Twelve Years in Timor Part 2 – April, 2015
The Mysterious Textile that Opened More Doors Than Expected

The mystery cloth that opened more doors than expected

The mystery cloth that opened more doors than expected

About two months ago a good friend, Lyn Shwaiko, came to the Threads of Life office with a number of old textiles that she wanted to be identified. One textile jumped out for me. Though I didn’t know exactly where it was from, I had a sense I knew: handspun with a bold black centerfield and indigo blue motifs on the side panels made me think immediately of the island of West Timor. We asked if we could keep the textile and bring it with us when we next went to Timor. Our friend readily agreed to lend us this beautiful piece as she knows our work is to revive textile traditions when the opportunity presents itself, and this was opportunity was knocking at the door!
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Savu to Rai Jua

Seas around Timor and Savu are often very calm before the change of monsoon

Seas around Timor and Savu are often very calm before the change of monsoon

Trying to schedule a trip to Savu and Rai Jua islands is always a challenge – the timing needs to be such that it is late enough in the year so that the weavers have completed their textile work but not too late so that we have angin barat (the West Wind) where the seas are so high we cannot make sea crossings.

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A New Rangda Mask for Ubud, Bali

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Pung with the new sacred Rangda mask.

In early April this year I was working at my computer when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Pung, in Balinese temple wear, with a big smile on his face. “”Get dressed,”” he said. “”Come with me to the graveyard!”” What an offer! But over the years I have learned to listen when Pung makes these kinds of urgent suggestions.

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Machi Textiles of Fais Island

Photographs and Original Documentation by Donald Rubinstein and Sophiano Limol

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The island of Fais in the Carolina Islands of Micronesia.

In March Threads of Life presented an exhibition of textiles at the Isla Gallery of the University of Guam. During our time there we were able to meet with Dr. Donald Rubinstein, an anthropologist and faculty of the Micronesia Studies Program. In 2001 Donald along with a young man, Sophiano Limol, proposed a cultural revival program for Yap State in the Federated States of Micronesia. As Sophiano is from the 2-kilometer-long island of Fais in Yap, the important ceremonial machi textile from Fais was chosen as the focus of this revival.

 

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Reviving Textiles of the Batak Toba

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Lake Toba is the largest lake on any island in the world. The lake was formed by one of history’s biggest volcanic eruptions

Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world and home to many ethnic groups speaking more than 50 different languages. Batak is a term that actually includes several ethnic groups found in Northern Sumatra near Lake Toba, and includes the Toba, Karo, Pakpak, Simalungun, Angkola and Mandailing Batak. Each have distinct languages and customs. Historically, local textiles (ulos) have reflected these ethnic differences but today there is much innovation with designs moving across all groups.

 

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Moving Towards a Brighter Future

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Cecilia (right) and Ilda from the Alola Foundation joined Threads of Life’s team to visit Oecusi weavers groups

The Threads of Life team of Wenten, Willy and myself joined our collegues Cecilia, Louis, Ilda and Casiano from the Alola Foundation for a 7-day visit to Oecusi, the small enclave of Timor Leste which is surrounded by Indonesian West Timor. We went to visit weaving groups that Alola is currently working with and to assess how vibrant the traditional weaving arts are.

 

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Threads of Life and the Fundasaun Alola Working together to Revive the Traditional Textiles of Timor Leste

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Fundasaun Alola works with women and children in Timor Leste

Timor Leste is the very poor eastern end of the island of Timor that gained independence from Indonesia in 1999. Fundasaun Alola works with women and children in Timor Leste in the areas of maternal and child health, education, economic development and advocacy. Alola’s motto is “”Strong Women Strong Nation””, to give women a voice for change in the new nation. (www.Alolafoundation.org)

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Savu and Rai Jua Revisited After Ten Years

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The beauty and delicacy of the Savunese women and their textiles

The last time I visited the small islands of Savu and Rai Jua was ten years ago with a group of textile enthusiasts who joined us aboard the Perintis, a buginese schooner designed to bring small tour groups to the outer islands. I have vivid memories of the rich culture we saw: the gorgeous women and their textiles, the delicate dances and enchanting traditional songs. Making the trip to Savu and Rai Jua in May this year was like returning to a dream, as I have carried the memory of these islands in hopes of returning to deepen my understanding.

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