After five years of support by Threads of Life and the Bebali Foundation, the Ina Tula Tani community group of weavers in Tapobali on Lembata Island has successfully revived their natural-dye textile tradition. The weavers are very pleased and are eager to continue to improve their skills of spinning cotton and refining their natural dyes to achieve even higher quality! This is really remarkable as they had to learn to spin cotton and make natural dyes as well as plant all of these resources starting from nothing.
Today we are seeing many more young women actively weaving compared to when we first visited the village in 2007. At that time there was no weaver using natural dyes or making handspun thread from cotton, but the potential was there as textiles were still being used for ceremonies. We visited the community once or twice a year when on Lembata. While the work with reviving the textiles was just beginning we supplemented the weaver’s income by placing orders for beautiful lontar palm baskets. These baskets are used by the community for daily and ceremonial purposes.
Over the five years we made visits to the community and brought members of the weavers group to Bali to work on dye procedures, including how to test that their colors are light-fast and wash-fast. The most important part of our work was to recover the dye recipes from the older women. Doing this formed a cohesive group of weavers consisting of young and older women who enjoyed working and learning together.
There are two types of sarongs used for ceremonial purposes. These are the Kreot Nai Juan and Kreot Nau Telon. Both are made with natural dyes and handspun threads woven on a continuous warp backstrap loom. The resulting tubes of cloth are sewn together to make two- and three-part tubular sarongs. These are used as part of the gift exchange at marriage from the bride’s to the groom’s family. The Kreot Nai Teolon is a three-part textile with a centerfield of motifs. This textile is exchanged for large elephant tusks while the Kreot Nai Juan is a two-part textile which is exchanged for smaller elephant tusks. All of these heirloom tusks were brought over by the Portuguese and Dutch as barter objects during the spice trade.
The island is hard to farm due to the extreme dryness so many of the men head off to work in Kalimantan, Sumatra or Malaysia on palm oil plantations. As a result the women are left to make a living on their own and take care of the needs of their children. It is our hope that as the textile production grows and improves that it will also improve the livelihood of the people of Topobali.
I have a very special place in my heart for the people of Topobali. While it is a long journey to Topobali, all of my feelings of tiredness disappears once I arrive due to the people’s warmth and generosity. I always love my stay in Topobali even though it is only a few days, and I know my co-workers at the Bebali Foundation and Threads of Life feel the same. There is something very special about this village for us. We wish them all success.