We have been working in the Threads of Life Gallery in Ubud Bali as sales staff for the past number of years. We often sell textiles woven by weavers in Sumba so we recognize all of their names, but this March we had the chance to actually fly to Sumba and meet the weavers face to face.
It was thrilling to actually meet the people whose names we had only known and to see how people live in Sumba. Tamu Rambu Hamueti who is the queen of Rindi was so generous and fun to be with, as was her husband the king, Umbu Kanabu Ndaung. We felt so welcomed and comfortable as they had meals prepared for us.
Our timing was perfect. As we arrived at Parai Yawangu, the traditional center of the Rindi principality, we found many of the weavers whose textiles we often sell actually working on backstrap looms. They were on the big back porch of the Uma Penji, which is the tradtional house where Tamu Rambu Hamueti and Umbu live.
Rambu May Inggiri is a weaver who comes from the village of Pau. She has been with Tamu Rambu Hamueti since Tamu Rambu left her home in Pau to marry the king of Rindi. May’s weaving is very clear and very tight.
Ana Hamu also came from Pau with Tamu Rambu and she is a skilled pattern maker. The supplementary warp designs are all laid out on the textile by Ana Hamu. She will look at the pattern of an old design that were part of Tamu Rambu’s inheritance and carefully pick the pattern in the warp threads and position a small rod to hold that part of the design.
The big surprise for us was to meet Hau Rimu who is a weaver and also a man! We thought that weaving was only woman’s work but Hau loves to weave and told us if he does not weave everyday that his body aches! His wife prefers to work in the fields. Hau particularly loves doing the big heavy handspun textiles with supplementary patterns.
Across the compound is the Uma Tidahu which was the traditional house responsible for agricultural ceremonies. This is where the basket maker Tamu Rambu Ma’aya lives with her sister. Ma’aya is able to make the complex sculptural baskets traditonally used in the royal households, while her sister is still learning.
These skilled basket makers can even weave a decorated plate from lontar palm leaves that mimics Dutch cereamics. Eti told us that this was imitating what the royal families had seen the Dutch use and of course the Sumbanese royals did not want to be left behind. The Sumbanese did not have access to ceramics but they could fashion almost anything from lontar palm leaves!
In Hamba Paraing we were able to visit the weavers Ndai Manggil and Tanggu Wori who produce beautiful indigo blue textiles. Their textiles are simple but very striking.
While we walked around the village we came back to find Rambu Tanggu Wori busy at work on her backstrap loom. Tamu Wori works on her loom inthe shade under her traditional house after she has finished her work in the fields.
While our time was short, we all left feeling we had experienced the wonderful warm generosity of the people we visited. We could see that the people in Sumba live a much more difficult life than we do in Bali and yet they were all so kind and welcoming wherever we went. We all felt very humbled by our experience.