The lontar or palmyra palm is the tree of life on the mountainous, arid islands of Indonesia's Nusa Tenggara Province. Sasak communities on Lombok Island use for the lontar palm for making decorated household storage boxes.
Lontar boxes are made of light wood, bark and split bamboo with the lontar leaves and nassa shells added to the exterior for decoration. Dried palm leaves are strong and flexible with a natural pale yellow surface.
Craftspeople dye them in bold blacks, browns, purples, reds and dark greens and more recently with variegated patterns. These are cut and glued to the surface of the boxes in lively geometric patterns accented with stitched lines of white shells. The boxes are very light and easy to move around, yet they are strong enough to stand on.
They are often made in nested, matched sets which can be stacked in colorful pyramids or rows in the house. The traditional dowry for a bride consists of many hand-loomed textiles. These are stored and carried in the wedding ceremony in lontar boxes.
Different families and villages may specialize in different stagesof making lontar boxes. In central and east Lombok they are a cottage industry. Lontar boxes are a good example of a craft which continues to evolve and change while still retaining its original uses in the Sasak communities of Lombok.
The Sasaks have many other uses for the lontar palm: the juice of this hairy, black trunked palm with a fan of leaves at the top to make a nutritious palm sugar for both themselves and their animals. Local vendors sell a homemade palm wine in the lanes of the villages and towns. The smooth, waxy leaves are used for rain capes, folded into simple containers or dried and made into a papyrus-like writing paper. The Sasak communities are Islamic or Wektu Telu, a form of Islam combined with the earlier Hindu and Buddhist influences and many of these sacred teachings are recorded in lontar palm books.
More photographs and information on lontar boxes
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