Threads of Life’s nonprofit partner, the Bebali Foundation, has been working on a project called CELLS (Cultural Ecology Livelihood Learning Systems) now for four years with the wonderful assistance of AVI (Australian Volunteers International) and the Ford Foundation. We are now at the point of trialing it with other Indonesian partners and set out this past month to visit these small organizations that share the same passion for culture as Threads of Life.
Our Field Manager Tutut, field staff Allan, along with myself and Leah (AVI) headed to Kupang and six hours up the spine of Timor to Kefamananu to meet with Yakob – a young man who is the grandson of the late 107-year-old elder Pak Paulus Obe of the region known as Inbate. Yakob is passionate about his culture and has dreams of bringing guests up to his village by horseback to stay and listen to his tales, to wander the landscape and see their traditional weaving practices.
We did not choose to go by horseback for this visit. Instead, we forded a river and took cars up to the mountain, but were required to walk down on our return journey, as rain was likely and the cars had to get across the river before it became swollen and impassable. Yakob lives in a small hamlet surrounded by the sacred forest that his clan cares for. Tutut facilitated a wonderful session with Yakob about the way that CELLS can be used to understand the cultural role of textiles, along with the materials and techniques used to create these treasures.
It is likely that Yakob will focus on the Ecology aspect of CELLS and will be trained to collect specimens of culturally important plants and research the roles of these plants for rituals, building of traditional houses, dyeing and weaving, and everyday life.
By afternoon we were back to the river and met our cars to head back to Soe where we met up with the rest of the Threads of Life field team. Yansen, Pung and Pak Willy had just completed a ten-day visit to the communities we work with in Timor, meeting master weavers and discussing the importance of maintaining quality and cultural continuity in the textiles they will make for us this year.
The next day we traveled an hour out of Soe to visit a weavers group that we have worked with for fifteen years now and that Tutut had not met with for eight years. Tutut worked in the field for three years before getting married and having her first child who is now old enough to be left for a week when she travels. The women were all so happy to see Tutut again and she commented on how healthy the children looked now compared to eight years ago. The income generated by these women from selling textiles has allowed these families to build new houses and create an overall cleaner environment.
Saying our goodbyes, we then headed to Kupang and flew the next morning to Maumere on Flores where we met with Daniel David, the director of Noni House. We first met Daniel twenty years ago in Watublapi where Threads of Life and the Bebali Foundation first worked with this community to revive their natural dyes, particularly their Morinda-red dye. The community of weavers has since become well-known and generates a good livelihood from dive boats that send guests ashore, and tourism in general. Daniel and his team have developed a good website called TENUN IKAT SIKKA (tenunikatsikka.com). With this being their base, we will work with CELLS to expand their website and hopefully introduce a tool to add value to the products they are selling, which will in turn improve the livelihoods of the weavers groups they work with.
Yakob and Daniel will be visiting Bali in May for a week-long workshop on the vision and values of CELLS, with particular focus on authenticity and traceability and the important role of women as cultural knowledge keepers. Where men are often the ones who relay information to the outside world, they are seen as the cultural caretakers. However, we feel it is essential that women’s voices and roles continue to be heard and acknowledged.