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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The Work of Reviving Batak Textiles

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To grow enough plants to make the natural dyes requires time and patience.

When Threads of Life and the Bebali Foundation began to work in Sumatra last year with the support of Sandra Niessen and funds from the Dutch Embassy, we initially focused on the area of Muara on the south end of Lake Toba with the aim of helping traditional weavers recover their natural dye processes. After a year, the colors are beginning to emerge but we still have a ways to go. Growing enough dye plants to make the colors will take time and patience.

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Dayak Longhouses

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This longhouse contains 29 separate family apartments.

A Dayak longhouse isn’t just the focal point of a village: it is the village. These imposing structures, sometimes over 200 meters long, can contain dozens of separate family apartments, as well as public spaces for cooking, blacksmithing, ceremonies, and social life. The ongoing transformation of West Kalimantan from a remote jungle fastness to a sprawling agricultural hinterland is placing new pressures on longhouse communities, which respond to those pressures in different ways.

 

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Adat Houses of Bokong

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Fields near Bokong. Threads of Life botanists have collected rare plants in these fields.

Threads of Life field teams have been visiting Bokong for three years, but had never had an opportunity to visit their traditional clan houses, which stand about three kilometers away from the village proper. On this trip, Wenten made sure to set aside a few hours to see the clan houses.

 

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Batak Carvings

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A traditional Batak house, with high peaks and walls that lean outwards.

North Sumatra is still dotted with clusters of beautiful traditional houses, called umah godang, long houses on stilts with boat-shaped roofs and distinct sculptural features. Each umah godang is also paired with a rice barn called a sopo, which stands facing the main house across a central square. The arrangement is similar to traditional villages in Tana Toraja, in the mountains of central Sulawesi.

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Putussibau: The Heart of Borneo

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A traditional Dayak longhouse raised on stilts beside the river.

Putussibau is deep in the interior of Borneo, close to the border with Malaysia. The town is in the high reaches of the Kapuas River system, about six hours by bus from the larger city of Sintang. Putissibau and the small villages in the nearby forests are outposts of an embattled Dayak culture, which is under assault on all sides: from the government, which is developing the forest, transmigrants from other parts of Indonesia, and foreign missionaries.

 

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The Far End of Flores

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Larantuka town, at the base of Ile Mandiri volcano.

Every time we travel to Lembata, we make the drive from Maumere to Larantuka, a city on the eastern tip of Flores. The drive winds between smoking volcanoes and follows the curves of yellow sandy beaches, and passes through many villages. Usually, in our hurry to get to Larantuka, we do not stop anywhere along this road, except to get a cup of coffee, or perhaps to buy some wild honey.

 

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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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Traveling with Threads of Life to Remote Sulawesi

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A young boy flies a kite on the streets of Mamuju.

The long, arduous trip up to the remote villages of Toraja Karataun is made shorter by a flight into Mamuju, the capital of West Sulawesi. Mamuju is a new city, with a large population of transmigrants from Java, and very little character of its own. The growth of cities like Mamuju drives home the importance of preserving the diversity of traditional cultures.

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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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