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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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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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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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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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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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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The United Hearts of Bokong

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Yeruton Sae, Antoneta Sae and Rebeka Melu

Since its founding in 2004, the Nek Mese (United Hearts) cooperative of Bokong in Timor has worked hard and grown dramatically. I still remember when we came searching though this village for weavers and met the three sisters – Rebeka Melu, Antoneta Sae and Dorkas Melu – who we encouraged to form the cooperative.

 

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Wise Steps Towards Revitalizing The Traditional Textiles of Belu

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The weavers of Loo Neke in Belu are always eager to see us. Mama Rosa built this house from her textile sales to Threads of Life

I have been visiting the various areas of West Timor now for the past two years and there is one area where the weavers really stands out in my experience. This is in Loo Neke, in the regency of Belu. I find that the weavers here have a certain light! They are always eager to receive us when we visit and enjoy laughing and joking with us. Usually all of the members of the weaving group show up for our visit and are eager to share their challenges and successes.

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