TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Bogd Khaan Palace Museum, Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

Petal crown of Bogd Khaan, with gold, silver, pearl, Indian gyasar gold-thread brocade, velvet, early 20th century, Bogd Khaan Palace Museum, Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia.

Petal crown of Bogd Khaan, with gold, silver, pearl, Indian gyasar gold-thread brocade, velvet, early 20th century, Bogd Khaan Palace Museum, Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia.

Well, while Karakorum did not provide much in the field of textiles and dress (see below), a visit to the Bogd Khaan Palace Museum in the Mongolian capital, this morning, was really amazing. The complex, which dates to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, includes a summer and winter palace. While the Summer Palace (being a complex of buildings erected in traditional style) contains mainly religious objects, including appliqués and paintings, the Winter Palace (built in European/Russian style) houses a wealth of other objects, including a large number of gorgeous, and above all very intriguing garments, and not to mention Bogd Khan's personal collection of stuffed animals and some of his coaches (made in England, thank you). The Winter Palace is one of these buildings, rather like Huis Doorn in The Netherlands, where Kaiser Wilhelm spent the last twenty years of his life, or his former palace in Potsdam, where you get the feeling that nothing has changed since the royal occupants left the premises (together with the servants and the maid, who quite surely also took the vacuum cleaner).

Bearing in mind the rumours that the royal occupant of the Winter Palace led a rather debaucherous life (for good religious reasons, of course), this only adds to the atmosphere. The Winter Palace in Ulaan Baatar was occupied by Bogd Khaan until his death in 1924. He was the last of the secular/religious leaders of Mongolia (I will spare you the details). He was actually born in Tibet, and at the young age of four or five taken to Mongolia. Some of the clothes he was wearing when he was taken on this long journey can acually be seen in the museum, together with many of his toys. Most fascinating however are the ceremonious robes and other garments (including hats, boots, jackets etc.) that he wore on various occasions. The museum also contains many of the garments worn by his wife, the Queen Dondogdulam. Much of the original furniture is also there, including a chair on which the Queen used to sit. There is actually a photograph showing the Queen on that chair. Furthermore, rather amusing, two real musical chairs for the royal couple (they actually produced music when people sat down on them), a gift from the Russian tsar.

Willem Vogelsang, 20 September 2015

   

Quick trip to Karakorum, Mongolia

Kharkhorin / Karakorum, with the walls of the Erdene Zuu monastic complex. Photograph: Willem Vogelsang

Kharkhorin / Karakorum, with the walls of the Erdene Zuu monastic complex. Photograph: Willem Vogelsang

I am just back from a brief trip to Kharkhorin, or Karakorum as most people outside of Mongolia tend to know this place. It is the old capital of the Mongol Empire, founded sometime in the early thirteenth century, and destroyed, with great enthusiasm, by the Chinese in the late fourteenth. Just about nothing remains of the place, although recent excavations are bringing to light some intriguing finds. The whole area is now dominated by the huge Erdene Zuu complex, a Buddhist monastic settlement of the sixteenth century surrounded by a white-washed wall. Unfortunately, only a few buildings within the walls of the monastery remain; all the other constructions having been destroyed during the communist purges of the late 1930's (which also killed allegedly some 90000 Mongolian Buddhist monks and nuns). What is really interesting at the site is the new museum that has been built, just outside the former confines of the old city of Karakorum. Funded, and apparently built, designed, and more or less parachuted by the Japanese, it shows a wealth of material and information on the history of the Orkhon valley, of which the former city of Karakorum was only one in a series of ancient capitals. It also shows a model of how Karakorum may have looked like, together with its Buddhist temples, Christian churches and Islamic mosques.

Textile-wise I was especially intrigued by (admittedly, reproductions of) wall paintings that were recently discovered in a nearby tomb dating to the late first millennium AD and showing men wearing the beautiful flowing robes that we often tend to associate with the other Central Asian civilisations, as for instance those of the Sogdians.

A word of warning: it takes, by car, some six to eight hours to drive from Ulaan Baatar to Kharkhorin. But if you want to walk around at a historic place, where Marco Polo may (I stress the ' may') have wandered around, and where around AD 1250 the Franciscan monk William of Rubruck met a woman from Metz in France who had been captured in Hungary, and if you enjoy watching the wide landscape of the Mongolian pastures, it is certainly worth visiting. You can stay overnight in one of the camp sites that seem to have sprung up everywhere in Mongolia, and enjoy a night's sleep in a kher (or yurt). Don't be alarmed when in the early morning an old man or woman stumbles in to light the fire. 

