Threads of Life staff have been visiting the village of Ngella in central Flores for over a year, learning about the village’s textile traditions and searching for weavers to work with. Looking at their photos and pictures from books, I imagined a community that still retained an intact culture with traditional houses standing side by side, each built with different structural levels depicting the realms of diety and humans in their architecture; each house with characteristics that defined the status of its occupant from the highest to the lowest class.
In truth, I have wanted to vist this community since my first visit to Flores in 1999 as I had heard how strong the traditonal culture was; that their ceremonies still practiced were solemn and sacred. One story I heard fascinated me. It was about a dance that invited rain and was performed only on a specific day. This dance is called Mure and is performed in the center of the village by women wearing beaded cloths called lawo butu. For the community of Nggela, this textile is the most sacred of cloths, as during its use at this ceremony it has the powers to evoke rain and agricultural fertility for the community.[separator][/separator]
There are many sarong designs made in Nggela, and they are differentiated by both the motifs used and the arrangement of these motifs. We only saw a few during our visit. These included the lawo luka, lawo kapa and lawo kunake patterns. Lawo means sarong. The Lawo luka is characterized by a center field inspired by the dominant pattern in the community’s heirloom double-ikat patola trade cloths from India. Kapa means boat and the central motif of the lawo kapa design clearly represents a sailing vessel. The lawo kunake design is named not for its motif but for the fact that the pattern fills the whole cloth, without borders or seperataing stripes.[separator][/separator]
While traditionally all textiles were made with natural dyes, over the past two decades most weavers have turned to using synthetic dyes as the process is easier and faster. When I visited Nggela with Wenten and Sukata in April 2009 I spoke to Petronela Pape. She is one of the last natural dye weavers remaining, but sees that it is a dieing art.[separator][/separator]
After speaking with Petronela for most of the day and explaining that there was a market for natural dye textiles, she became more enthusiastic. But here is the most exciting thing: her brother, Pak Kanisius Uba, is the only remaining man who can sew on the beads for the sacred lawo butu![separator][/separator]
Again after a long discussion, Pak Kanisius Uba and Petronela agreed to try and make a lawo butu again. I respect that that they will need to ask permission to sell this piece by performing a ceremony to make sure that this commission is done in accordance with their culture. We eagerly await to see if it is indeed possible to revive this beautiful textile that was almost certain to dissapear