Savu textiles at the beginning of the 21st century

Marriage in modern Savu cloths

A marriage ceremony in modern Savu cloths

Like many other societies confronted to external, mainly western influences, Savu traditional culture, and moreover it specific weaving traditions, have been shaken up to their roots and are in danger of vanishing. Followers of the ancestral religion still respect rules and taboos and thus produce ritual cloths according to the Savu cultural principles. This is part of their belief so that no transgression is committed. The textiles they produce are endowed with power. However those who follow a world religion and regard themselves as ‘modern’ Savunese do not respect the traditional rules since the cloths they produce are no longer related to a belief, but are clearly commercial, responding to customers’ taste and market’s demand, thus commanding low prices. The sole motivation for weaving has become the acquisition of money and transgressions of traditional rules are acceptable since the target is merely trade.

The diagram below represents the two extremes of the textile production in Savu: from the most traditional to the most commercial. There are a number of intermediary stages and possibilities between these two positions.

 Traditional textiles and cash-income oriented production:

Weaving traditions for followers of the ancestral religion Jingi tiu (ritual cloths are imbued with power). Weaving as a commodity (economic resource)
1. Strict rules for composition of cloth 1. Transgression of rules is not feared by weavers. Neutral sarong and selimut (èi worapi, hi’i worapi)
2. Home grown cotton; spinning all year round. 2. Commercial cotton; (homespun cotton only on special order).
3. Vegetable dyes produced at specific times of the year. Indigo dye process takes a week, morinda dye process takes up to a month. Ritual with offerings to the four ancestors responsible for the dyes. 3. Chemical dyes used all year round; dye process takes one day.Vegetable dyes only on special request. No ceremony requested
4. Weaving season from April to October. Rituals and offerings to weaving ancestress. 4. Weaving all year round. Men start to perform weaving too if income is better than agricultural work (i.e. tapping the lontar palm tree).
5. All weavings performed on back tension loom 5. All weavings performed on back tension loom
6 Restricted motifs. All motifs have a meaning, a story (and history);heraldic significance of the motifs. 6. No restricted motifs. A weaver may weave all types of motifs, traditional motifs of her maternal line, or of others; motifs of foreign origin and new creations are possible.
7. A weaver has to raise taboo chicken (manu pehami), which will protect all steps of her weaving. 7. No taboo chicken. No taboo at all.
8. Specific weavings are performed at the meeting house of the progenitrix line (tegida). Knowledge is shared within the group. 8. All weavings performed at home only; individual task. No shared knowledge.
9. Restricted colours; restrictions for the fringe. 9. No restriction for colours; no restriction for the fringe.
10. Textiles worn at rituals, offered at funerals. 10. Worapi type weavings and tailored textiles worn at office and church. Textiles offered at funerals.
11. One and a half years needed to produce a weaving. 11. One to two months needed to produce a weaving; no prescription, no prohibition.
12. Motivation is belief. 12. Motivation is money.

It is now difficult to find Savunese textiles made with hand-spun cotton and vegetable colours. Weavers have been encouraged to produce pieces identical to those kept in their heirloom baskets, especially the primary motif of their moieties (hubi) and / or of their subgroups (wini) for the sake of preserving techniques and knowledge, as well as for providing them with an income since such cloths are highly valued among collectors. A non-governmental organisation ‘Threads of Life’ (‘Yayasan Pecinta Bebali’), which is also part of ‘Fair Trade’, started a programme in 2006 in two villages aiming at guaranteeing the preservation of traditional Savu textiles using vegetable dyes.  One weavers’ group is to be found nearby in the town of Seba, the second is in Pedèro, Mesara. For the protection of the environment the weavers have started to replant morinda trees, necessary for the production of the red dye. The indigo plants do not need to be protected; they grow wild and are abundant during the rainy season.

Picking indigo leaves

Picking indigo leaves


Preparing cotton threads for dye process

Preparing cotton threads for dye process


Making red dye

Red dye process