Savu to Rai Jua

Seas around Timor and Savu are often very calm before the change of monsoon

Trying to schedule a trip to Savu and Rai Jua islands is always a challenge – the timing needs to be such that it is late enough in the year so that the weavers have completed their textile work but not too late so that we have angin barat (the West Wind) where the seas are so high we cannot make sea crossings.

When we arrived this year we found that there had been no rains for almost 13 months. The rivers were dry and water was scarce. This is the time of the year when most people rely on the nectar tapped from lontar palms for nourishment.

The lontar palm inflorescences are tapped for their very nutritious nectar.

Pung with Savunese weavers in Mehara.

As little can be done in the fields until the rains come, the weavers had been concentrating on their weavings. We were happy to find a good supply of textiles and the weavers were delighted with the sales that would help them through the hard times.

One of the difficulties for most of our weavers throughout the eastern islands is finding enough natural resources, particularly the Morinda roots to harvest for their red dye work. While many communities we work with have planted a large number of Morinda trees since we began to work with them, cultivation on Savu has been slowed by the climate and the new trees are not yet old enough to harvest. Pung and I decided to take two weavers from Seba on Savu to the island of Rai Jua as Rai Jua has a big population of Morinda trees. These trees are not beingharvested as the local weavers do little red dye work. We hope that a trade arrangement could be set up between these two islands for Morinda.

Approaching Rai Jua with hopes of establishing a trade in Morinda between weavers from Savu and weavers from Rai Jua.

Maneuvering motorbikes off the deck of our boat to the pier at Rai Jua.

Thinking that we may need to do some traveling around Rai Jua, we brought the motorbikes we were using on Savu. When we arrived at Rai Jua, the pier was many meters above the deck of the boat! To off-load the bikes we had to pay some of the fishing people to help maneuver the bikes off the boat by using a pulley system and sheer physical strength. It was amazing to me!

Arriving at the home of the weavers we work with on Rai Jua we found out that one of the Savu weavers we had brought with us, Ina Bunga, has an old clan relationship with weaver Greateda Kona Koy’s husband. We hope that this kinship will allow Ina Bunga and her weaving group to buy badly needed Morinda root.

Greateda Kana Koy’s husband on Rai Jua has an old clan relationship with Ina Bunga of Savu

Rai Jua weavers with indigo blue Ai Pudi textiles.

Greateda and her family do not use the roots of Morinda for red dyeing any more. Most of the dye work they do is using chemical dyes except for the indigo blue sarongs called Ai Pudi that they make for Threads of Life.

As there are very few weavers making these Ai Pudi textiles we are lucky if we are able to buy ten per year. The Ai Pudi employs a shibori-type process that is done at the very end of the dye work with these textiles. The textileis woven with bands of solid blue and white. Then a pattern ofsorghum grains is tied into the white bands of the cloth. The ties that bind these grains resist a final indigo dyeing, leaving small uneven white circles at the foot of the textilewhen the bindings are opened.

Indigo hands pick open the bindings that held the sorghum grains to create a pattern of white circles on the textile.

Old abandoned ritual site on Savu.

As we headed back to Savu on the boat in the late afternoon, we talked with the Savu weavers about rain and children, and the future of Savu and its traditional culture. Much change is soon to come now that the island hasbecome its own regency (the tertiary level of Indonesian government administration). We all wondered about the impacts and talked of how the old ways are being abandoned. As we passed a beautiful old ritual site on the way to Mehara we were told that the site’s custodians haveconverted to Christianity and most of the men have left to work in Malaysia. These next years will be interesting for Threads of Life and the weavers of Savu and Rai Jua.