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Flores, Indonesia: travel notes - Donna Lum

click on image to go to enlargement - all text & images Donna Lum
to 56K Jpeg 0215 Weavers can be found along the roadsides in all the villages in Flores. This is around Bola village on the south coast of the island (2004).

Donna titles these travel notes 'Home of the “Hobbit”'. These personal notes are a short compilation of comments about major places in Flores which she visited in June 2005, found interesting and recommends. They have a strong textile flavour although Donna stresses that she does not pretend to be an expert on the local traditions or textiles.

While some people may think that Flores and Lembata are fairly isolated, they are actually very easy to get to and the local culture is still very much alive and well.

Flores is a predominantly Catholic island, dating from the influence of the Portuguese who conquered the area during the heyday of the Spice Trade wars between the Dutch, British and Portuguese. However, as these notes demonstrate, there are still very, very strong influences of local indigenous culture. The weaving traditions are going strong and you will be more likely to see men and women wearing ikat sarongs than wearing western wear. Young men who want to marry must come up with horses, money, and other gifts, especially textiles as bride price payments or belis. If you cannot come up with the goods requested by the bride’s family, you cannot get married. Many people delay marriage for many years while they acquire the brideprice.

Even the smallest villages have ad-hoc or official weaving cooperatives and one of the best ways to find them is to ask at the side of the road :“Ada sarong dijual disini? Boleh lihat?” “Are there any sarongs for sale here? May I see them?”

Labuhanbajo: A dusty little port and fishing town with very friendly people and fantastic views of the bay overlooking the islands of Rinca and Komodo. There is a Merpati office located here to fly to Bali or other islands, or you can charter a cruise to Komodo.

Ruteng: the capital of the Manggarrai region. Try to stay at Homestay Papa John with the friendliest host you will meet in Flores or perhaps all of Indonesia. We were lucky and were invited to the ordination celebration of his nephew, Father Ansi, which included meeting the village elders in a traditional hut and receiving betel nut sirih and watching the Caci dance. The caci dance looks painful but evidently is an important test of manhood as the men wear amazing costumes and the object is to whip the opponent while he tries to hold you at bay with a shield. There are no winners or losers but scars are considered badges of courage.

If you ask around, there is a local woman who is doing wonders with the weaving cooperative in the hillside. The traditional Manggarai cloth is ikat or plain base cloth with supplementary weft designs. Her name is Kornelia Rindung in Pagal village, and she has a heartwarming story to tell about the women’s role in this very traditional village. According to Ibu Kornelia (Ibu being an honorific like Mrs or Madam) She started this cooperative a few years ago and, at the time, not many women were weaving textiles other than for their own needs. Ibu Kornelia taught many of them to weave patterns that she found in old books or even old cloths. At first, there was resistance on the part of the local women but, as they were able to make sales to other villages and even to tourists, and earn some of their own money for the first time, other women became more enthusiastic about weaving cloth and joined the cooperative. She stated that for many, it was the first time their husbands had started to treat them with respect as they started to earn their own money in non-farming activities. She has received orders from as far away as Jakarta, Japan and Switzerland and hopes she can continue with the support of other interested locals and visitors.

Moni: This is the area where you can spend the night before going on to see the fabulous Kelimutu lakes at sunrise. There is plenty of fresh cool air, local markets and weavings being sold on the side of the road.

Ende: Ende Regency is home to the Endenese and Lio villages with their famous warp ikat sarongs and shoulder cloths. You will find weaving villages primarily along the coasts, particularly in Wolowaru, Nggela, Wolojita and Ndona,and a very active cloth market in downtown Ende.

Sikka Regency, and the city of Maumere: Maumere seems to be the largest and most organized town in Flores. If you stay at the Hotel Maiwali they will happily tell you about their boss, the ancestral heir to the King of Sikka.

If you are interested in visiting a traditional weaving village and their cooperative you can visit the weaving village Watublapi, located about 40 minutes outside of Maumere. It is the Bliran Sina Ikat cooperative and you can contact Daniel David for information. With enough lead time they can organize a lunch, weaving demonstrations and a wonderful dance performance of traditional dances and music . David’s number is 081 339 463 561 (best to call when you arrive in Indonesia, not before, or send me an e-mail and I can call him). The cooperative is made up of more than 40 people and “seeks to preserve local culture and traditional weaving where every aspect of ikat weaving is carried out on site in the traditional manner using locally grown cotton and local vegetable dyes.”

