On Lumbung (Mirror)

IMAGINE we are on time machine holding on magical chair that’s going to take us to a distant past. As we close our eyes we would land on an old archipelago with myriad cultures. Thousands of islands are connected by the ocean. Sailors of the worlds are waiting for the monsoons wind to reach the isles.

There used to be kingdoms on which most people fed on agriculture. With the help of buffalo or cows, farmers cultivate the lands on an arranged season which pours them enough waters. The reminiscence of crops in the previous reaping was transformed into new seed of paddy.

In one of the islands in the archipelago people believe in a goddess they called Dewi Sri. She was sent by divine to bring fertility on the land on which a palace is built. With the purity of her soul, at the end of her life, on her grave grew advantageous plants like vegetable, and most importantly was paddy.

This belief is embedded in the minds of the many followed by rituals and ceremony. Though in other parts of the archipelago has different stories, most were tied in the same process of farming in which they sow seeds, taking care of the plants, harvesting, and stockpiling the crops for future use.

With harvesting as celebration days, the crops were stored in a barn they call lumbung. It is a wooden architecture with pillars and container in which seeds were preserved sustainably. Who knows, dry seasons might bring ill omen. Who knows, troubles could come anytime. Lumbung become a fortress.

Years later, as modernity is approaching, the archipelago is called Nusantara, also, then, known as Indonesia. Yet, despite it is getting harder and harder to come by, lumbung is still there. The word still familiarly lands on ears of the people. It was also often time taken away from its architectural term.

You’d find the expression like “lumbung cerita” or the barn of stories, “lumbung kebudayaan”, or the barn of cultures. Lumbung as a word, thus, has a growing meaning. What is, then, the meaning of lumbung now? Yet, before the answer follows, another question arises.

What if definition would only limit and confined our perception and understanding? Isn’t it challenging to, sometimes, let the word open like a container, like lumbung itself in which we enrich the meanings, to have our perceptions broadly open so that we could reach far beyond boundaries?

Then, in this sense, we could see lumbung as a metaphor to describe something related to resource which is not necessarily crops, but also, in a broader sense, include, something intangible such as time, energy, networks, creativity, and so on. It is also a concept of stockpiling them for collective goals.

Lumbung, then, become values and ways of working or even living life. In this respect, we could, for instance, learn the practices by indigenous people in a way how they treat the forest as their lumbung. Similarly, people living in a certain maritime culture that has a common place for fish as their resources.

Surely, the practice of collaboration and working for common goals happen in other cultures. For instance, in South Africa we could learn about the practice of ubuntu. In Mali, we could find the maya. Similarly, in Hungary we know the term kalaka. All those practices is related to the metaphor of lumbung.

Translating this metaphor into artistic sphere, as the first collective with the role as artistic director of documenta fifteen, ruangrupa works with artistic team to plan and organize the idea to be manifested in 2022.