The Revitalization of Traditional Textiles in Timor

Timor has more diversity of traditional textiles than other islands where Threads of Life works

Timor has more diversity of traditional textiles than other islands where Threads of Life works

The island of Timor and particularly West Timor is perhaps the most prolific in the production of a wide variety of traditional textiles that are still used today for rituals and ceremonies. “The diversity of color and types of textiles is what keeps my interest in working with weavers on this island,” says Wenten. “Although Threads of Life has worked for many years in West Timor we are still finding small enclaves of weavers making types of textiles tha we haven’t seen before.” Wenten reflects on some of these new areas in this report.
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Revitalizing the Textile Culture in Tapobali, Lembata

After five years, the weavers of Ina Tula Tani have revived the tradition of weaving their natural dyed kreot nai juan textiles.

After five years, the weavers of Ina Tula Tani have revived the tradition of weaving their natural dyed kreot nai juan textiles.

After five years of support by Threads of Life and the Bebali Foundation, the Ina Tula Tani community group of weavers in Tapobali on Lembata Island has successfully revived their natural-dye textile tradition. The weavers are very pleased and are eager to continue to improve their skills of spinning cotton and refining their natural dyes to achieve even higher quality!  This is really remarkable as they had to learn to spin cotton and make natural dyes as well as plant all of these resources starting from nothing.

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New Products and Livelihoods for Timor

A few of the members of the Nek Mese weaving group.

A few of the members of the Nek Mese weaving group.

On this trip to Timor I went with a very specific purpose: to look for non-cotton fibers that are growing in the communities we currently are working in that may be used for a new product. We decided to start in Bokong, Amanatun, where we have a good working relationship with not only the weavers but their husbands, as this new product would most likely be one that the weavers husbands would make.

 

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A Month of Ceremonies In Tenganan

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The village street of Tenganan Pegeringsingan.

Tenganan Pegeringsingan is a well known village in Bali, best known for the famous double-ikat geringsing textiles. Every year from mid-June there is a full month of ceremonies called Ngusaba Sambah during which the women and men of the village are often dressed in their finest traditional costumes.

 

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Threads of Life Long Term Commitment to Reviving Traditions

An antique textile from Helong used as a point of discussion in reviving the Helong textile

An antique textile from Helong used as a point of discussion in reviving the Helong textile

Threads of Life began to work with a few weavers in Bolok, West Timor, in 2008. These weavers are ethnically referred to as Helong from the old kingdom on the nearby island of Semau. The kingdom of Helong fell to the Timorese kingdom or Amarasi during the Dutch times. While most Helong people now  live not far from Amarasi, the Helong textiles still reflect their own culture. The name for a Helong men’s hipcloth is Sem Beklobe while the name of Amarasi textiles with a similar structure is Tai Muti. The motifs also remain. The fringe of the Helong textile is unique and is said to resemble clove flowers.

 

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Celebrating a New Traditional House

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The village of Babotin and the newly bulit Sonap Biru traditional house.

Last year when I was in the village of Babotin on West Timor, Mama Rosa and her family were all busy with the construction of a new traditonal house. Babotin follows a matriarchal system; the husband moves into the woman’s house. There are three types of traditional houses that service the entire community: the Sonap Biru which is considered male, Sonap Oknao which is considered to be female and the Sonap Retet is considered the kitchen and is a ceremonial storehouse.

 

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The Copper Roaster Crows

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Lontar palms growing on Savu look much like the landscape in my village on Bali

The high point for me this year was bringing some of our friends from Savu over to Bali for the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival. Over the years that I have been visiting Savu I have been amazed at how comfortable I always feel there.  Perhaps it is because so much of the way of life in Savu is similar to the dry north coast of Bali where I grew up.  I see it in the ways that they use rituals to evoke prosperity, harmony and health between the realms of humans, animals and nature.  In Bali we call this Tri Hita Karana.

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Making Great Strides in West Timor

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The women of the Com Esa weavers’ group of Helong, under the guidance of Thersia Ngaing (in front with pink shirt)

In 2008 when we first sought out weavers in the Helong area, Thersia Alle Ngaing was in her late 60s and was the last woman who still had the knowledge required to weave the ethnic group’s traditional textiles. Today 11 women work with Thersia. Together they have revived the natural dye art by weaving both the woman’s Sembeg Hata textile and the mans’ Sembeg Klobe hip cloth.

 

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The Many Uses of a Clay Pot

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Anastasia Bete selling earthenware pots at the Ua Bau market in Belu

I first met Anastasia Bete at the weekly market in Ua Bau, Belu in 2008. Mama Anastasia was selling simple but elegant earthenware pots that are still used for cooking corn, beans and vegetables as well as natural dyes over wood fires. She told me that she can only make these pots during the dry season. I bought the pots she had with her and said I would like to visit her in her village to understand how she was making these pots.

 

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Back to the Loom and the Land

Tutut and Wenten flying in the small 20 seat plane to Savu

Tutut and Wenten flying in the small 20 seat plane to Savu

Transportation to Savu is always a challenge. You can fly to Savu from Kupang once a week on the small Cassa 212 which has a capacity of 20 people. Or there is the ferry that leaves from Kupang twice a week to Savu. When the winds blow from the west (angin barat) from October to March, it brings high seas and strong winds and the ferries often will not leave port. So Tutut and I felt very lucky this time to get a seat on the airplane to Savu from Kupang.

 

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