Weaving the memories

“To make one large piece like this can take up to two to three months, but that’s because we don’t always weave every day”

The road to Nansean village was going up-hill. The small pick-up truck bounced every now and then trying to tame the gravel road that we took to the village.

Nansean is located in the southeast region between Kefamenanu and Atambua in West Timor. To get to the village, you need to get off the main provincial road at Kiupukan about one and half hour drive from either town. We hired this pick up truck to get to the village.

How many years has it been? The names of villages and regions are fading away now”

I miss taking this kind of trip”

I said to myself as I held tight the iron railing of the pick up truck. I heard people chattering in the background.

I was heading for Nansean village to meet a group of women weavers in the village. It’s an Australian alumni grant project trying to preserve the weaving knowledge, and I came to visit the village as part of the monitoring activities.

About twenty to fifteen years ago, I used to take gruelling trips around Timor Island visiting rural villages taking part in conservation, agriculture and community health projects. These memories, just like the village names, are now fading away.

Weaving is a part of traditions commonly found in different islands in East Nusa Tenggara, handed down over generations. The skills are disappearing quickly as only the elders are usually left to weave. Intricate designs are passed down through observations and practice. Different region boasts different design in pattern and colours.

I’m not a curator who knows the differences in specific styles and designs but I could at least tell the differences of fabrics from Central Region of Timor, Belu, Savu, Sumba and Flores. Even Flores has different designs across the island. Nowadays, the use of natural dyers is seldom found. It requires different set of skills, apparently too difficult for younger generations to learn, whose memory span, attention and patience are wearing thin.

We do the weaving after coming back from the farms. In the past, we don’t sell these textiles. They are only for special occasions and festivals. To weave a large cloth like this will take about two to three months” said one of the weavers.

The clicking sound of woods colliding continued as her hands danced with the loom, weaving the threads carefully.

Traditional cloth is very special to me. It represents home and friendship. When I was living abroad, this simple piece of cloth reminded me of home, the land and the people. It brought comfort as I went through all the ups and downs of my life there.

It also means friendship. Over the years, I’ve accumulated quite a number of beautiful designs and mostly are gifts from friends. There are three special cloths that are close to my heart.

Before I left my work and went to study in Australia, a friend from North Central Timor from years of working together, gave me a beautiful piece of cloth as a farewell gift. He said, I could bring this and sell it if ever I run out of money there. It’s beautiful and I know it’s expensive. I could tell from the rough texture and faded colours of the cloth indicating it’s made of natural dye. I wore this cloth when I attended a courtesy call with the foreign minister of Australia. I have never been prouder wearing it.

The second cloth is a gift from a friend in Lembata island. We just got married and I took my wife in one of my trips to Flores. This good friend, also from many years of working together, gave us a pair of these traditional clothes as a wedding gift. That was my first collection of traditional cloth from Flores.

The third cloth is a gift from my best friend from University. The design is from my great grandmother’s origin, Savu island. Despite, having tens of collections from different islands in the province. This was the only piece that I still hadn’t had yet. I thought, I would get an authentic one when I visit the island later.

Savu Design Cloth

Traditional fabric is special to the people in my place. They are worn in special occasions. To me these fabrics represent love, trust and friendship. Your relationship to that person should be quite special that you’d be willing to give away one of your family’s special collections to that person. Giving a traditional cloth from your tribe also means that you share a special part of you, an ancient knowledge handed down over the generations.

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