Threads of Life began to work with a few weavers in Bolok, West Timor, in 2008. These weavers are ethnically referred to as Helong from the old kingdom on the nearby island of Semau. The kingdom of Helong fell to the Timorese kingdom or Amarasi during the Dutch times. While most Helong people now live not far from Amarasi, the Helong textiles still reflect their own culture. The name for a Helong men’s hipcloth is Sem Beklobe while the name of Amarasi textiles with a similar structure is Tai Muti. The motifs also remain. The fringe of the Helong textile is unique and is said to resemble clove flowers.
When Threads of Life began to work with the Helong weavers, specifically master weaver Theresia Alle Ngaing and her daughter Nelci Sede, they had no memory of how to make the unique fringing as they had no old textiles left to refer to.We were lucky to get a photo of an old textile from a friend in Australia that showed the fringing but the two dimmensional photo was not enough for them to understand how to tIe the fringing. Early this year, I found an old textile in an antique store in Kuta on Bali and bought this piece so I could take it back to show Theresia.
A few hours to the east of Helong is the chilly hill top townof Soe. Outside of Soe is Molo where Threads of Life has been working with weavers to maintain their locally-unique technique called Mnaisa or slit tapestry weaving. Textiles using this technique have always been considered prestigious to the people of this area and were mostly commissioned by the Meo warriors to be worn as part of their costume.
While the weavers in Molo are not yet making their own natural dyes, Threads of Life facilitates their buying ofnatural dyed threads from other weavers in Timor. In the future we expect the Molo weavers’ interest in making their own natural dyes to grow as they see they will be able to make more money by doing so. When this happens, we will be ready to help them learn.
Still further to the east, weavers in Oenenu are famous for their very fine ikat work and indigo dyes. The motifs include Atoni (ancestor), beso (frog) and other geometric patterns. These patterns are symbolic of the strong respect that Timor people have for nature and their ancestors.
The indigo black color that Oenenu has been famous for has almost been lost as few young women want to study this art from the older indigo masters. In 2011 Laurensia Naot was invited by Threads of Life to join a dye workshop in Bokong on the south coast where weavers are creating strong colors using natural dyes. Following this workshop, Laurensia was inspired to start her own indigo dye pots. She now owns two pots and intends to buy another one so she achieves a deeper indigo.
Over the past two years Laurensia and others in this village were not interested in dyeing as there was more money to be made in the mining of manganese. Now the mines are closing due to health problems and prices dropping so weavers are returning to their looms. Threads of Life’scommitment to communities for the long ter is one of our keys to success as trends come and go. Communities know that we will keep coming back!