In Field Notes
Full moon over the coastal plain at the end of the monsoon

The coastal road west of East Sumba’s main town of Waingapu sees little traffic. The villages are few and far between on a coastal plain that slopes up from the foreshore’s mangroves to the foot of an escarpment. Houses are surrounded by fenced cornfields, but most of the thin and rocky soil is given to savannah grasses and the livestock that they feed. Indigo (indigofera tinctoria) is also grown, and where it is seen, weavers and dyers are sure to be found.

Hamba Praing is typical of these communities. People here live from animal husbandry: goats, cattle, buffalo, and handsome horses are seen corralled around the houses or grazing on the escarpment. Ikat textile production is also an important income source: the area’s blue-and-white cloths are distinctive.

Hinggi Kawuru textile; tied, dyed and woven by Dai Manggil; 2007
Dai Manggil of Hamba Praing, Sumba

The village’s indigo dyers prepare their dyes during the annual monsoon (December to April), and during the few months thereafter when the indigo still grows. Unlike commercial-minded dyers around Waingapu, weavers here do not make up a cake precipitated from their dye vats that can be reconstituted during the long dry season. Dai Manggil, a weaver from Hamba Praing, explained that their textile production was very weather dependent: if the rains fail, so does the indigo.

Dai Manggil’s neighbor, Dai Ngana, who was working her dye vats when we visited, added that she works very hard to take advantage of the indigo when it is plentiful. Whatever dyeing she fails to complete must wait until the next monsoon.

Dai Ngana of Hamba Praing at her indigo vats
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