O Festival da Bua, a colheita da noz de areca, que marca a paz na ilha timorense de Ataúro

O Festival da Bua, a colheita da noz de areca, que marca a paz na ilha timorense de Ataúro (C/FOTOS)

*** António Sampaio, da Agência Lusa ***

Abaktedi, Timor-Leste, 22 jul 2020 (Lusa) – Os lian-nain, contadores de histórias dos tempos dos “avós antigos” em Timor-Leste, explicam que a festa anual da colheita da noz de areca, ou betel, representa a paz entre três irmãos que durante muito tempo viveram em conflito.

Uma vez por ano, e só por um dia, a população da zona central da ilha reúne-se e assim que os chefes locais e tradicionais permitem, os mais destemidos trepam acelerados até ao topo das palmeiras de areca (bua ou pua nas línguas locais) – algumas com 20 metros – e retiram cachos de nozes.

Jovens e velhos, com uma pequena corda feita muitas vezes de folhas de palmeira atadas, trepam aceleradamente ao longo do esguio tronco da palmeira, cortam os pesados cachos e trazem-nos ao solo.

Quem sabe podar, usa cordas e, lá no alto, une duas árvores próximas, para assim cortar mais cachos, mais rapidamente. No solo, crianças e mulheres vão apanhando os frutos que caem.

A cerimónia decorre no meio de uma floresta de palmeiras de areca próximo da povoação de Abaktedi, suco de Makadade, na zona centro sul da ilha de Ataúro.

Para lá chegar, é necessário suportar uma estrada esburacada e cheia de pedras, a viagem dura uns solavancados 90 minutos, para fazer os cerca de 20 quilómetros de Beloi, junto à costa, até à povoação de Abaktedi, a 700 metros de altitude, à sombra da montanha mais alta da ilha, Manucoco.

No centro da floresta de palmeiras, altas e esguias, uma zona foi preparada para os convidados de honra e numa das esquinas o resto de uma palmeira serve para o tarabando, uma cerimónia tradicional timorense que, neste caso, permite pendurar ofertas aos organizadores.

Peixe seco, tua mutin (o vinho tradicional de palmeira) e areca são pendurados no tronca da palmeira para serem distribuídos depois.

Em todo o lado, em todas as direções, nasceu um mercado improvisado que vende desde artesanato a comida, desde roupa a frutas e verduras locais, incluindo laranjas, abacates e gigantescos kumbili, uma raiz “parecida à batata”.

Entre tétum, português e alguns dialetos locais, alguns jovens, mas particularmente os mais velhos vão contando a história dos três irmãos e do importante “Festival da Sa’e Bua”, que se vai prolongar durante toda a noite.

“Esta história é muito antiga mesmo”, explica Armando Soares, 67 anos, que viajou mais de duas horas a pé, a subir e a descer montes, desde Makili, a vila dos pescadores da ilha.

“Antigamente nos tempos dos avós mais antigos havia três irmãos: Komateu, Leki-Toko e Kutu-Kia que andavam sempre nas lutas”, explica.

Tomé Gomes, mais jovem, junta-se à conversa e vai ajudando a explicar e a traduzir.

Os três irmãos estavam sempre em conflito e isso estava a causar sempre grandes problemas aos habitantes, levando até a que as terras ficassem secas e que os cestos de apanha de peixe (bubur) viessem vazios.

“Decidiram fazer as pazes e esta floresta apareceu assim, de repente”, explica Abilio Araújo, 67 anos, lian-ain de Makadade e o anfitrião tradicional da zona que acolhe a cerimónia.

Para cimentar a paz usaram a bua, mas também dividiram o território, lançando flechas que marcavam o que ficaria seu: Komateu lançou a sua em direção a Manroni, Leki-Toko em direção a Makili e Kutu-Kia em direção a Makadade.

Komateu fica com o mar ao norte, Leki-Toko com o mar do oeste e o Kutu-Kia com o mar a sul.