Also not to be missed is the local Museum “Bikon Blewut, open only in the mornings. Bapak Endy Paji is the curator and he will explain many of the old customs and show you ancient artifacts and other interesting objects. (Tel 0382 21893, Fax 0382 21892, Hp 081339444717).

While in Flores you can also easily travel to Lembata, an island just a one dollar ferry ride away. The ride takes about three hours and is well worth the trip. You will also pass the islands of Adonara and Solor, which also weave similar textiles. While in Lembata you can visit the many weaving villages in the Ile Api area such as Mawa and especially Lamagute. In Lamagute there are is a village cooperative led by Ibu Margarita Sabu, where they weave wonderful cotton and silk cloths. The old women still weave their traditional designs and will be glad to show you their heirloom cloths and newly woven sarongs.

For information on textiles and the cultures of Flores, Donna recommends an excellent book “Gift of the Cotton Maiden” by Roy W. Hamilton published by the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, UCLA ISBN 0-930741-37-4.

also see Chris Buckley's textile travel notes from Eastern Flores and Lembata from August 2010

Donna Lum was originally from Hawaii but has lived in Indonesia since 1996 and deals in antiques and other crafts from Indonesia at the Kuluk Gallery in Bali. Her special interests are in textiles from throughout Southeast Asia. Contact Donna

to 53K Jpeg 0193 Some of the weavers of Watublapi, Flores, who use homegrown cotton and natural dyes for their weaving, in front of some of their textiles (2004).
to 53K Jpeg 0161 Roadside fruitseller outside Maumere, Flores (2004). Her sarong reflects the patola influence. (Patola - a double ikat textile originally woven in southern India and traded into Indonesia.)
to 56K Jpeg 0197 Two of the weavers of Watublapi, Flores, who use homegrown cotton and natural dyes for their weaving, in front of some of their textiles (2004).
to 54K Jpeg 0184 Winding the cotton thread off into balls after spinning - one of the weavers of Watublapi, Flores, who use homegrown cotton and natural dyes for their weaving, showing their traditional weaving skills (2004)
to 61 K Jpeg 0263 Dancers of Watublapi perform traditional dances (2004). Here is an excerpt from their explanation of the Roa Mu'u dance: "This dance symbolizes the agreement between families for a traditional marriage. The bride's family prepares the sacred traditional sarong hung in the banana tree while the groom's family must bring an elephant tusk. The sarong must have a certain ancient motif called either Welak or Wiri Wanan and it is a symbol of fertility. The banana tree symbolizes that the new couple will be able to face any problems in their marriage as if they were a banana tree that keeps growing back even if cut down many times, and only dies having borne fruit."
to 58K Jpeg 0181 Carding cotton - one of the weavers of Watublapi, Flores, who use homegrown cotton and natural dyes for their weaving, showing their traditional weaving skills (2004)
to 55k Jpeg 0261 Dancers of Watublapi perform traditional dances (2004). Here is an excerpt from their explanation of the Roa Mu'u dance: "This dance symbolizes the agreement between families for a traditional marriage. The bride's family prepares the sacred traditional sarong hung in the banana tree while the groom's family must bring an elephant tusk. The sarong must have a certain ancient motif called either Welak or Wiri Wanan and it is a symbol of fertility. The banana tree symbolizes that the new couple will be able to face any problems in their marriage as if they were a banana tree that keeps growing back even if cut down many times, and only dies having borne fruit."
to 55K Jpeg 0188 Weaving a lenghth of fabric for a sarong - one of the weavers of Watublapi, Flores, who use homegrown cotton and natural dyes for their weaving, showing their traditional weaving skills (2004).
to 58K Jpeg 0195 One of the weavers of Watublapi, Flores, who use homegrown cotton and natural dyes for their weaving (2004). Note the indigo dye stains on her hands.
to 57K Jpeg 0185 Spinning cotton thread - one of the weavers of Watublapi, Flores, who use homegrown cotton and natural dyes for their weaving, showing their traditional weaving skills (2004).
click on image to go to enlargement - all text & images Donna Lum
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this page last updated 17 July, 2011