Last year when I was in the village of Babotin on West Timor, Mama Rosa and her family were all busy with the construction of a new traditonal house. Babotin follows a matriarchal system; the husband moves into the woman’s house. There are three types of traditional houses that service the entire community: the Sonap Biru which is considered male, Sonap Oknao which is considered to be female and the Sonap Retet is considered the kitchen and is a ceremonial storehouse.
While Sonap Biru and Sonap Oknao are called the male and female house, they both contain symbols of male and female ancestors and so they are really considered one unit. The renovation of the Sonap Biru traditional house was completed last November and a large ritual was held to inaugurate this house. Mama Rosa showed us a textile she wove for this ceremony. The cloth is held up in front of the house while the clan walks under it carrying the essential elements of fire and water into the new house.
In front of the Sonap Biru is a post called Hau Teas used as a shrine to place offerings during ceremonies that are held at the traditonal house. Every ceremony in the village whether it be wedding, funeral, planting or harvest would be initiated at the Sonap Biru. Minimally one would ask for sirih pinang or betelnut from the Sonap Biru before embarking on any journey or new venture.
The Sonap and the Hau Teas are from Nikis wood (Cassia fistula) or Hau Matani wood (Pterocarpus indicus). When the clan goes into the forest to find these trees the people carry leaves from the kesambi tree (Schleichera oleosa) which communicates to the community that the clan is not to be bothered. The leaves seem to act as a protective barrier. These leaves are later left in the rafters of the traditional house.
Before we are able to enter a traditional house we must ask for permission which we can do as a silent prayer from our hearts. The traditional house always has a woman elder who is the guardian of the house. She will keep the premises clean and is the conduit for requests from the clan to the ancestors. Magdelena Moti and Rosalina Bubu are two of the guardians for the Sonap Biru traditional house.
Everytime Mama Rosa begins the oiling process for the red dye, she must ask for sirih pinang or betelnut from the Sonap Biru traditional house to undertake this process. If she begins the weaving of a large textile such as a Beti Keut Bati man’s cloth, she needs to ask permission from Sonap Biru as well. When she joins the two halves of a Beti Keut Bati she needs to ask for sirih pinang from Sonap Biru as well as sacrifice a piglet.