Hoje, os três sucos continuam a simbolizar a paz da ilha, sendo anfitriões do “Festival Sa’e Bua”, um dos principais eventos de Ataúro, desconhecido porventura da maioria dos próprios timorenses.

A noz de areca, conhecida como betel, é comida fresca ou seca, misturada com folhas de malus – que eram usadas como ‘proteção’ dos jovens nos combates aos ocupantes indonésios – e com cal viva.

A mistura produz um suco vermelho que, entre dentes, vão cuspindo para o chão, rindo-se com a dentadura, os lábios e a boca de cor vermelho forte.

A nível químico, a areca tem como princípios ativos a arecaina e arecolina, alcaloides com efeitos comparáveis aos da nicotina.

“Para quem não experimentou fica assim meio bêbado. Mas para nós ajuda a dar força. Para trabalhar”, explica um velhote, sentado, enquanto vai metendo cal na palma da mão para misturar nos dois outros ingredientes que já tem na boca.

Os irmãos fizeram a paz e agora, para a assinalar, todos os anos e só por um dia, pode-se colher toda a noz de areca que conseguirem. A que ficar nas árvores fica à guarda de ‘seguranças’ que garantem que só é aproveita para mais plantações, “lá para janeiro”.

“A pua e a malus são a fonte da vida para Ataúro”, conta o velho lian-nain, num discurso em que mistura referências ao criacionismo com recomendações aos jovens para se portarem bem, e referências às mais antigas lendas da ilha.

“Isto é muito, muito antigo. Dos avós antigos. E vai continuar sempre”, explica.

*** A Lusa viajou para Ataúro a convite do programa Tourism for All da USAID, no âmbito da ação de promoção de turismo doméstico #HauNiaTimorLeste ***

ASP // PJA

Lusa/Fim

“Ha’u-nia Timor-Leste” Domestic Tourism Fair and Expo

Now is a good time to show your support for the tourism industry in Timor-Leste. In partnership with local businesses, USAID’s Tourism For All Project has launched a campaign to promote domestic tourism under the banner “Ha’u-nia Timor-Leste” (My Timor-Leste). The campaign, which will run until December 31st, 2020, aims to inspire the public to support local businesses by becoming tourists in their own country. Everyone is encouraged to enjoy the adventures and attractions that are on offer, whether it’s eating at a favourite restaurant, taking a road trip, going diving or just enjoying a cup of local coffee made by an expert barista. People can show their support by taking photos of their experiences, beauty spots, cultural and historical places and wildlife, using the hashtag #HauNiaTimorLeste when they share them on social media, to help get the word out to family and friends.  By the end of the year, we aim to count 1,318,445 #HauNiaTimorLeste tags on social media – one for every person in the country.

The Tourism For All Project will host a series of events to celebrate World Tourism Day. A Domestic Tourism Expo will be held at Timor Plaza Centre Court from September 22-26th, with informative presentations from tourism associations and industry professionals to inspire the public to venture out and explore the country. There will be films, special promotions, entertainment, give-aways and quizzes. It will be an opportunity to learn more about Timor-Leste’s wildlife, the underwater world on our doorstep, and activities and attractions throughout the 13 municipalities.

The Ha’u-nia Timor-Leste Tourism Fair will take place on September 27 (World Tourism Day) in the parking area of the Timor Plaza, from 15.00hrs to 22.00 hours. Tourism businesses will be there to offer special packages as part of the campaign and book them on the spot, whilst the public will be entertained with cultural performances, a prize draw and give-aways.

These events are open to all! If you have a tourism business or association, and would like to participate in the events, or offer sponsorship, please email [email protected] for further information.

USAID’s Tourism For All Project is also organizing the Turizmu Ba Ema Hotu Tourism Champions awards to recognize people who have made an outstanding contribution to tourism in Timor-Leste. Members of the public can nominate any individual, company or organization who has gone the extra mile to welcome visitors, made an exceptional effort to support tourism development, or helped to create innovative experiences for tourists. Nominations can be registered by clicking on this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/572NWQ8 Poll closes on September 14th.

