Members of the Sikh community in New Zealand and around the world are finding creative and cross-cultural ways to reuse the cloth they previously discarded and burnt after religious ceremonies, thanks to an idea born in Takanini, South Auckland.
“We have managed to find a unique solution on what to do with the holy cloth without hurting anyone’s sentiment and in a way that sees different communities acknowledging and respecting others’ faiths” says Supreme Sikh Society New Zealand spokesperson Daljit Singh.
Rumala sahib are intricate fabrics, of which hundreds are offered up as altar cloths every month.
The cloths are used in religious ceremonies for "a few minutes" and up to several hours, before being packed away to be burned.
The Takanini temple alone was burning around one tonne a year, releasing more than 3.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
However, a world-first partnership has been developed between the Sikh community and a group of retired Cook Islands women.
The Sikh community around the world had for a long time been trying to work out how the holy cloth could be reused without upsetting anyone.
The issue arose in conversations between the temple and a team of social entrepreneurs from South Auckland, who facilitated the “upcycling” plan through their contacts in the area.
The Supreme Sikh Society of New Zealand now donates the fabric to a number of local organisations, including the group of Cook Island women, to be used in products used by the wider community.
“What we are trying to do is give it a new life, save it from burning it. I call it recycling," said Ms Teariki, of the Cook Islands Ta'okotai'anga Vainetini community group.
Around 200 women, including a group from the Cook Islands Development Agency New Zealand, are using their skills and creativity to give the fabric a second life and showcasing the work based on their own cultural backgrounds.
Five temples around New Zealand are sending their Rumala Sahib to Takanini for re-purposing.
Temples in a number of other countries including Canada, India, British Colombia and Australia are now also participating in the initiative.
“The new works are also being distributed to the wider community, generating a source of income to the families of those involved. An amazing opportunity to create positive outcomes for hundreds of families from different ethnic groups across Auckland,” says Singh.
Another significant bonus of the initiative is the reduction of carbon emissions. On average, the Takanini Temple was burning 1650 litres of petrol worth of carbon emissions.
“This is an extremely good example of how a small, bright idea at community level can make waves all over the world by increasing greater understanding and acceptance between different cultures,” says the Southern Initiative’s Director of Social and Community Innovation Gael Surgenor.
“It means a bond between the Pasifika and other cultures with Sikh communities, a bond of respect and friendship which will continue to grow and flourish.
We see this relationship as a win-win for all those involved, for South Auckland and also for the environment.”
“We are absolutely delighted to be part of this project, which is seeing Cook Island, Samoan, Tongan, Maori and Sikh communities working hand-in-hand to create pieces of art for more and more people to enjoy, respect, and cherish.”
The Cook Islands group is organising an exhibition for October, showcasing Cook Islands creative arts and incorporating material donated from the Sikh community.
- Release/Liam Ratana