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Exploring Meanings, Makers & Markets of Tais: Forum

September 8th, 2008 jen Posted in 2009 Friends of Suai Port Phillip, Forum, News, Tais Weaving, Traditional Culture 5 Comments »

To see Tais in Exhibition click here. To read about Forum in Tetun click here. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge photos in galleries. Hover your cursor on right or left edge - near the top, to find Next and Back Buttons. Few people have had the privilege of seeing tais, the beautiful hand-woven "hidden textiles" that are the work of the women of East Timor.   I experienced the pleasure of seeing dozens of beautiful pieces being slipped out of their bright orange acrylic bags, and rolled off a huge bolster, on to the polished cedar table, in the old St Kilda Town Hall, last week. This thick-walled room, that buffered the heavy traffic sounds of St Kilda Road, was a long way from the ground where the tais were woven - where the loudest sounds are roosters crowing and perhaps a wooden mortar and pestle pounding sago palm bark into edible form. (To see exhibition click here) Dr Sara Niner,(Post Graduate Research Fellow at Monash and Xanana Gusmao's biographer), who initiated the Forum, was unrolling the Alola Foundation's collection of tais for an exhibition in the new St Kilda Town Hall Gallery. Only the lucky few that have travelled to Timor, have witnessed the skill and dexterity of these amazing artisans working in the backstrap looms, in East Timor. Over a hundred people who wanted to learn more about the tais and support the weavers of East Timor were at the opening of the tais exhibition and Forum 'Weaving Meanings & Makers from East Timor', last weekend. [I have included close-up photographs of the futus patterns and embroidery work. Many Timorese can recognise the district a tais is from as well as its role in ceremonial life by the patterns and shapes. However, little is still known by foreigners about the meaning of the patterns. I have included what information is available beneath the images. Click on the photographs to enlarge them. The 'next' and 'previous' buttons can be found a few cms down from the top on the sides by hovering the cursor there.. ] We have seen the beauty and admired the skill. Now we were gathering to see a collection from across Timor and hear some of the best and most experienced minds, apply themselves to questions about the meaning of the tais in Timorese life and what happens when you commercialise a craft grounded in culture and sacred life.. Since 1999 many people assisting East Timorese women have imported tais for sale and assisted weavers and sewing groups to produce items such as purses, bags, cushion covers and baskets that are saleable in Australia and elsewhere. Now the organisers and audience sought to understand the impact on the weavers and the tais, of colonialism and post-independence activities aimed at improving the lives of Timorese women. The Friends of Suai partnered with a suite of Australian NGO's and Monash University to bring about the Forum on the 6th September, the ninth Anniversary of the Suai Church Massacre that led to the formation of the friendship group in Pt Phillip. Balthasar Kehi a member of the Friends of Suai Committee, solemnized the Anniversary of the massacre by presenting a poem he wrote in 2006 when he was working in the refugee camps in Dili. In the poem Balthasar recalled the unity and optimism that followed the terrible losses and grief in the early days of independence and called on the Timorese leadership to remember the voiceless people of their country. There were two stunning tais from Kamenassa, Covalima in the exhibition. The Co-ordinator of FOS, Pat Jessen and committee member Desleigh Kent purchased these tais and a number of others in Suai in June, for the tais stall set up by Friends of Suai for the first time this year Up until now, coffee has been the only product handled for sale by the Friends of Suai. It remains to be seen if the current team can keep up with the work of purchasing tais and setting up a tais table at every opportunity that affords itself in addition to all the other work they do. However, the initiative of a tais trading table provides people in Pt Phillip wishing to support the women of Covalima with an exciting opportunity to get involved. Together the Exhibition and Forum left me with a the profound understanding that textiles are the art form of Southeast Asia and Timor. I learned from observation and experience that traditional Timorese culture is supported by growing, cutting, tying, knotting, weaving, dying and sheathing a variety of fibres, grasses and leaves for ceremonial and practical purposes. Now I understand better how the work of making the tais and conserving the tradition is important because of its role in culture in defining womens' identity and the way this cultural practice influences interaction and social cohesion. Yesterday's forum reiterated the need to protect the weavers and their work. I came to appreciate the need to encourage weavers and nurture especially skilled and committed weavers, but more importantly I came to appreciate that weaving as a cultural practice is integral to the Timorese meaning of life. Timorese and Australians attending, expressed the need to create markets for products woven and sewn by Timorese women, to create an income stream for them. Ego Lemos expressed the fears of many of us when he warned of social dangers for women and Timorese culture in commodifying the tais. Indeed, according to Sara Niner, Australian and overseas experience shows there is a great need for care and sensitivity in developing a cultural practice into an industry. The difficulty is, the Timorese women are highly skilled but very vulnerable. With no other choices for developing income for food and the education of their children it is a life and death choice for many, where some families are already resorting to selling their daughters into prostitution. This argument carries weight so long as the money the women receive for their work make it a sustainable activity. At this point it was easy to see how profoundly important it is for the intellectual work of the forum to continue and how critical it is to develop and strengthen dialogue with the weavers. The Forum revealed a need for a strategy that takes care of business while also respecting the continuance and where necessary revival, of cultural practices, that are critical to the meaning of life for the people of East Timor. Also, in considering the future of the tais and the weaving tradition we need to be looking at the history and traditions in the context of the whole island, working to understand the tais motif and symbolism as well as the Artisan's histories so that the role of the tais in culture is well understood. An outcome of the workshops in the afternoon was a call for a similar but bi-lingual forum to be held in East Timor that weavers could attend. The exhibition will be open until September 30. Monday to Friday 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. (Trams 3, 67 or Train to Balaclava Station turn left and walk down Carlisle street to the Town Hall).
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9th Anniversary Suai Church Massacre – The Circle of Stones video

September 5th, 2008 jen Posted in 1999, Dance, News, Traditional Culture Comments Off on 9th Anniversary Suai Church Massacre – The Circle of Stones video

Today and tomorrow mark the Ninth Anniversary of the Suai Church Massacre in which over 50 people were killed in Our Lady of Fatima Church in Suai, while up to 200 are said to have died in the Church grounds and the Unfinished Cathedral. A call for justice the film intercuts the re-enactment of the massacre with the ceremony around the Circle of Stones that grew outside the Church, that marks the place where the bodies of those killed were burned by the militia afterwards.
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Traditional Sacred House of Fohoren

July 24th, 2008 jen Posted in Architecture, News 3 Comments »

Tetun version: Uma Lulik Tradisional Lakon Kalae?

This story about Traditional Architecture was conceived and written by Suai youth in a media workshop in June 2008.

Uma Lulik Tradisional Fohorem This is the traditional sacred house of Timor, particularly in Covalima. The traditional sacred houses still exist. Our ancestors have passed on to us these traditional sacred houses from one generation to another. Traditional sacred house is very, very sacred. Therefore, whenever we are in the traditional sacred house, it is forbidden to talk, to chat and to put on hat. In addition, the elders are to be respected. People have to follow their words of wisdom. If not, then the punishment from the Above, the High in sky, would descend on you taking the forms of: death, being barren/having no children, becoming mad, or becoming confused and restless. Therefore, we Timorese really adore and respect our traditional sacred houses and our elders. Tuar Hamutuk iha Uma Sitting together in a sacred house “Sitting Together” The process of building a traditional house needs a very long time. It involves many meetings, working together and traditional ceremonies. The community members have to sit together. All the members who belong to one sacred house or uma lulik get together to make plan for the construction of the uma lulik. This includes those who married to people of other tribes and to the non-Timorese---the white and non-white foreigners---but who have not abandoned, and should not abandon, their traditional practices. All members of the sacred house (community) get together to make preparation for the building and the completion of the sacred house which ends with a very big celebration that lasts several days, in the past, even weeks. During this celebration of uma lulik people from other communities are invited. Preparation for the celebration of the completion and the blessing (traditional blessing) of the sacred house involve the preparations of buffaloes, pigs, goats, rice, local alcohol, tais, cova (traditional male and female baskets called cova mane and cova feto) and others for the celebrations. Serimonia oho fahi “Ceremony of slaughtering of pigs as an offering” When the two main pillars for the sacred house have been found suitable, a small religious ceremony is conducted before the cutting of the trees for the pillars. A pig is slaughtered and the blood of the pig is sprinkled at the bottom of the trees and a prayer is said, led by an elder, before the trees are cut down. After that an offering of cooked heart of the pig and cooked rice, along with beetle nuts and beetle leaves are offered at the bottom of the trees. This is a sign of respect for the trees and a way of asking permission from the spiritual owners of the trees (the spirits of the land/the forest which is seen as being sacred). Ta' ai rin Halas Uma “Cutting trees for the pillars”or“Putting the ‘bones’ of house.” The two main pillars are named after the names of the Grandfather and Grandmother of the sacred house community. The Grandfather is the south pillar which becomes the place in the house for sacred adoration, prayers and offerings, for the elder of the use to bless the members of the sacred house by means of what is called kaba. The ceremony of kaba is as follows. The offering in the form of beetle nuts and beetle leaves putting in a specially made female koba/cova (small and beautifully made basket) is made to the ancestors and is put on the bottom of the Grandfather’s pillar. After a prayer was said by the elder, the beetle nuts and beetle leaves are eaten by the elders but not swallowed. The elder then makes a mark on the chests and foreheads of the members of community with the crushed beetle nuts and leaves from his mouth mixed with saliva. And this is called kaba. The female pillar with the name of the grandmother is on the north where the kitchen is. It is just referred to is grandmother or bei feto. It is here in this side of the female pillar---the grandmother---that sacred baskets, sacred pots, sacred spoons and plate, sacred inheritance and others are kept. Tali Halibur Hamutuk Collecting ropes/strings and leaves together and putting the bones of house. Collecting together grass/palm leaves Having putting together the bones (woods) of the house tied tightly with strings from the forest, the roof of the house is put. The roof consists of either certain type of grass called hae manu lain for the people in highland where there are no palm tress or the leaves of the palm trees for the people in the coastal area and lowland. All these are done together in the group. Having putting together the bones (woods) of the house tied tightly with strings from the forest, the roof of the house is put. The roof consists of either certain type of grass called hae manu lain for the people in highland where there are no palm tress or the leaves of the palm trees for the people in the coastal area and lowland. All these are done together in the group. About the Sacred House Hosi Uma The Result of the process of building sacred house The result of the process of constructing a sacred house is as follows. All the members of the uma lulik (the community) are very happy, although the process of building a sacred house is very long---a one-year-long process.
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Santa Cruz Massacre 15th Anniversary

November 9th, 2007 jen Posted in 1991, 2000, News, Tais Weaving Comments Off on Santa Cruz Massacre 15th Anniversary

One of the tasks of this site is to help bring justice to the people of East Timor by keeping memories of the atrocities against them alive through 'Acts of Remembrance'. My friendship with East Timor began with a massacre - the Suai Church Massacre.

Veronica carrying the tais

Veronica carrying her commemorative tais in a massive procession from St Motael Church to the Santa Cruz Cemetry November 12, 2000

This November 12, 2007 is the 15th Anniversary of the Santa Cruz Massacre. Follow this link to learn the published history This moment in East Timor's history is particularly sad, for East Timor lost 271 young teenagers and students. Either dead or missing it left many people with the loss of all their children and no bodies around which to build a mourning process. The woman in the procession carrying the tais is Veronica Pereira. In an extraordinary act of love and remembrance Veronica wove five tais with the names of all the youth who died or disappeared into them, to create an everlasting symbol of their sacrifice. The documentary about Veronica will be uploaded next year under the title 'Returning the Tais' to Timor. Social Events This weekend about twenty young Timorese who are in Melbourne are performing a play written by Filomena dos Reis that she describes as "telling the story of the Timorese youth of the past, present and future."
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