Cooperative production in Bali

A few years ago I visited Bali in Indonesia to see their artisans in action. What I saw was a highly creative and organized industry in what I like to refer to as “Factories under the trees”.

Perhaps what I witnessed was by conscious process design or by some tradition of intuitive cooperation by members of the community. Either way, it was a seamless production process, based on abilities and experience and status.

Wood was delivered in the form of a large trunk of a softwood tree straight off a large truck, onto the side of the road. A leafed branch was put onto the trunk to indicate that people are working on it. I did not see a single vehicle hooting at the inconvenience of a part of the road being obstructed by this huge trunk.

Within minutes the young men pounced onto the tree with chain saws, axes and lever and within a few hours, the trunk was roughly hewn into workable blocks. These blocks were then marked using templates. They then removed the excess wood to reveal the rough shape of cats, ducks, chickens and traditional Balinese characters.

These rough shapes were then passed onto the next level of skilled carvers who added more detail using carving chisels, knives and whatever other tools they had at hand. Once this was done, it was handed over to the older men to add the details and do the quality control.

After the carving process, the blanks were then painted or sprayed by the young boys again. They the added colours for spotted cats, striped cats, calico, etc. Once dried, they were then given to the older women who painted the fine details, like whiskers, eyes and noses.

After this, they were then sealed with a clear mat sealer to preserve the colours. Once finished they were packed into boxes and shipped to countries around the world as well as to their own tourist retail outlets in Ubud, Kuta and Denpasar.

This cooperation extends between mediums, carver carve top to jewellery boxes woven by the palm frond weavers:

This cooperative production line allowed them to production volumes and quality that is export-ready. This is a lesson that would benefit South African roadside carvers, who work in proximity to each other, but as individuals. The result too often is the better quality carvers set the standard and the lesser quality carver set the price. The result is like so many South African rural artisans, carving themselves into poverty. This is perhaps why after the research which I was part of with the Institute of Natural Resources, CSIR Environmentec and the Centre of Indigenous Knowledge of the University of Pretoria, found that rural artisans considered their craft as a last resort. They would rather have a job in a resort or in town, than carve or weave as their sole livelihood.

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