In May 2018, I went on a textile tour to the Lesser Sunda Islands, organised by Sea Trek with Sue and David Richardson (UK) as textile experts.
To put it all in perspective, here’s a map of Indonesia with the area to be visited identified.
There was a 3 day pre-tour land based tour that started in Ende, Flores. We then crossed the country to Maumere, visiting Ndora, Kelompok and Nggela villages. For those who wished this could be taken independently or omitted. This was followed by a 13 day cruise around Flores, Lembata (formerly known as Lomblen), Alor, Pantar, West Timor, Savu, Raijua, Sumba before returning to Flores.
This map, supplied by Sea Trek shows where we went.
I had long wanted to explore Flores and Sumba in particular as some of my friends had already been there. I had seen the textiles that they had acquired and had heard their stories and I was fascinated. I hoped to see some similar as well as researching how they were made. In addition it was an ideal way to get an overview of textile production on the smaller islands. In all reality visiting these would be unlikely otherwise. In essence, I thought that this trip would be an ideal opportunity to gain an overview of textile production in this area. It would also inform me of any area which I would like to revisit to do more in depth research. And I’d get to revisit West Timor which I had thoroughly enjoyed in 2007.
Sue and David are both avid collectors with a passion for ethnic textiles and in particular traditional cloth, dyed only with natural dyes and lean towards museum quality pieces. Each night of the cruise Sue or David would give a comprehensive lecture. The lecture, on the regency to be visited, would cover such textbook topics as ethnography – cultural linages (matrilineal, patrilineal), marriage laws and settlements, language; European history in particular, geography and examples of textiles found in collections including their own extensive one. Included were handouts with comprehensive bibliographies. I’m sorry to say that some nights I did find it hard to concentrate (as did many) especially after a day out and about and a relaxing drink in hand. The handouts will be helpful if I wish to research any theoretical aspects at a later date. However they do know their stuff and their years of travelling around this area have certainly enabled them to put together a comprehensive trip. Thanks Sue for the updated place names.*
In addition Sea Trek provided two guides, Anastasia and Narto. They were wonderful: professional, friendly, extremely helpful and obliging. A tour can really be enhanced by the local guides and they certainly filled that category. I’ll also mention the wonderful staff on the boat. It was a truly wonderful experience because of their friendliness, care and willingness to go out of their way and help. And the boat, Ombak Putih – what a truly wonderful way to get around the islands. Sea Trek run other cruises. I’d highly recommend the experience. www.seatrekbali.com .
There were 14 on this tour. It was a great group to get to know. Everyone was widely travelled and all with interesting stories.
To get to shore we were taken by these zodiacs.
I will divide this blog into two main sections: one covering the volcanic islands, and the other; the limestone ones. Yes, there are many active volcanoes in this area. Some were even “smoking”. They are all on the northern side of the Savu Sea. The other islands on the southern side are limestone. This is late afternoon cruising with a volcano in the background.
Before starting though, I’ll do an overview of traditional dress. Usually when we visited a village, we were given a welcome event with everyone dressing for the occasion. I guess after all here is their opportunity to show off to those foreigners and perhaps encourage income. This is just one of our many welcomes.
At Dokar (Umauta), Flores, our two representatives, Irene and Phil were taken and dressed for the occasion. This picture will illustrate the requirement of traditional dress for both men (a sarong and shoulder cloth) and women (a tubular sarong). The shirt for a woman may be made from hand woven fabric but is usually a commercial blouse.
At the villages we did see demonstrations of the steps from cotton fibre through to weaving. In fact we were to see this a number of times both on the volcanic and limestone islands. While they demonstrated spinning, it did not necessarily mean that they only used homespun. Here’s a pretty typical presentation that we saw throughout the trip; a collection from several places.
Cotton being ginned using an often beautifully decorated wooded hand gin. (Mawa Village)
Cotton is fluffed using a bow. This is a preparatory step to facilitate spinning. (Kelompok Kapo Kale*)
Spinning is carried out on a drop spindle. The thread that is produced is fine and even. It is very labour intensive, Commercially spun cotton is also being used. Sometimes rayon was also used. It dyes as well as cotton. In the market place trust the feel of the fabric to tell you the fibre whether it is hand spun or commercial cotton or a much more drape-able rayon.
Cotton being spun. (Mawa village)
After spinning it is wound into a skein or ball. (Mawa village)
Dyeing is carried out on either a skein for the weft or solid colour warp, or on a wound and bound warp for ikat. More will be covered on these steps in a later blog.
We’d see warps being prepared and dyeing demonstration. In this area, the typical colour was orange/red from morinda and blue from indigo. In fact, the orange/red was by far the most predominant colour that we saw. (Ndona)
The results of dyeing in morinda on an ikat warp. (Ndona )
We’d see many versions of warps being put on a loom. This is one in Kelompok Kapo Kale. The warps are circular and need to be cut off the loom when weaving is finished. There will be just a small distance left unwoven.
And warp faced fabrics woven on a back strap loom. Back strap looms were only used in this area. This image shows both a complicated combination of different warps being prepared and a woman weaving. (Bama)
Much more detail will be provided on winding the warps, binding for ikat, putting the warps on a loom and weaving in a later blog. There’s way too much information for here. This is just an overview.
The volcanic Islands: Part 1 Flores
Here’s an overview of what we saw and experienced.
We arrived in Ende and drove across to Maumere staying in the Kelimutu Echo Lodge for two nights. This gave us the opportunity to visit 3 weaving villages at Ndona, Kelompok Kapo Kale and Nggela.
Travelling by road is challenging as they are not smooth or straight. However it does give you the opportunity to look for looms or warps drying that may indicate the presence of weaving. I do like trying to get that glimpse into daily life as we travelled along these roads.
Weaving is done in the coastal villages. In the mountains at Saga, we were told that it is bad luck to weave. They acquire textiles by barter.
Here is a typical textiles from this region.(Kelompok) Some of the images above are also from this area and show cloth.
This market gives an idea of what was both on sale and what was worn. The dyes used here are synthetic but the colour aesthetics is typical: predominantly red/orange with some blue.
And then it was time to board the boat. From Maumere we sailed to another village in Flores, Umauta. What was very interesting here was that we saw several forms of weaving. Cotton is used (handspun and commercial) with natural dyes (mainly morinda and indigo). There was ikat; check out the skirts too.
There were lots of interesting stripes.
And fabrics that had supplementary weft patterning.
Here’s a very interesting technique. I had never seen a reed being used on a back strap loom. This simple technology resulted in a more open fabric. It is, when questioned, a traditional technique. As nowhere else was doing this, here is some information on this specialised technique.
The trick is: how to put on a warp that is circular, that will be woven on a back strap loom AND that is threaded through a reed.
A close up of the reed and a stand to stabilize it for threading. The spacing tells you how fine the fabric will be. Two threads go through each space or dent.
Winding the warp, creating heddles on one layer on every second warp thread and putting through the reed.
Here’s a diagram that may explain it.
This woman is weaving with a reed and with supplementary weft patterning. Note all the sticks that have pattern stored. (perhaps from another village in this area)
This movie shows the basic process of weaving with a reed on a backstrap loom.