The Ha’u-nia Timor-Leste campaign was launched to support tourism businesses that are struggling in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Timor-Leste’s overall destination marketing campaign continues under the brand “Explore The Undiscovered” and we are looking forward to welcoming international visitors once more once the situation improves. Please visit the ”Explore The Undiscovered” website at www.timorleste.tl to find out more about tourism attractions in Timor-Leste.

Turizmu Ba Ema Hotu Timor-Leste Tourism Champions Awards, 2020

Nominate your Tourism Champion!

USAID’s Tourism For All Project is organizing an awards ceremony to recognize people who have made an outstanding contribution to tourism in Timor-Leste. You can nominate any individual, company or organization who has gone the extra mile to make you feel welcome as a visitor, or who has helped to create exceptional experiences for tourists. You could also propose an individual who has worked for many years to develop or promote the tourism industry in this country. Your nominee does not necessarily have to be directly employed by a tour operator, hotel or restaurant. We are looking for Champions who have shown the spirit of hospitality in their actions, by offering a warm welcome to guests, and by creating superlative tourism experiences.

You can make your nomination by clicking on this link.

It only takes a couple of minutes! Please share the link with your friends.

Please note:
Closing date for nominations is Friday, September 14th, 2020. You may NOT nominate yourself, family members or staff or owners of companies where you are employed.

  • Winners will be selected by a panel according to a scoring system based on the following criteria:
  • Sustained effort in supporting the development of tourism in Timor-Leste and in promoting the country’s tourism assets and products (especially on a voluntary basis)
  • Exemplary customer service by individuals working in the tourism industry
  • Response to tourists in difficulty or with special needs
  • Actions that demonstrate a strong spirit of hospitality and community welcome
  • Application of the principles of sustainable tourism

New Walking and Bike Trails At Balibo

The guides with tourists from Rotary at the top of Gruta Morutau. Photo by Dave Carlos.

Visitors to Balibó can now add hiking and cycling to their itinerary, thanks to the local tour cooperative, Balibo Trails. The manager, Egidio “Gido” Da Purificacao Soares, and his guides are all Balibó locals, who offer fully guided walking, hiking and cycling tours in and around Balibó. Mountain bikes are also available for hire for self-guided tours.

Balibo Trails is the first formal tour office to be opened outside of Dili.  Gido –  who is President of the Timor-Leste Tourism Operators Association – explains: ‘When the tourists come and they stay at Balibó, the local guides will show them where they can go and what they can see.’

A 75 minute guided walk of Balibó village introduces visitors to its history and culture as well as the present way of life. Many visitors may be familiar with Balibó’s history, in particular the events of 1975 in which five Australian journalists were killed by invading Indonesian forces. The Flag House, on the wall of which the journalists painted an Australian flag in the hope that it would offer them protection, has for some years operated as both a memorial to the Balibó Five and a community centre for local East Timorese.

Further afield, the Gruta Morutau walk takes visitors into the mountains north of Balibó, passing the Stations of the Cross as they climb, and ending with magnificent views into Atambua in Indonesia. Just a bike ride away is the village of Leohitu, with some amazing seasonal waterfalls and a fish hatchery; and, for those looking for a longer hike, the 13km walk to Batugade, on the ocean, is downhill all the way. The best time to walk to Batugade is the early morning, and Balibo Trails can arrange a picnic breakfast to help you on your way.

Mountain bikes are also available to hire for self-guided touring, or guides can be engaged to lead cycle tours of the area and point out cultural, natural and historic highlights. The district is home to many limestone caves, some of which provided refuge during the Indonesian occupation, and the mountains around Balibó provide wonderful vistas and beautiful viewing points for sunrise and sunset.

Balibo Trails started out as Balibo Walking Trails, with the help of a ‘Friendship Grant’ from DFAT, secured by the Balibó House Trust in 2019. Balibo Walking Trails partnered with Dili-based tour company Timor Adventures to train the guides. Now, thanks to a grant from the Victorian Government, the walking and hiking venture has been extended to include mountain bikes.

