This year we have made several visits to the islands of Lembata and Adonara in the Lamaholot area east of Flores. There is still one more visit planned before the weavers turn their attention from their weaving to their gardens as the rainy season arrives. The rains will make travel too difficult for us until the next dry season. This trip was made more special by having our friends, Luis and Cecilia from Timor-Leste, along with us. Luis and Cecilia work with the Alola Foundation and are now on an intern program with Threads of Life. We are hoping to share with them some of our knowledge of how to work with traditional weaving groups so that they can do the same work in Timor-Leste.
After arriving on the north coast of Lembata in Lewoleba we always travel to the south coast to visit Lamalera. This is where Threads of Life’s first weaving group was formed. The women continue to work on their colors to bring them back to the beautiful deep red brown their grandmothers made. This takes hard work as the dye process for this requires focus and patience. We always stop and visit other crafts people to buy their art too. Alfons Kiwan Blikololong makes miniature Tena Lamapaij/peledang, which are the traditional boat that local fishermen sail.
From Lamalera we walked to Tapobali. Here we visited a weaving group that we only started working with last April. The enthusiasm of this group is amazing. They are now working on several textiles after having attended a dye workshop with our sister organization, the YPBB Foundation in Bali. They are particularly focusing on the oiling process as this is key to good red dye. We were impressed to see how many women are again spinning threads and how many young women are now involved in the process.
We wanted Cecilia and Luis to see that basketry is very marketable and provides a good stream of income for the community. Tapobali use lontar palm leaves to make baskets such as Kelekar which is used for serving food. Along with being very durable, Lontar baskets can be washed and then just put in the sun to dry!
Luis and Cecilia were impressed with how we carried out our purchases from Tapobali as there is no transportation to the village other than a bus that sometimes arrives once a day from Lewoleba. They even helped us share the load as we made the hour walk back to Lamalera.
People from Lamalera and Tapobali take their goods to the barter market of Wulandoni just 2 hours walk from Lamalera or 30 minutes by sea taxi. Very little cash is exchanged even today at this market.
Our real objective was not to go to Wulandoni but to the village of Lusilame Atawolo then to the hamlet of Brenai in the region of Atadei which was just another hour or so walk up the mountain! We were all tired and thirsty during the climb but the views south to the Savu Sea were spectacular! We all remarked how the people from Brenai do this walk regularly.
In Brenai we met with several of the weavers who we met with last year when we placed an order with them which will be finished in 2010. The textiles from this area are different than the textiles of Lamalera and Tapobali in color and motif. Each woman is only allowed to make one of these traditional textiles a year. She can only weave the motifs from her clan. Additionally the weavers are only able to make a two-part sarong for Threads of Life as it is not allowed for them to make a three-part sarong for sale. These three-part textiles, called Petek Haren, are essential to the ritual gift exchange at marriage. We were happy to see that have planted a lot of new Morinda and Indigo.
From Lembata we took the ferry to the island of Adonara to visit the weavers we met two months ago. The basket order we placed then was finished and the work was of much better quality than the baskets we turned down last visit. The women were all pleased that I was happy with their work this time and promised to keep up the quality of the unique betlenut baskets they call ekot which uses a dried gourd as its interior. The ekot is ritually required for wedding ceremonies throughout Adonara.
We were very fortunate to see the production of the red dye using Morinda while we were there. The tradition is that only the women who are the descent of one clan are able to make the red dye. Other weavers nearby must buy or bartar for red threads from this clan. When the women gather it is called Orin Krore and they all meet in the clan house.
Below the house women were working cutting bark from the Morinda roots. A living fence around the house keeps all other women from coming into this ritual space. Surprisingly men are able to enter this space, so we were welcome to see their work first hand!
In the space above, under the grass roof line, older women were working with dye pots of Morinda. One of the women elders, Belandina Bulupayon, explained the process to us as she busily soaked and worked the red dye into her threads. While this system seemingly restricts other women outside the clan line from making their own red dyes, the art is still continuing and women are still bartaring for their threads. As I see it, such rules are often set up for a reason. I hope to return when they are not so busy to try to understand more deeply what the ritual relationships are between the different clans of this area.
This trip was a great experience for all of us. This is my last trip for a while with Cecilia as she will head back to Alola Foundation in Timor-Leste at the end of this month. I look forward to my next trip with Luis and Willi as we explore Oecussi, a province of Timor-Leste that is like an island within West Timor. I will be more the student on that trip, with Luis and Willi as my guides. We hope to be establishing new weaving groups there for both Threads of Life and the Alola Foundation.