Timor’s Indigo Vat Ceremonies

All women weavers and dyers who use indigo will participate

As told by weaver Elisabeth Nai Sau in Timor.

The Tah fe’u Neu nai Taum ceremony for indigo vats is held in traditional communities across Timor on the new moon in March and is performed by and for women dyers. This is a time to renew the indigo dye pot used and honor the spirit of the indigo.

When dyeing with indigo, no one may enter that space other than the weaver

An indigo pot is brought to the clan house by each dyer or weaver. Only one vat that contains an active paste is allowed while all the others are filled with new indigo leaves and water to soak. Each dyer sits at their vat which is covered and has betel nut placed on the lid as an offering.

The clan elder evokes the ancestors through ritual language to let them know that the ceremony will take place the following day and that all has been prepared to receive them. After this invocation, everyone shares betel nut except the dyer who sits with the vat containing paste.

Traditional crops of corn and sesame are used for making ritual food

The following day, each woman arrives with corn stalks containing an odd number of ears. These stalks are placed as offerings for the ancestors. Each participating woman brings all the textiles containing indigo that she has woven and places them beside her dye vat where she sits. Newly harvested crops — such as rice, corn and sesame seeds — are ritually cooked. A black female pig or a hen with black feathers is sacrificed. Its blood is smeared onto each vat, and a candle is lit and then placed on each vat’s lid.

Dyers must bring their indigo dyed textiles to the ceremony

The clan elder then begins prayers to the ancestors, asking for blessings so that the vats produce a beautiful colour and that the woman’s work at the loom and in the garden are blessed as well. Prayers are also made so that the children who are in school continue to be successful in their studies and that all the women who weave will produce beautiful high-quality cloths.

A beti naek man's hip cloth is used to cover the indigo dye vats

After the prayers are finished, the vats are covered by a beti naik man’s hip cloth and the group shares a meal without speaking or making a sound. No food may be dropped in the sacred space and all the prepared food must be consumed only by the participants.

After the prayers, ritual food is passed around

After the ritual is complete, any remnants of the ceremony such as bones, corn husks and even damaged indigo, must be carried and thrown into a river before dawn the following morning without passing or talking to anyone on the way.