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

Slide 1

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)

Slide 2

Threads of Life and staff from Fundasaun Alola’s retail arm, Esperanza, met to talk about future collaborations

For ten days during May 2009, Threads of Life staff Willy Daos Kadati, I Wayan Sukadana (Frog), Jean Howe, William Ingram and I Made Rai Artha (Lolet) visited Timor-Leste. Working with Esperanza, which is the retail arm of Alola, we met with weavers’ groups in Lautem, Baucau and Bobonaru to make an initial assessment and to plan future collaborations. Though traditions are under threat all across Timor Leste, as Lolet said to the Esperanza staff while we were traveling, “If there is one woman left who still knows how to make a [traditional] textile and remembers the dye recipes than it is possible to revive the tradition.”

Slide 3

Upu Lakuar with band at bottom with motifs relating to natural and material culture

Together we looked at the natural dyed traditional textiles relative to cultural continuity and collected specimens of plants that were used and in some cases are still being used in the natural dye recipes. During our visit to Com in Lautem we saw traditional textiles such as the Upu Lakuar. This type of cloth generally has nine motifs in the main ikat band that relate to both the natural and material culture.

Slide 4

Joanina Marques and Afonso Marques are clan elders of Ira Ara

Clan elders, such as Joanina Marques and her husband Afonso from Ira Ara near Los Palos, still wear tradtional textiles for occassions such as weddings, funerals and this procession of the statue of Joseph and Mary during the month of May. The statues are carried by the community through local villages and stop for group prayer. Joanina is the head of the weaving group in Ira Ara.

Slide 5b

Alfonso is wearing a ceremonial silver bracelet called Keo. This is also portrayed as a motif in local textiles

Afonso is also wearing ceremonial silver bracelets called Keo. Keo is the name of one of the motifs in the band of theUpu Lakuar textile. Over time the motifs have been made larger to save time and fewer than nine appear on the main ikat band.

Slide 6

The motifs found in the traditional Sika Lau textile are also found in the rock art of Ile Kare Kare

In Tutuala the motifs found in a Sika Lau textile relate to the rock art found along the cliffs nearby the old Ili Kare Karetradtional compound. Sika Lau is a the most important of the area’s traditional textiles. It is made by a mother for her daughter’s wedding. The daughter saves this textile and then makes a new textile for her daughter when she is married. The tradition of weaving is thus handed down from generation to generation. The motif called ma’ar lau hana asu hiape, which translates as “human in a boat”, is found on both the Sika Lau textile and in the rock art. This is also true for the kuca hau ma’ar lau hana motif,  which translates as “human riding a horse”.

Slide 7b

The motifs found in the traditional Sika Lau textile are also found in the rock art of Ile Kare Kare

In Tutuala the motifs found in a Sika Lau textile relate to the rock art found along the cliffs nearby the old Ili Kare Karetradtional compound. Sika Lau is a the most important of the area’s traditional textiles. It is made by a mother for her daughter’s wedding. The daughter saves this textile and then makes a new textile for her daughter when she is married. The tradition of weaving is thus handed down from generation to generation. The motif called ma’ar lau hana asu hiape, which translates as “human in a boat”, is found on both the Sika Lau textile and in the rock art. This is also true for the kuca hau ma’ar lau hana motif,  which translates as “human riding a horse”.

Slide 8

Cut sections from traditional Sika Lau textiles are handed down to the next generation of women weavers

When a woman marries her mother gives her a pouch containing cuttings from Sika Lau textiles that have been made by her maternal grandmothers. These cuttings are from the handiwork of each woman and carry the promise that she will pass this knowledge down to her daughter.

Slide 9

Teresia Suara from the Bobonaru area has just finished sewing the seam of a Tais Mane Sabu textile

We traveled from the far eastern tip of Tutuala to the far western boundary of Timor Leste where we saw the beautiful black textiles of Bobonaru. These textiles are used for marriage gifts, are worn at funerals, and used for agricultural ceremonies. There are three major types of tradtional textiles in the Kemak ethnic area. The woman’s sarong is called a Tais Feto Bodato and the other two are man’s hips cloths called Tais Mane Sabu and Tais Mane Api Den. These all use a base of indigo dyeing with overdyes of tannin and mud.

Slide 10a

A woman weaving a bote, and a woman wearing a bote which she will fill with vegetables from her garden or use to carry materials to sell at the market

The baskets being made by the people throughout the country are also beautiful and Threads of Life has found that there is a good market for traditional basketry that maintains a timeless design. Materials for weaving baskets are from lontar palm leaves (Borassus flaberifera) and another palm fiber (Corphya utan) for straps. This basket called a bote in the Tetun language is carried by the strap placed over the forehead to support the weight of the load.

Slide 11

A traditional Caru Naku textile being worn by a religious ceremony by a young girl in Lautem contrasts with the western dress wornby her friend standing beside her

While I write this we have one of the Alola staff interning with Threads of Life here in Bali. Helen is the retail manager of the Alola Esperanza retail store. We are hoping to have an ongoing collaboration with Alola and Esperanza. Given funding becomes available, we will expand the training to include fieldstaff who can work directly with the weavers. This is a great opportunity for our organization and given the recent history between Indonesia and Timor Leste we trust that it will also continue the process of reconciliation between people that share common roots. We also hope that something of what we have learned over the last ten years will help to revive traditional textiles in Timor Leste.