Essential concepts in the Savu culture might not be verbally expressed; yet they have been passed on by other means. The study of the weaving traditions offers the possibility of uncovering traditional ways of thinking in Savu. Every traditional weaving has a meaning and plays a particular role in Savu society. Fundamental ideological and cosmological concepts are to be found in all types of weavings: from the women’s sarongs to the men’s hip-cloths, and funeral weavings, reflecting the primary structure of the society in two moieties, each of them with specific characteristics. For example lighter colours (red, thus hot), angular motifs and odd numbers are markers of the Greater Blossom, while darker shades of colours (dark thus cold), round patterns and even numbers characterise the Lesser Blossom.
The fine quality of ikat patterns may appear striking. Yet the primary purpose of traditional Savunese weavings is not to be aesthetic, but to carry a message. They are markers of group and sub-group identity. Collectors who appreciate the delicate and intricate design of the Savu weavings have observed a certain lack of creativity among the patterns of the various wini. They are indeed often derived from the basic wokelaku and wohèpi motifs since every pattern has to link a person to his/her maternal ancestors. For this reason individual creative freedom is very limited.
The textile patterns of Savu should be seen as identity cards and the motifs owned by a hubi and wini need to be protected as the cultural heritage of this ethnic group since copies of Savu weavings are now produced on industrial looms on other islands, especially Java and Bali. For this reason only a few of the traditional patterns are shown here. Most of the motifs which belong to specific groups are intentionally not reproduced here as long as they are not legally protected.
Textiles imbued with power are exclusively produced by women. This confers to them an essential role in the society. Traditionally a woman was in charge of the health and safety of her brother who in turn was responsible for safety and food sources for her and her children. The role of women is (was) crucial in funeral ceremonies due to their ability to link the realms of the living and of the ancestors through weavings and prayers. This role has been altered due to exposure to modern life and conversions to a world religion. Special cloths which allowed the passage to the world of the ancestors are no longer requested for a Christian funeral. As a consequence Savunese women have lost an important part of their traditional role in the society since neither a modern world religion nor modern society can offer a compensatory role to them. Very ancient and unique weaving traditions which have been transmitted from generations to generations over centuries or perhaps over more than a millennium are under great threat and might be swept away within one generation for the sake of modernity and globalisation.
There is no need to go back to the past, but to create awareness among the people of Savu, and especially among the young generation, for their unique weaving traditions which express distinctive cultural values. Besides weaving pieces for commercial purposes, weavers should continue to produce traditional pieces imbued with meaning, for the sake of the preservation of their culture, and this regardless of their religious preferences.
It is the writer’s hope that Savunese who have migrated to other islands of Indonesia, or even abroad, find again interest in their roots and collect at least one traditional piece with the specific motif of their group of origin (hubi or wini), thus owing a very unique and ancient form of ‘identity card’ inherited from their ancestors. This identity marker reaches beyond an ethnic identity as Savunese. With a bit of luck the genealogical knowledge linked to these patterns could be transmitted further to the next generations. The same pattern can be owned by a member of the former ruling class and a farmer, a very egalitarian condition. Thus the ikat weavings of Savu occupy certainly a distinctive position among the textiles of the archipelago, since every individual owns at least one motif which has been passed on over tens of generations, regardless of social status.