Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tais - Kaleidoscope!

Joseph's fabled amazing technicolor dreamcoat pales into obscurity when compared to the terrific Timorese tais or story-boards that relate unique legends of a nation in transition. 


A phantasmagoria of energy, soul, passion and community

Tais cloth is a form of traditional weaving created by the women of Timor-Leste. 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. Using mostly cotton threads, the cloth is created during the island's dry season (typically from May to November), almost entirely by hand. The use of cotton is a legacy of the Portuguese colonial era, when Timor was an important port for the trade in the material. Synthetic fibers like rayon, acrylic and polyester are becoming more common as they are imported more cheaply into the country. Try and avoid tais produced from synthetics as they tend to be less durable with dyes running, particularly, at the first wash. Original and more traditional tais are highly prized and priced but certainly something to treasure. A single tais can take anywhere from several days to a year, depending on the complexity of design and variety of colors used, to craft.

Located in the CBD, Dili's Tais Market, stocks weavings from throughout the country's 13 districts depicting a snapshot of local history and culture to the delight of international tourists

The tais has been used traditionally in Timor-Leste as a unit of exchange, often for livestock or other valuables. In ceremonial use, the tais is usually worn along with feathers, coral, gold and/or silver. Weaving of tais is performed solely by women, with techniques passed down from generation to generation in an oral tradition.

Colour, culture, character, awe-inspiring stories and much more are to be found at Dili's Tais Market
 Designs, imagery, colors, and styles of tais production vary greatly from district to district, but they often include messages of locale and significant events. Imagery often includes animals such as the crocodile, upon which the creation legend of the island is based. Geometric patterns known as kaif are also employed in most tais. In the enclave of Oe-Cusse, Portuguese influence is most apparent, with floral and religious imagery predominating alongside subdued shades of black, orange, and yellow. In the capital city Dili, by contrast, bright colors and solid panels reflect the focus on tais commerce.  In the district of Ermera, black-and-white designs are most common, reflecting the royalty of the traditional leaders, who often lived in the area. The town of Atsabe (also within the Ermera district) is reputed to be a centre of tais excellence and production. The remote districts of Lospalos and Oe-Cusse are also known for their rather distinctive and highly sought after tais. The village of Manufahi produces tais with certain common animal themes, specifically the lizard and pig.

All tied up .... the blogger left with friend and work colleague Nuno model, to the mirth and merriment of Oe-cusse villagers (Sub-district: Nitibe), the lastest in tais-mane fashion. The older, more traditional tais are sought after collectors items   

The weaving of the tais plays an integral role in Timorese life and especially women's lives: shaping identity and attitudes towards them. Before the introduction of currency and after, the tais has been used as a valued object of exchange in gifting and ceremonies. Textiles are the art-form of the South-east Asian region and often the most beautiful tais are used to wrap around the bodies of loved ones for burial. Its role in wedding arrangements and the associated family ties, is attributed by some authors with contributing to the maintenance and strength of Timorese identity despite hundreds of years of colonial occupation (including Portuguese, Japanese and Indonesian).

Local lasses from Nitibe sub-district (Oe-Cusse) demonstate the crafting of hand-woven tais on a back-strap loom. An essential part of the nation's cultural heritage, tais weavings are used for ceremonial adornment, home decor, and personal attire

One of the most common tools for tais weaving is the back-strap loom, which allows tension on the cloth while the warp is manipulated. The pressure from the strap and the time required for the intricate designs on many tais produce significant pain for many women. During the 1999 wave of violence known in Timor-Leste as "Black September", many tais weavers saw their tools and equipment stolen or destroyed. Recent years have also seen a decline in the number of young women learning traditional methods of tais weaving.

Natural pigments are used to create bright colors in the tais; these are mixed from plants like taun, kinur, and teka. Other colourings are derived from mango skin, potato leaf, cactus flowers, and turmeric. Individuals skilled in mixing dyes are sometimes compared to alchemists, using traditional recipes for creating desired colors. Although colors carry different associations from village to village, red is often used predominantly, as it is connected to long life and courage, in addition to being the base of the Timor-Leste flag.

An elderly, yet charming, farmer takes a betelnut break at the weekly market in the sub-district of Oe-Silo (Oe-Cusse)

Styles of tais worn on the body are differentiated by gender: men traditionally wear the tais mane(or "man's cloth"), a single large wrap around the waist usually finished with tassels. Women wear the tais feto ("women's cloth"), a form of strapless dress woven in the shape of a tube. A third type known as the selendang, a slender cloth worn around the neck in a scarf or wrap-like fashion, has become popular in recent years.


A local villager, from Oe-Silo, splendidly attired in his local area tais-mane