Patience Pays Off: Textiles Strengthening Traditions

Traditional house complex of Sonaf Biru

The highlight of this last trip to Timor was witnessing the renewed strength of communities in maintaining their own culture. In Malaka we saw the renovation of another traditional house and the importance of textiles associated with the inauguration ceremony.

The preparations for this ceremony began in June and went until November. Water is brought to the traditional house from 4 sources representing the 4 directions.

The newly renovated house with the wooden shrine Hau Monef in front set into stones

Tais Keut Bati textile worn by the woman during the likurai dance at the ceremony inaugurating the traditional house

As the ceremony begins likurai dancing begins with young women in a line dancing. They will dance 7 times and at each time they will wear 7 different textiles for each set of dancing.  The begin the dance wearing the least dominant textile, tais mauka nuit, and on to the more complex, tais keut bati rarote – a textile with an ikat centrefield and decorative warp wrap buna. After the dances are complete changing from these different levels of textiles a woman wearing this textile will then bring the water and fire into into the traditional house to animate it.

The water and fire are the life giving elements for a new house. While the woman wears the tais keut bati above, a man will wear a hip cloth such as this beti karo– both textiles were woven by master weaver Mama Rosa. These textiles will stay with the traditional house and not be sold. This is a great affirmation to what has been a main tenant of Threads of Life work – that textiles be made and used for purposes integral to the local culture.

Beti krao worn and now kept as a ceremonial man’s hip cloth

Bikomi River swollen from recent rains making crossing difficult

Rains have finally come making the land green and ready to plant which made the trip more difficult as there are plenty of rivers to ford to get to the remote communities.

These rains have allowed indigo to grow and be used to make beautiful textiles such as this piece that you can find in the Threads of Life Gallery.

Beautiful indigo blue textiles

Beti Tnana with frog or bei patterns

We have waiting two years to receive this textile called Bei or frogs that are stacked representing fertility. The tiny motifs in between the frogs indicate the work of a committed weaver who is willing to take the time to tie these intricate patterns.

The rains also have allowed our team to work with one of the communities in reviving their mud dyeing. They are using a strong tannin to soak the threads before immersing the threads in mud that has a high iron content.

Dyeing in iron rich mud

Mud dyed with toke or gecko motifs

This allows the weavers a second colour to soak their ikat threads when it is too dry to find enough indigo to dye with. The result of mud dyeing when done correctly can be stunning as this textile clearly shows – dyed twelve times in mud and tannin solution.

Over the 15 years spent in Timor, we are now seeing a wider range of colours used that are appropriate with the seasons of the island such as the indigo blue and black mud dye along with a wider range of techniques being used from ikat to buna.

A range of colours and techniques in one village

Patience paid off after waiting 4 years

The final reward on this trip was returning for the 4 year in a row to the Suai Loro ethnic group living in Kamasa, Betun. We first ordered one of these traditional textiles after researching this area whose ethnic group of Suai Loro crosses the border of Timor Leste. This trip we were finally able to collect the first woven section of the textile. The photo is of the remaining part left to be woven and then sewn onto the finished piece we purchased. Patience finally paid off!!!

We look forward to seeing what our weavers produce for Threads of Life when we are next there in May! It is bound to be exciting.

A new weaver working with Threads of Life in Insana.