Weavers and their Stories

Indonesian Textile Arts
Origins - Cooperative

Everywhere we do business, Threads of Life works directly with local weavers’ cooperatives. Each member of a cooperative is encouraged to pool a portion of his or her earnings into a collective fund. Group funds pay for threads and other materials, phone calls to distant buyers, microcredit lending--whatever the group decides is important. Threads of Life deals with 36 cooperatives around Indonesia, and no two are quite the same.

Weavers working together, Tenganan, Bali

In 1985, the weavers of Loo Neke, West Timor, founded Putri Tunggal--’’women working as one’’--and received a contract to clothe local government employees. ’’We received little money for this weaving,’’ says current group leader Rosalia Bubu, ’’but it was our only income.’’ Today, Putri Tunggal has sold enough textiles to Threads of Life to finance the construction of a new workshop out of its group funds.

Putri Tunggal

Sanggar Bliran Sina is dedicated to preserving the textiles, music, song and dance, jewelry, basketry, and oral traditions of western Flores’ Sikka people. With support from Threads of Life, Bliran Sina produced an album of traditional songs entitled ’’Watublapi.’’ Bliran Sina is one of the most highly developed cooperatives we work with. Together, the group helps its members pay for education, health care, and a variety of household needs.

Sanggar Bliran Sina

Jasa Menenun Mandiri cooperative in Sintang, West Kalimantan, markets and sells textiles, but is also a microlender. ’’If we need money, for example for school fees, they trust us and lend us what we need,’’ says member Salomina Mapung. ’’But we also keep our savings here, and that is its real function.’’ Salomina comes to JMM every few months, sells her textiles, and makes a deposit to the credit union.

Jasa Menenun Mandiri

Members of emerging cooperatives in Toraja Karataun, Sulawesi don’t yet trust each other to manage group finances honestly, and pay membership dues too low to generate effective collective funds. Threads of Life’s partner organization, YPBB Foundation, supports these young organizations with training in transparent bookkeeping and group marketing, and introduces them to cooperatives from around Indonesia. Threads of Life’s growing network of cooperatives spreads knowledge and experience around the archipelago.

Tarum, Batuisi, Sulawesi

In Lamalera, Lembata, two years might pass from cotton harvest to the final pass of the weft. In 1998, Threads of Life helped twelve Lamalera villagers found Cinta Budaya cooperative. Since then, the local economy has shifted from barter to cash, and the group has struggled to develop the necessary business skills. Threads of Life’s long-term commitment provides the financial security that supports this slow learning process.

Cinta Budaya

Every ninth day is a day of rest in Boti, an isolated village in the mountains of West Timor. On that day, Boti’s seventy families gather in the royal compound, called the tae matani. The men talk farming, carve containers for lime-powder, and knot palm-fiber bags. The women spin thread, weave, and manage their weavers’ cooperative, Tenun Tae Matani. Nearly every woman in the village participates in the group.

Tae Matani

Uswatun Hasanah noticed that young women in Kerek, West Java were abandoning traditional batik, the island’s famous wax-resist cloth. So in 1993, Uswatun and her neighbors formed Sekar Ayu cooperative, and began teaching the locals how to hand-spin thread, weave, hand-draw, and make natural dyes, and how to make a living at it. Under Uswatun’s strong leadership, Sekar Ayu has swelled to 125 members, and revitalized the local batik arts.

Uswatun Hasanah

In the 1980s and ’90s, cruise ships flocked to Savu’s white beaches, bearing tourists who often bought local textiles. After the financial crisis of 1998 and the terrorist acts of the early 2000s, cruise visitors tapered off, and Savu’s weavers lost their market. The Savunese responded to this new challenge by forming Hawu Miha and other cooperatives that connect weavers to textile buyers and traders off the island.

Hawu Miha

Ita Yusuf (second from left) specializes in indigo dye-work for Bou Sama Sama cooperative in Onelako, Flores. Instead of making her own indigo paste, she buys it from a nearby village and uses her time to do more dyeing. Other members specialize in tying or weaving. Using natural dyes instead of synthetic ones raises Bou Sama Sama weavers’ earnings by over 370% per hour, and lifts them out of poverty.

Bou Sama Sama