Return to Sight, Lembata Island

As told to by Threads of Life field staff, Yansen Tuan

Wonderful that there are now facilities to remove cataracts in Lembata so people like Kristina can see again

What a miracle that someone living in such a remote place as Lembata Island, who was blind from cataracts for three years, can be treated and returned to sight! Kristina is a master weaver and dyer and among the first twelve weavers Threads of Life worked with in 1998. When William visited her two years ago, she was being led around her house by her daughter, and only recognizing William by his voice. He encouraged her to have the cataracts operated, but she said she was too afraid.. “But you don’t see now. What do you have to lose?” he encouraged, “And you will see again if you have the operation. You are still young. You could still weave!” It took Kristina two years, but she has now had the operation. When Yansen and Willy were in Lembata in July they bought the first piece we have received from Kristina in years.  She was over the moon with happiness to be weaving again — the activity she says gives meaning to her life — and we are over the moon, too.


Working together is essential in these harsh landscapes

This land on the southern coast of Lembata is bare and bright. People must work together to weave, plant, harvest and fish in order to survive.

The motif Kugupungan on this textile

On this trip Willy and Yansen visited the weavers of Lamalera, and Topobali where Threads of Life has worked over the last fifteen years to revive the art of making traditional textiles. After many years we were thrilled to find that the weavers in Topobali have achieved a beautiful consistent red color using their recovered old recipes! The motif on this three-part textile Kreot Nai Telon has a flower motif called kugupungan.

Flowers on the kugupungan tree from the Malvacaea family

The kugupungan tree is from the Malvaceae family and in fact is originally from India where it is cultivated. The tree Willy and Yansen saw is is the first record, according to Kew Garden in London, of it being found in southeast Asia. The wood of the Kugupungan tree is used as the primary pillar in the village’s traditional houses.

Traditional Koker house used for harvest rituals

Threads of Life is always seeking to deepen our connection to the cultures of the communities we work with. Willy and Yansen spent an early morning walking up the mountain above the village to visit the ceremonial houses. It was explained that the first harvest is always taken to the Una Rajan traditional house and then, after the proper rituals are performed, it is taken to the smaller Koker house where the community receive the corn from the harvest and it can then be taken as food for their families.


A fisherman offers us tuak, a fermented palm wine

Walking back from the traditional houses, it was time to begin to make the journey back to Lewoleba on the north coast to take a ferry back to Flores. As Willy and Yansen walked down towards the beach they met one a fishermen who offered them some of his lontar palm drink. The kindness and generosity of the people here always lightens our journey to these islands.