Snapshots of a Successful Timor Field Trip

Smiling weaver with her nephew

I was so happy to be back in Timor, my home island. This was Pung and my first trip this year. We traveled from Helong in the west part of Timor to Malaka in the east over 12 days.

Threads of Life has been working with these weavers in Malaka for more than 14 years. We see them as the guardians of the culture. Malaka follows a matrilineal system where a man marries into a woman’s lineage and women have more power than men. In a ceremony, women perform most of the ritual while in other areas men do the most. The women were telling us about the ceremony for the new sonaf or traditional house that will be held next year.

Guardians of the culture

Sonaf traditional house which will be renovated next year

The sonaf is the traditional house for the communities of three villages. This house is the centre of many rituals. Every year after the harvest season the communities offer corn within this house as a way to thank the ancestors. When any member of the community leaves the village — even for a short time — she or he will ask for permission and protection at the house. The house will be renovated next year. A ceremony for a new traditional house is the biggest ceremony that can be performed and must be properly prepared.

This un-finished Tais Marobos from Malaka will be used for the ceremony next year. It has a beautiful red colour with a very clear motif. The weaver making this textile is putting a great deal of focus into her work as it is to be used ritually.

Unfinished Tais Marobos on the loom

Community’s collection textile used as a quality benchmark by weavers

While in Amanuban we saw this heirloom textile with a teke motif that is kept in the village as a benchmark for local weavers’ work. It is not offered for sale. The teke or gecko motif along with the frog and crocodile are all representations of the ancestor. If you hear a gecko call out it is acknowledging that what is being spoken is correct or true according to the ancestor.

Ina Mariana is a new weaver in the community we work with in the Mollo area. She learned weaving from her mother who is a master weaver.

New young weaver in Mollo area

Discussion about quality of textiles-comparing old and new

Quality is the subject of the first discussion we have in all the villages we visit. We often bring a benchmark textile from our collection so that we can compare what they made in the past and what they are making now. Due to economics, weavers tend to make a textile as fast as she can to get quick cash, thereby making textiles of a lower quality. Threads of Life’s work is to be a lead in the opposite direction, towards preserving the high quality art of weaving and dyeing so that the weavers continue to have the skills required to make these important textiles.

We also brought this indigo ikat textile from our collection as a means of discussing colour and motif.

High quality Indigo dyed textile example from Threads of Life Collection

A newly completed Tais Klar Duka, the result of a 4 year project

A Tais Klar Duka from Malaka is a man’s hip cloth only worn during ceremonies such as the Tebe Mau harvest ceremony and during a wedding. The revival of this textile is the result of four years of working together. Last year the weaver finished half of this piece, which we purchased to fund her continued work, and returned with it this year so it could be sewn to the newly finished matching half. This is so exciting for us!

When we first start working with a community, we start with something small like a scarf to know what the weavers are capable of and to build a relationship with them. Once we have a strong relationship, slowly we ask them to make larger pieces. These ikat threads will become a Tais woman tubular sarong and will be the first sarong that we will have from this community. We hope in August it will be ready.

Revitalizing the skill of making an indigo dyed tais in Miomafo

Carvings made from cow and buffalo horn

With this trip we could not get into very remote villages in Amanatun where these beautiful bone and horn carvings are made because the road was so bad. We will try and get into the village in August.

Betelnut is essential to all of these communities. These betelnut baskets are made with palm leaves (Borassus flabillifer) and dyed with young teak leaves.

Betelnut baskets from the Amarasi area

Snacks after hard discussions about quality and pricing

Finally, after a hard discussion about quality and prices with a group of weavers, snacks are brought out! This visit to Timor was just after the harvest season so we were served steamed cassava and popcorn. It was delicious!

During out last Timor trip we met a man wrapped in this beautiful Beti Naek. We used this image to begin a dialogue with Miomafo weavers about the quality of textiles we hope they will make for us. We will see what we get in August!

Timorese man wrapped in his blanket