Lembata and Timor Fieldtrip

Maps such as this of Adonara did not exist twenty years ago when Threads of Life began working in these eastern islands

In September our fieldstaff visited both Flores and Timor to meet with weavers working with Threads of Life. Twenty years ago it would have taken us two months to visit these two islands and all of the communities we work with but today with regular flights between Lembata, Flores and Timor, we can visit these remote areas much more easily.

In Adonara weavers have mostly left their looms today to work in other income earning areas as their husbands, brothers and sons go to find work on palm oil plantations in Indonesia or Malaysia. The village of Boleng still has some weaving taking place making ceremonial textiles for marriage gifts. Boleng was the one area where there is no taboo against practicing the ikat technique.

Pantai Boleng and Boleng Village where a few women are still weaving

Pak Silvestor in Lamalera still makes faja betelnut baskets from the leaves of lontar palms

From Adonara one can see the mountains of the neighbouring islands of Lembata and Eastern Flores. Heading for the harbour of Lewoleba on Lembata our team heads to the southern part of the island to meet with weavers and basket makers. Baskets such as the faja or betlenut offering basket are required to bring to the woman’s family when asking for the daughters hand in marriage.

The south coast of Lembata is rugged as it takes the swell from across the Savu Sea. Dinner for the fieldstaff is often harvested from the rocks along the coastline. To the outsider’s eye, the sea and region look idyllic but in practical terms drinking and bathing water is generally scarce in these coastal areas.

Coast lines looking idyllic from the outsider’s perspective are often harsh places to live

Motif Kelapen three part sarong Kreot Nai Telon using commercial threads rather than handspun

On the southern shores of Lembata the renowned Kreot Nai Telon cloth (in Lamalera known as Kwatek Nai Telo) is required for gift exchange at marriage. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find women who are willing to take the time to make the handspun thread that has traditionally been used to make this textile, hence the tradition now allows commercial cotton yarn to be used for these culturally important cloths. This significantly reduces the time needed to complete a cloth.

From Lembata island the team traveled back to eastern Flores so that they could set off to Timor from Maumere. While visiting one of the communities we work with in eastern Flores, they were lucky to see the Subun pulo ceremony whereby the groom’s family brings gifts of chicken, corn, and textiles to the bride’s family showing their intention and respect.

Women carrying gifts of chicken, corn, and textiles from the man's family

Preparing handspun cotton so it can be warped into a textile

In traditional communities such as Boti in the highlands of Timor handspun threads are still used in the weaving process. Handspun threads are required in the making of a traditional textile in Boti if it is to be worn by those of high status.

Cotton grows in dry areas where water is seasonal. The people of Boti are blessed with a spring just below their village where they can collect water and carry it up for drinking and cooking. This traditional community remains intent on using only natural materials and hence large bamboo culms are used both to carry water and as storage containers.

Bamboo water containers called Tuke Oe

Uma bubu traditional house in Timor architecture keeps the space cool in the hot season and warm during the cool season

In these dry areas in the mountains, such as around Boti, the temperatures can be very high during the hot season and quite cool in the winter. The traditional Uma Bubu house architecture has ritual significance but also keeps the conditions inside the house very cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

We hope the rains are generous to our friends and their land on these eastern islands this year and look forward to visiting again next year.

Pantai Palo in Larantuka Flores