Willem Vogelsang, 20 September 2015

   

Shopping for Kanga's in East Africa

Two women from Zanzibar wearing a kanga. The woman to the right has a kanga with the text "Alaa kumbe", which means something like 'Good gracious me!'. Photograph by Kate Kingsford.

Two women from Zanzibar wearing a kanga. The woman to the right has a kanga with the text "Alaa kumbe", which means something like 'Good gracious me!'. Photograph by Kate Kingsford.

Kangas are large cotton cloths that are worn by women living along the whole of the East African coast, especially in Kenya, Tanzania and on the island of Zanzibar. Their characteristic feature is a short text printed on the cloth. The texts are often funny. They reveal some ' home truths', or they may tell something about the wearer's political opinion, etc. The TRC collection contains many examples of these garments, and in late 2009 / early 2010 the TRC mounted an exhibition on the subject. Below is a blog written by Kate Kingsford, now from Leiden, who is particularly fascinated by kangas and over the years has made a large collection of these marvellous garments:

"Shopping for kangas in Tanzania is always a very social activity. As I searched through the piles of kangas at the market in Moshi, Tanzania, the shopkeeper made tea and helped me decipher the layers of meaning in the messages. My favourite: “Mimi ni pweza mambo yangu hayatoweza”. Literally, this means, “I am an octopus, you can’t mess with my affairs”. Several local women passing the shop were happy to explain why they might wear it - as a warning to another woman who was flirting with your husband, or a way of telling a neighbour to stop spreading dangerous gossip, or perhaps to tell your mother-in-law not to interfere with your family.

Kangas are a way of saying the unsayable, and always open to interpretation. But the Tanzanian elections are only a month away, and political kangas are much less subtle. Fatuma, the shopkeeper, was happy to sell me a dress in the bright red and blue of Chadema, the opposition, but was adamant that I wouldn’t find anything in the colours of CCM, the ruling party for the past fifty years. A little further into the market, however, I came across one small shop decked out in green and yellow, offering discount prices on CCM kangas. A lot of people have bought CCM kangas and Chadema dresses, apparently, but no one is wearing them in the streets; while there is still a chance that the elections will be violent, it’s better to wait to see who wins before flaunting political affiliations. “Keep it for after the election!” warned another woman at the market. Walking home, I followed her advice and wore the octopus kanga with pride.

Kate Kingsford, 20 September 2015

   

Stadskanaal embroidered kerchief, part 4

A little while ago we had a Textile Moment (well several, actually) about a kerchief, donated to the TRC, which had the embroidered signatures of a group of women, an inscription that mentioned Stadskanaal (town), Ons Belang (factory) and two dates, in May and September 1945. In the various blogs it was noted that we were slowly coming to the conclusion that the handkerchief was embroidered by various women in an internment camp for Dutch citizens who had worked with the Germans during the Second World War. The internment camp was located on the premises of the Ons Belang factory. In one of these blogs we identified the swimmer Tony Bijland, who during the war used to compete in various German organised swimming contests and apparently was a member of the Jeugdstorm, the Dutch equivalent of the German Hitler Jugend.

This idea is getting more substance, as one of our student volunteers was able last month (August 2015) to decipher the names of three sisters in one corner of the kerchief. The names are Iskje, Trijntje (?) and Griet, who would be Grietje van der Meulen (1922-2001), Trijntje van der Meulen (1924-2003) and Iskje van der Meulen (1930-1982). Various members of the large Van der Meulen family of Lippenhuizen (Friesland), as is clear from many sources, were actively involved with the NSB (Dutch nazi party before and during WWII) movement in the 1930s and early 1940s. The father of the three girls, Luite van der Meulen (1894-1964), was arrested by the resistance movement in Ureterp, in April 1945 (the same place where he died in 1964). Contemporary reports describe him as a "gevreesd boerenleider".

