Friday, August 6, 2010

In search of the Morinda dye.

Kupung, West Timor.
We are in search of particular red dye, a dye which comes from the roots of the morinda tree and produces very earthy ochreish red hues. Threads of Life have been working with this community for six years. The co-op is lead by a master weaver, Mama Rosa, a woman who has kept alive the knowledge of natural dyeing.

We flew to Kupang, drove two hours up a range to Kefanenanu where a roaring wind brings a cool change. This gives us a head start as there is another four hours of driving ahead of us tomorrow.

The long drive to Looneke takes us through a constantly changing environment from lush forest to dry open bush. The road progressively worsens until we are on a bush track made slippery and boggy with unseasonal rain.

Our small convoy stops before the village and we are greeted by the nephew in-law of Mama Rosa, this is a matrilineal society with the men coming into the woman’s household.

Franz walks us the 800 metres into the village, children run ahead, yelling out our arrival. We pass small village homes with pigs and chickens roaming freely. Surrounding us is a ‘food forest’: candlenut, betel nut, wild breadfruit and natural trellises of wild pepper.

The co-op and the head clansman greet us with a welcome song,with women drumming and Jean cuts a piece of morinda dyed thread which is strung across the entrance way.

People’s excitement at having us here is obvious as we are the first group of interested tourists to really visit like this and we can't help but share their pleasure.

Lunch is followed by a fascinating weaving and dyeing demonstration which is held in the dwelling built from the co-ops first profit. And it’s here we get to see the first evidence of the red dye of morinda. We see the dye being made, the thread woven and on a tour of the forest we see the morindah tree growing.

The sale of these beautiful textiles is a great success, the earthiness, the many shades of reds and browns and intricate motifs makes it hard for us to resist.

But we can’t leave without another song and dance. And before I know it Eleri is being dressed in her newly purchased sarong and is wiggling those hips in perfect time to the drums as we walk up the hill.

Great laughter is the last thing we hear as we make our way away from Mama Rosa, the Putri Tunggal Co-op and the village of Looneke.

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