Tais Cloth

Tais cloth is a form of traditional weaving created by the women of Timor Leste. We have had Tais items for sale here in the parish now and then to raise funds for Soibada. You may have also noticed the brightly woven cloth in some of the photos in the Bulletin or on the Parish website. Tais are an important part of the cultural heritage of East Timorese people. They are an essential part of many of the traditional activities.

Tais weavings are used for ceremonial adornment, decoration, and clothing. In ceremonial use, the tais is usually worn along with feathers, coral, gold and/or silver. The imagery and patterns of tais vary greatly from region to region, their designs represent important stories, records and beliefs. Men and women wear distinctively different tais. Men’s tais, ‘Tais Mane’ are worn like a sarong around the waist. They are usually bright colours and woven in one large piece. The women’s Tais, ‘Tais Feto’ is a tube of fabric either worn as a skirt or a dress. In recent years an addition to these two styles is the selendang, a long slender piece of cloth used for giving tribute by placing ceremoniously around the neck. The members of the group that visited Soibada were presented with these as a sign of friendship. Ambassador Guterres also gave some to the performers at Songs for Soibada as a gift of thanks.

The Catholic Church of East Timor has also adopted the use of tais during its ceremonies.

Weaving of Tais is performed by women and is regarded as an integral part of their duties. It can sometimes be a social activity but more often than not it is another thing to fit in between their routine daily chores. Tais are an important source of cultural sustainability and income for many women. Development of the tais industry has the potential to provide economic improvement to a vulnerable and marginalized section of society and represents an opportunity to preserve or revitalize traditional production methods and motifs.

One of the most common tools for tais weaving is the back-strap loom, which is painful for many women due to the pressure from the strap. Using mostly cotton threads, the cloth is created during the island's dry season, 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. Dyes mixed from plants like taun, kinur, and teka are used to create bright colors in the tais. Other dyes are derived from mango skin, potato leaf, cactus flowers, and turmeric. During the 1999 wave of violence known in East Timor as "Black September", many tais weavers saw their tools and equipment stolen or destroyed.

Since Independence, messages found their way into the tais in English and Portuguese as well as Tetum. A quite remarkable fact, given that most of the weavers are found in rural areas where they have not had the opportunity to learn how to read or write.

I have a reasonable stock of Tais available for purchase and would welcome any volunteers to assist with holding stalls in the future. All funds raised will go directly back to Soibada.


Tetum Words of the Week

Feto                      woman

Feto faluk             widow

Timor Leste Facts

  • 50-60%  of children (and their mothers) are malnourished. This limits both their physical growth and their cognitive development.
  • Research has shown that 60% of families have no food at all in their house at least one day a fortnight.
  • Women in East Timor have endured years of violent oppression, abuse of human rights, displacement and sexual violence.
  • Women-headed households (through abandonment or as widows) are particularly vulnerable with limited economic and material means to survive.
  • It is estimated that at least 10% of households are women-headed.
  • 88% of women have unpaid work on family gardens and farms.
  • Women’s daily workload is much greater than men’s, leading to chronic exhaustion and malnutrition.
  • Weavings called Tais and other handicrafts are an invaluable expression of traditional knowledge and East Timorese culture.