- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2009

The evening was supposed to be a tribute to Stanley Ann Dunham, the president’s late mother, but Mrs. Dunham’s baby granddaughter, Savita, wound up stealing the show.

On Saturday evening, the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia — where President Obama spent his early years after his mother married Lolo Soetoro and the family moved to South Jakarta — hosted a gala dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel honoring Mrs. Dunham’s batik collection now on display at the Textile Museum in Northwest. The exhibit, titled “A Lady Found a Culture in Its Cloth: Barack Obama’s Mother and Indonesian Batiks,” continues through Aug. 23.

Batik, woven fabric used as clothing and wall adornment, is a central part of Indonesian culture dating to the 16th century. Mrs. Dunham, as a way of immersing herself in the Indonesian way of life, began collecting and wearing batik in the late 1960s and patronized the batik makers in small villages near her home.

Mrs. Dunham died 1995, and her daughter Maya Soetoro Ng (the president’s half-sister, who was born in Indonesia and speaks the native language) inherited her mother’s batiks and has loaned the collection to museums nationwide as a way of teaching the public about Mrs. Dunham’s “ability to merge cultures.”

Mrs. Ng, who has landed a book deal and will spend the next six months in Washington, was on hand Saturday night with her two daughters and husband to thank the embassy for honoring her mother’s legacy and bringing attention to the beauty of her onetime home.

She took the stage with 1-year-old Savita in her arms. As she stood at the podium, little Savita, showing her uncle’s gift for soaring oratory, cupped the microphone in her tiny hands and squealed with delight, much to the amusement of the crowd.

Little Savita was so loquacious, in fact, that her mother had to pass her off to her husband (University of Hawaii professor Konrad Ng) in order to complete her remarks without interruption.

So, how is Uncle Barack?

“He played with Savita vigorously last night around the dining room table, ” Mrs. Ng told G2 during the gala’s predinner reception, adding that the president’s little niece seemed to be mesmerized by her uncle’s “visage.”

When G2 asked Mrs. Ng, who will turn 39 on Saturday, if she and the president ever engaged in sibling bickering or fighting as children, she explained that because of their age difference, her big brother took on a more “paternal and nourishing role.” She conceded, however, that she could sometimes be “incorrigible” to deal with.

Mrs. Ng, who was visible on the campaign trail for her big bro last year, also doesn’t mind indulging in a little nepotism.

“I think he is doing a wonderful job,” she said.

While in town, Mrs. Ng will work on her children’s book, inspired by her mother, called “Ladder to the Moon” while her husband will be a scholar-in-residence at the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American program.

A little nepotism can only go so far, however. It has been confirmed that she and her family will not be living at the White House.

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