent on the prices offered by the retailers from Bukittinggi. “If I had my own shop the buyers could get the best price and the profit could be much greater.”
But he faces the perennial problem of “getting enough capital”.
Despite the long tradition among the people of Pisang Kampung of making suntiang, to the point where the kampung is at the center of suntiang handicraft manufacture, Jon revealed that the industry had never received any support from the government, at either the regency or the provincial level, or from any other party.
“Maybe this is because this kampung is far away, or because for all this time no one even knew that suntiang are made here,” he said.
The irony of this situation, he pointed out, is that so often it is at the baralek (wedding parties) of the families of government officials that family members glow with pride
because of the suntiang worn by their anak daro.

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Posted by AchiyaK Deni on Sabtu, Juni 16, 2012. Filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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