Weavers and their Stories

Indonesian Textile Arts
Origins - Weavers

Our work brings us into contact with remarkable people from around the archipelago, whose intelligence, creativity, and stories of triumph or survival find expression in the unique artworks they produce. Some are poor and marginalized; others were raised in village palaces built of wood and buffalo hide. They are mothers and fathers, community leaders, innovative artists, and inheritors of ancient cultural traditions. Here are a few of their stories.

Weavers from Ndona and Sikka, Flores

Tamu Rambu Hamueti was born in the traditional kingdom of Pau, East Sumba. Her father, one of the last great kings of Pau, betrothed her at birth to Umbu Kanabu Ndaung, a noble boy from the nearby kingdom of Rindi. Hamueti was studying education at a university in Malang, Java when her father told her to prepare for her arranged marriage.

Today, Hamueti and Umbu rule Rindi kingdom from the village of Parai Yawangu. Kingship does not carry political power, but the wealth and family prestige of Sumba’s kings place them in the forefront of their communities. The pair regularly hears petitioners and handles minor conflicts within their traditional territory. Umbu also manages his large hereditary landholdings, while Hamueti runs a cultural cooperative of weavers and basket makers.

Hamueti’s textiles hold a palpable energy, a spark of her passion for her culture. An energetic, educated member of the deeply respected local aristocracy, Hamueti uses her position to confront the ongoing decline of Sumba’s traditional rural culture. With cooperation from Threads of Life’s partner organization, the YPBB Foundation, Hamueti plans to build a cultural center to preserve and promote the Rindi way of life.

Yudis Keraf is a schoolteacher in Lamalera, Lembata, a position she inherited from her husband Ben. Ben brought traditional song, music, and art back into the local schoolhouse, and championed the textile revival that brought Threads of Life to the village. When Ben died of malaria in 2004, Yudis took over his place in the community, both as teacher and advocate of local culture.

Yudis and Ben had three children: a daughter, Oni, and two sons, Ino and Ano. Ino graduated from high school in 2007, and returned home to provide for his family. Shortly after his return, he went fishing with a friend. Ino harpooned a dolphin, but the rope caught his leg. The dolphin dragged Ino underwater for several minutes. Ino was barely alive when he surfaced, and died soon afterward.

Fishing boats, Lamalera, Lembata

Even though Ino was educated, Yudis was glad he had come home. She needed a male provider, who could join the village fishing fleet. Lamalera has few opportunities to earn a living away from the sea. That’s why Yudis and Ben have worked so hard to revive local traditional culture. Fair trade in traditional textiles and crafts brings cash incomes to people who have few other options for survival.

A fishing crew, Lamalera, Lembata

Sebastianus Uskono is a weaver. This is a rare occupation for men in Unab, West Timor, where weaving is considered a women’s activity. Sebastianus takes this a step further; ever since he was a boy, he has worn women’s clothing. Sebastianus’ grandfather, who also wore the women’s tais, taught him how to weave. Now Sebastianus is in his eighties, and has taught weaving to most of the women in Unab.

Sebastianus belongs to a tradition of cross-dressers called banci. Today he is a beloved town character, who keeps his money under his mattress and wants to be buried in his homemade bedclothes. His artwork deftly combines local and Rotinese styles. ’’There were knife makers from Roti in the village many years ago,’’ says Sebastianus. ’’I liked their textiles and studied the motifs. Then I made my own interpretations.’’

One of Sebastianus’ Rotinese-style textiles

The stories go on: performing onstage allows Uswatun Hasanah, from Luwuk, Java to express sides of her personality discouraged by her Muslim community. Rosalia Bubu, from Loo Neke, West Timor wove the face of an ancestor who visited her in a dream. Veronica Kanyan, from Sintang, Kalimantan led her community through complex rituals to improve their red dye. Every individual has a story: get out there, and hear for yourself!

Molo Benu, Boti, West Timor