The kerchief was bought a few years ago in a flea market in Leiden and given to the TRC in 2015, so one of the questions that we had was how did this kerchief get to Leiden? We may have found an answer to this question, the youngest Van der Meulen sister, Martha (who is not mentioned on the kerchief) died in 2008 in Leiden at the age of 77. In 1945 she would have been 14, so perhaps regarded as being too young to be in such a camp, but it is possible that it was via Martha that this kerchief came to Leiden.

Finally, another name on the kerchief can be identified: that of Uta Nieper, who was Uta Maya Ellen Carola Nieper (1916-2006), born in Hamburg, Germany. She died in Gouda, Zuid-Holland, the Netherlands. She married Lukas Jan Pronk (from Emmen, Drenthe; member SS; died in 1994) in Groningen on 22 June 1944. 

An interesting book on the subject is by Koos Groen, Fout en Niet Goed: De Vervolging van Collaboratie en Verraad na de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Hilversum 2009.

Gillian and Willem Vogelsang, 5 September 2015

   

Indonesian batik

TRC volunteer Shelley Anderson’s Textile Moment took place during a recent batik workshop in Yogyakarta, Indonesia: “Batik is everywhere in this city, which has been called the cultural heart of Indonesia. While the shirts and dresses used for daily wear are factory produced, the patterns are based on traditional batik designs. A popular downtown department store offers batik demonstrations and sells supplies; young fashion designers here and in the capital Jakarta incorporate batik into their work.

Batik comes from two Javanese words which translate as ‘to write dots’. This wax resist dye technique was used in ancient Egypt, in China and India, and in Africa. A pattern is first drawn on the fabric. The same pattern is then redrawn with hot wax, applied either with a canting (a small piece of wood with a metal container with a spout attached) or a metal block stamp called a cap. The fabric is then dyed until the desired colour or colours are reached. The wax is removed, either by brushing or by boiling the cloth.

While batik may not have originated in Indonesia, it certainly developed into a highly respected art in Java. A pattern is first drawn on the fabric. The same pattern is then redrawn with hot wax, applied either with a canting (a small piece of wood with a metal container with a spout attached) or a metal block stamp called a cap. There were special batiks used in ceremonies for mothers-to-be, for new born babies, for a ritual when a baby took its first steps, and for the dead. The patterns and colours used in a batik showed one’s ethnicity and status. Certain batik patterns were reserved exclusively for royalty—and royal batiks were among the goods thrown into volcanoes during ceremonies to prevent eruptions. In 2009 UNESCO declared Indonesian batik a part of humanity’s intangible heritage. This textile has quite a history!”

8 August 2015

Photos:

  1. Wife of the Sultan of Yogyakarta giving a speech dressed in batik.
  2. Examples of royal batik from the Kraton (Palace) in Yogyakarta.
  3. Batik demonstration at local department store.
  4. Batik supplies for sale in department store
Wife of the Sultan of Yogyakarta giving a speech, dressed in batik.

Wife of the Sultan of Yogyakarta giving a speech, dressed in batik.

Examples of royal batik from the kraton (palace) in Yogyakarta

Examples of royal batik from the kraton (palace) in Yogyakarta

Batik demonstration at local department store

Batik demonstration at local department store

Batik supplies for sale in department store

Batik supplies for sale in department store

 

   

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Donations

 
Financial donations to the TRC can be made via Paypal; Donaties aan de TRC kunnen worden overgemaakt via Paypal:
 
 

TRC in a nutshell

Hogewoerd 164, 2311 HW Leiden. Tel. +31 (0)71 5134144 / +31 (0)6 28830428   info@trc-leiden.nl

Opening times: Monday to Thursday: 10.00-16.00 hrs, other days by appointment.

Bank account number: NL39 INGB 0002 9823 59

Entrance is free, but donations are always welcome !

Current exhibition: For a few sacks more ...., until 28th June

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Donations

The TRC is dependent on project support and individual donations. All of our work is being carried out by volunteers. To support the TRC activities, we therefore welcome your financial assistance: donations can be transferred to bank account number NL39 INGB 000 298 2359, in the name of the Textile Research Centre, Leiden. Since the TRC is officially recognised as a non-profit making cultural institution (ANBI), donations are tax deductible for 125% for individuals, and 150% for commercial companies. For more information, click here
 
Financial donations to the TRC can be made via Paypal: