Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I have just returned from the island of Sumba. Sumba was 
the unexpected. I went there(with my friend John) , to
research weavers, natural dyes, techniques in order to make samples for some of my designs that I am working on at the mo....met 2 Queens (real ones, unlike some I know!) of a Kampung(a small hamlet) on one side of the island renowned for its style of weaving called PAIHIKUNG- a supplementary weaving technique. Had to get their approval to start a weaving project there, one of the young woman we met there has alot of initiative and speaks english..her grandmother, Ibu Gunna Jilik, is the village Indigo dyer par-excellence. So here it goes for striped handwoven cloth in Indigo & natural off-white ,and Mengkudu(red) & natural off-white. Nearby the beach still has mangrove trees in place, with fishing boats pulled up in between them. Beautiful spot! 


Went around on a motorbilke with John...really 
a hilarious sight...2 large gentleman, artistic & rather good with colour on a small bike..That was quite a trip, as spent 3-4 hours a day on the bike getting to out of the way places to meet weavers, collect dyeing materials and techniques. West Sumba...Roads up and down  Wild, forested , VERY hilly, and the beaches totally unpopulated..I think we only saw a total of 5 tourists in a week..3 of those were at the harbour where we ate at night in Wangapu, the capital. they had come ashore from their boat which they had been sailing round the world on from Brazil.

Bone, wood, and stone carving pretty amazing

 I would love to live there 3 months of the year as the weaving and dyeing is perfect for me to pursue my projects close to hand..Some of the old KAMPUNGS still retain their original grass rooves, and are perched on ridges, much in the same way that neolithic settlements were in Britain, to give a commanding view of the surrounding countryside, and act as protection in case of attack....something that doesn't happen anymore

 There are only around 250,000 people on the island. It is very beautiful there, with a contrast of drier flatlands in the east(good dyeing),the rolling hills & valleys of central and themore lush , forested west Sumba. People live very simply there, hardly any pollution or rubbish dumped... & still tend to live and work in harmony with the land, seasons, and animals mostly, very much as they did in England before the industrial revolution.

Sumbanese men are mostly lean, proud lookin’ & handsome. 
All the people we met, were so  very nice and friendly...no more head hunting, although I saw a fab textile piece with stylized skulls on a tree. this was called POHON ANDUNG : skull tree . This was shown to us by the Queens of Pau, Tamorambu Tokung & Tamorambu Paki.  They , and other ladies from the KAMPUNG were stripping the Indigo down in order to give it to Ibu Gunna Julik, who has lived in the Kampung UMABARA next to PAU  since her marriage 50 years ago. It  is she alone who makes the Indigo dye for the 2 KAMPUNGS & dyes the yarn, in a place specially set aside, just beyond the houses.

Things that happen if men get near an Indigo vat : The colour goes bad...your balls drop off (ONLY JOKING!!!)
However I did hear about a Sumbanese man who was openly gay who was an Indigo dyer. Interstingly his sexuality made it ok for him to be an indigo dyer(Inference is that he has no balls anyway...hmmmm!)
However a warning note to women: If dyeing PAKA PIHAN-the black/brown colour when menstrating, your next child will be black!
There are no restrictions to men making the red dye from the root of TOMBU/ Mengkudu/ morinda citrifolia.........

some other oral traditions:
 Before independence, if somebody was found wearing PATOLA RATU(cloth reserved for royalty) who wasn’t royal, a member of the royal family could literally take the cloth off the person, leaving them naked.
 Up until recently, at a royal funeral, servants were also dispatched to the afterlife to wait on their master or  mistress. As in life, in death.

 Women are not allowed to make indigo or dye with it when they have their menses as the CANDI/pot could break.

 If a person has a shower/washes or uses perfume  near the indigo vat it could  be ruined,
the indigo vat it could  be ruined, so showering and washing must be done in an area far 
away from the vat. 

If a lady is menstrating & weaves at the same time, the thread will break.

 If dyeing PAKA PIHAN-the black/brown colour when menstrating, your next child will be black.
 The betel represents the masculine, the nut the feminine, the KAPUR/lime the semen, which combine in the mouth when chewed to form the red  juices & are spat out to represent the female blood that fertilises the earth.

The Church  got here big time, so alot of Christian converts, but underlaying this all is their ancient religion: the spirit of the Ancestors called "MERAPU" An intensity which flavours everything. The belief is that nobody can communicate with the presence of creation without the mediation of MERAPU. The concept of this presence of creation or “ALMIGHTY”, is called NAMAWULU TAU MAJII TAU, which means ‘Creator of the Universe’. This being has two balanced aspects: INA(mother)PAKAWARUNGU; & AMA(father)PAKAWARUNGU. They are addressed as INU MBALA-mother of the Universe, & AMA NDABA-father of the Universe.

Everywhere we went people were curteous, friendly, & helpful. Everybody laughed at my panto Indonesian and we always managed to work out what needed to be said. Harldy any English is spoken here, 99% Sumbanese & Indonesian. 

We really had such a great time there, the people, the natural dyeing, the textiles, the craftsmanship inherent in the wood, stone, & bone carving, the undulating and changing landscape, the tasty warung food, the horses & above all a sense of tradition & community largely untouched by what is seen as the march of progress. Time goes on at a still human pace...Cant wait to get back !


  1. Ha Ha Ha you on a motorbike!! LOVE it. xxx J xxx

  2. I've just installed iStripper, so I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.