About Timor & Me – Discover a world of authentic hand woven and hand crafted curios made on a betel nut high
Falling in awe of the Timorese
I first travelled to Timor in 1990 from Darwin, arriving in Kupang (capital of West Timor) and travelling in West Timor. I was 30. Entry to East Timor has been more sporadic, and so when I talk of Timor in these pages I am nearly always referring to rural West Timor. In a land that is predominantly Christian, which is but a thin veneer atop an Animist base, I found a tough yet gracious people. People with patience enough to help this naive “cas muti” (European in local ‘Dawan’ language) gain some understanding and insight into their lives. They helped me to understand appropriate dress (cover the shoulders and not too much knee please); work out the menu (charades always wins laughs); jump on the best disco booming, flashing lighted bus or bemo (be sure of where you ask for else you’ll end up on the grand tour to show off the white tourist); and learn a few of the customs and a little culture (I can get anywhere in Timor with a pocketful of balloons and betel nut). This help contributed to my falling in awe of the Timorese.
I brought home some statues, masks, betel nut containers and a few weavings, quite unaware that I had stumbled onto the “real thing” that would turn into a 3 decades long relationship. Each year, upon my return, I found a wealth of authentic traditional crafts, of which no two are ever the same. Weavings are created on simple back strap looms often using hand-spun cotton and natural dyes to produce scarves, blankets, throws, shawls, table runners, bags and tubular sarongs or tais. Or, in the case of carvings, often using only a machete and penknife, carvers bring life to bamboo, wood, bone, buffalo horn, gourd, fossilised coral and coconut, to produce artefacts in the traditional way. Sales of those pieces led me to return yearly and served as a base for a journey of discovery both of a most remarkable island people and myself.