Date of this Version
Published in Textile Society of America 2014 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future, Los Angeles, California, September 10–14, 2014,
Eastern Indonesia is known for a great variety of textiles. One part of the region that has been largely overlooked in the literature is textiles of the Alor archipelago. However, the literature does recognise and speculate about the unusual silky character of some Alorese cloths that have entered Western museum collections. Based on fieldwork among weavers in the village Uma Pura, situated on a small island in the Pantar strait, this paper reveals the secret behind the characteristic shiny finish of the ‘silk’ sarongs from Alor. Ruled by necessity rather than choice weavers used to mix cotton with fibres from kolon susu, a common plant along arid coasts of Eastern Indonesia. The same lack of raw materials for women depending on weaving for their livelihood also led to a triangle trade in the Solor-Alor archipelago where sarongs were traded for pots that were traded for cotton - which was brought back to Uma Pura to be mixed with kolon susu and spun into a kampung version of silk cloth. In the paper these economical and practical aspects of the production of hand-spun yarns is set against the backdrop of a mythological past where Eko Sari, a hari woman from a village in the sea, taught Alorese women about spinning and the tangible present where hand-spun yarn plays a central role to pregnancy and childbirth in Uma Pura.