Subject: Timor Aid: Weaving Together an Unravelling Tradition

Timor Aid: Weaving Together an Unravelling Tradition

By: Sarah Francis

The Australian military’s recent occupation of Timor Aid’s Same office came as a surprise to the organisation’s Traditional Weaving Project Manager Jose Ximenes. However an incident such as this is not so incongruous in the unsettled country of East Timor. An army spokesperson informed him that the building, including eight valuable weaving looms belonging to Jose’s project, would unavailable for at least five months. Jose’s worries were placated when he was assured that good care would be taken of Timor Aid’s property.

Timor Aid’s Traditional Weaving Project was conceived in 1999, with Jose adopting the project two years ago. “The long-term objective of our project is to provide women’s groups with a sustainable commercial activity,” explains Jose. “At the same time, we promote Timorese traditional weaving, because of its high cultural value.”

East Timor is renowned for its vividly coloured textiles. The diversity of colour and motif in its weaving mirrors the great diversity of its ethnic groups. East Timorese woven cloths, or ‘tais’ as they are locally known, convey a strong cultural meaning and thus are present in all aspects of the island’s traditional ceremonies and celebrations.

However recent conflict has threatened this ancient tradition. In the past, tais designs were not deliberately recorded; they were passed down as part of a women’s oral tradition from generation to generation. Families’ designs existed solely in the forms of memories and the actual tais themselves. The destruction of uma luliks (sacred houses) and village communities during the last three decades has led to the loss of many sacred designs.

Timor Aid is currently seeking to combat this loss of cultural identity with its Traditional Weaving Project. Traditional weaving patterns from East Timor’s 13 districts are being collected and recorded in an extensive catalogue. To date, the catalogue includes 78 tais collected from around the country, as well as photographs and narratives about their cultural origins.

Along with the creation of a weaving catalogue, East Timorese women are being trained in the production of authentic tais. As the activity aims to generate a sustainable income for women’s groups, the project will soon be focusing on developing their marketing skills and opportunities for tais sales in national and international markets.

As the looms are currently inaccessible, Jose’s weaving project has been temporarily put on hold in Same. Negotiations are taking place for relocation of the looms, however a lack of available space in Same may make this task difficult. “We all have to work together in these difficult times,” says Jose. “With the help of the Australian military we will regain peace in East Timor… Timor Aid’s weaving project has benefited many East Timorese women, and with the creation of a tais weaving catalogue we hope that this ancient cultural tradition will continue well into the future.”

Sarah Francis External Relations Coordinator Timor Aid Ph: +670 731 2142 

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