Threads Of Life

World Water Day 22 March 2021: Valuing Water

On the dry, southern arc of islands to the east of Bali, water is extremely valued and traditional law and practices have safeguarded springs and water sources in the past. But with the erosion of custodial land rights, indigenous laws and practices have been eroded.

Where the culture remains strong, such as in Timor, the custodial right to water is maintained through the kanaf system. Each clan has ritual relationships to its four totemic kanaf, which are a species of plant, a species of animal, a rock or outcrop, and a spring. The ancestral spirits are seen to live in faut kanaf sacred rock and oe kanaf sacred water. Faut kanaf and oe kanaf underpin the Atoni people’s belief system and also their identity through connection to a place of origin. Wherever a Timorese person goes, the self remains linked to the place where the ancestral spirits reside. Threads of Life documents these relationships so that our field staff remain mindful of kanaf-related limitations when working with traditional communities.

Traditional well built by the Dutch in Savu
Water is carried from springs to the fields in Savu

On the island of Savu, anthropologist Genevieve Duggan has been able to use her long-term relationship with communities to work on a much-needed water program. They have cleaned and refurbished a number of old stone-lined wells that were built by the Dutch, and have piped the well water to the village. Having water available for cooking and cleaning means women are not walking distances to carry water. This allows for more time to weave and more water to dye with.

Sloping structures collect into cisterns the little water that falls
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The island of Nusa Penida off the east coast of Bali is a dry limestone plateau. Any rains percolate quickly into the landscape, and keeping useable water near the surface requires paving an inclined catchment area and directing the rain water this collects into lined underground cisterns.