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Field Notes Timor
May 2013

Textiles, Plants and Pottery,  May 2013
By Jean Howe

A full visit to all of the communities in West Timor always that Threads of Life works with requires about 15 days of travel. This May  trip was as full as ever - with lots of new things to experience and learn more about. In Amarasi we met with Pak Robby who is the raja of this area and he showed off his beautiful new jacket made from natural dyed traditional textiles. It made me think of Ian's paper that is mentioned on the Threads of Life website "Ancient Emblems, Modern Cuts" by Ian Pollock.

Ancient Emblems, Modern Cuts - Pak Robby
of Amarasi strikes a dashing pose

I was joined on this trip by Yansen Tuan who has joined Threads of Life as our new field staff member as Willy and Wenten are both back doing their masters degree at University. Yansen worked with the national government program for development in Indonesia; (PMPN) for 7 years. He has married a Balinese woman and wants to be closer to his wife here in Bali. We are delighted to have Yansen with us and are sure he will bring a lot of experience to our organization

Yansen Tuan, TOL new field staff
member in Boti, West Timor

Pung joined us for a week in Boti to re-collect plant specimens that will be sent for identification to The Royal Botanical Garden in Kew, London, UK. The Bebali Foundation and RBG-Kew are working together to produce a book on the Plants and Their Traditional Uses in Boti, West Timor. It is all of our hope that this book will demonstrate that the traditional methods they use in caring for their land is why Boti does not suffer food and water shortage along with landslides due to erosion.


Namah Benu, the king of Boti reviewing the book
Plants and Traditional Uses in Boti
with the younger generation

Nama Benu, the king of Boti, along with his family all helped us collect the plants we needed - we spent long days climbing up and down the hillsides and then the early evenings were spent pressing these plant specimens.

Pung and Pah Sae press plants while the king looks on

Boti has an deep relationship with nature. Whatever is used by the community comes from the land. This sword (senu) used for weaving is waxed with beeswax from stingless bees that are raised by Boti people.

A weaver waxes her weaving sword which also
stiffens the threads making weaving easier

As a means of generating cash, the weaving group of Boti; Tae Matani, meet every week to gin cotton they have picked from the fields, spin these fibers into thread, make dyes, weave textiles and enjoy each others' company.

The weaving group of Boti Tae Matani

In Inbatin Bikomi we met a man who said he was 105 years old - he reported to have danced when Queen Whilimena of Holland gave birth to her child. We looked on the internet and did the math and the math works and if indeed he danced at that time- he would be about that old! Pak Ta'eki Afob still demands respect in this community and we found weavers there that are eager to find a market! We will  see what happens over the next  months.

Pak Ta'eki Afob the traditional leader of
a small village in Bikomi

The threads that the weaver were working on were handspun and the colors looked very similar to what we have observed in Oecusse (one can see Oecusse, Timor Leste from the gardens of Inbati). The pink color is from a cactus flower. One can certainly see the influence of Portuguese trade as these cactus flowers are also used as a natural dye color in South America as well!

 Handspun threads and natural dyes - a shocking pink

In Belu we visited Lo Neke and were sad to hear that Rosalinda Basa, one of the weavers had passed away only a week earlier. We were all saddened to hear this as were our friends in Bokong as they had stayed with Rosalinda during dye workshops that Threads of Life and The Bebali Foundation had organized in past years.

 We were all sad to hear one of the weavers we work
with had passed away a week earlier

Mama Rosa says she is busy until December (she started last May) weaving a natural dyed blanket (Beti Naek) for each of her grandchildren. While we miss her not producing any textiles for us -L; we are pleased she is taking time to give her grandchildren these important gifts of their heritage.

Mama Rosa textile weaving textiles for her grandchildren

We drove over horrible pot-hole roads to reach the pottery village of Waemeda. It is no wonder they WALK to the markets to sell their pots.

Pottery of Waemeda

Waemeda is not that far from Timor Leste with their spoken language being Tetun rather than Uab Meto - the ritual sites in front of the adat houses differ as well. In front of the clan house stands the male and female ritual poles called Ai Tos.

 Male and female ritual poles called Ai Tos

While the attrition rate is huge in getting these pots back to Bali - I am intent in getting a few to sell in the Threads of Life Gallery as they are so beautiful. The potter places a flat rock inside the pot as she paddles the outside to shapes the walls of the pot. You can see the pattern carved on the paddle that is embedded in the clay pot.

A flat stone and wooden paddle are used
to create the shape