“I thought Timor’s roads were bad,” reported Yansen, Threads of Life’s Timorese field staff, of his June 2015 field trip to Toraja. “But nothing compares to the roads in this part of Sulawesi! I wanted to count the number of rivers we had to forge and so I picked up a pebble for every river we crossed from Mamaju to Batu Isi. When we arrived back to Mamaju I had 21 pebbles in my pocket!”
The travel always takes the team through the beautiful mountains of this part of West Sulawesi. This was Yansen’s first trip to the area, though Pung first started to work with the Karutaun Toraja weavers in 2003.
Yansen usually spends his field time in the eastern islands as he is from Kupang, Timor. Though since he married a Balinese woman and now has a family in Bali, his work with Threads of Life takes him all over the country. Yansen joined Pung to specifically gather information about motif meanings from the weaver groups. This data will help Threads of Life and the Bebali Foundation to collaboratively develop a comprehensive Knowledge Management Database for the cultural groups we have worked with over the past fifteen years.
This cultural database will compile cultural information that has been gathered over the years that Threads of Life and the Bebali Foundation have worked with communities. This will improve the quality of both organisations’ field work, but we also hope it will become a resource for the weaving communities in the future, as well as for others interested in these cultures and the art forms they create.
Pung was particularly happy to see that dramas over the mixing of synthetic and natural red dyes in recent years has finally been turned around due to finding a sustainable source of Symplocos growing in the mountains above the weaving community! “Without Symplocos it is impossible to get this beautiful red color,” Pung smiled. Congratulations Pung!
While there are now fewer weavers working before the synthetic dye problem, the weavers who are working now are committed to the excellence that Threads of Life demands from the communities we work with.
One of the most exciting events of this trip for me was finding a woman who still remembers to weave the Tali Tobatu. Pung has looked for a long time to find someone who remembers how to do this work. A Tali Tobatu is woven with slit tapestry weave in parts of the textile. These slits are close enough together that they can be bound in the same way that ikat threads of bound prior to dyeing. The result looks like double ikat, but is subtly different and so unusual. We have only seen examples of such work at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. I can’t wait to see the result as this unique textile has been a longterm desire of ours to revive.
From Karutaun the team then traveled to Mamasa where we work with two remaining tablet weavers. The trip is equally difficult to make and it has been two years since Pung has been able to get into the village.
Pung and Yansen spent two nights with the two weavers and their families and were able to get a good video recording of the tablet weaving process. Originally turtle shells were used as the cards with holes drilled for the threads so the pattern could be woven. These were bought by collectors and the weavers only had unstable hard cardboard to use to weave. Pung came up with the great idea of collecting a pile of the plastic cards used for selling cellphone SIM cards. Once these have been punched with the appropriate holes, they work perfectly. They are not beautiful like the turtle shells but they work great!
Yansen had to take this final picture as he could not believe that in Sulawesi even the main roads between major districts are in this kind of condition. Yansen just shakes his head in despair when he sees this photo.