The Balibó Fort Hotel, stunningly set in the converted 300-year-old Portuguese Fort, is the perfect place to stay when visiting Balibó. It offers superior accommodation and dining, while also supporting economic opportunity for the people of Balibó. The hotel directly employs and trains 20 local people, and its proceeds support local initiatives such as the Balibó Community Learning Centre and a dental clinic.

The opening of Balibo Trails brings further opportunities for the people of Balibó. ‘Having a hotel is good, but you can generate more work by having activities for people to do,’ says Timor Adventures owner and director Dave Carlos. The 10 tour guides are locally trained in all aspects of tourism and first aid and attend English classes. With the addition of mountain bikes to the venture, the guides have been trained in bike maintenance and repair by a Dili bike mechanic.

Development of the Balibó Fort Hotel and Balibo Trails was supported by NGO, the Balibó House Trust. The Trust works to honour the memories of the Balibó Five journalists by enriching the lives and livelihoods of the Balibó community. Chair of the Trust, Rob Hudson, sees advantages for both tourists and locals.  ‘Balibo Trails is a welcome addition for visitors to Balibó. At the same time, it will support employment, training and economic opportunity for the people of Balibó,’ he says.

During this difficult time of COVID-19, there has never been a better time for Dili locals and expats to visit Balibó. The Hotel remains open, seven days a week, and the Balibo Trails guides, and their local community, will benefit greatly from your visit.

For bookings and more information:

Balibo Trails:
Website:  https://www.balibotrails.com
Phone: (+670) 7670 9201
WhatsApp: (+670) 7802 0717
Email: [email protected]
Or Gido: [email protected]

Balibo Trails is located next door to the Balibó Community Learning Centre

Balibó Fort Hotel:
Website:  https://baliboforthotel.com
Phone: (+670) 7709 1555

Balibó House Trust:
Website:  http://balibohouse.com
Email:  [email protected]

A Dream Come True For The First Timorese Dive Instructor

Luis “Melky” Berhuno: The first Timorese Dive Instructor. Photo: Elvis Guterres/USAID’s Tourism For All Project

When Luis “Melky” Berhuno landed his first job with a scuba diving centre, his task was to keep shore watch alone on the beach, as the divers walked into the sea for their underwater adventure. He would help them with their equipment when they surfaced, chattering with excitement about an experience he could only imagine.  Now, with support from USAID’s Tourism For All project, he has become Timor-Leste’s first professional dive instructor.

Melky’s instructor course with Scuba Diving International was made possible through a USAID-funded grant to Dreamers Dive Academy Timor. Since he qualified, Melky has taught 20 young Timorese men and women to dive and they have all gained their open water certification through the program. The grant also enabled the Dreamers Dive Academy staff to increase their professional credentials: now they are one of a handful of dive centres in the Asia region designated as 5-star Instructor Development facilities.

“When I started working at the dive center I only knew a few fish and mostly just that you could eat them!” Melky said, “There’s a big difference in my life now. I feel I have learned a lot about dive theory, how to find animals, give briefings and be a dive leader. Also, I can use my monthly salary to help my parents and buy my own dive equipment”.

Timor-Leste is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the world’s top scuba-diving destinations: it’s a global hotspot for marine biodiversity and has some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world. Tourists and expats have been diving there since the country gained its independence in 2002, but local people have been missing out on the opportunity to explore this stunning underwater world for themselves.

Melky now has more than 400 dives under his belt and has been guiding tourists around the world-class dive sites along Timor-Leste’s north coast and Atauro Island, which are becoming popular with marine naturalists and photographers. “They come for the coral reef, crystal water, pristine beach, the whales and dolphins, and the diverse marine eco-system,” he said, “I’ve met many people from many different countries, from Europe, USA and Asian countries.  These relationships are very important in building community with other divers, practicing skills and simply getting out to explore the underwater world. Everyone can continue their lifelong journey to becoming a more competent and confident diver,” he added.

The dive industry will play a vital role in steering the Timorese economy away from its dependence on oil and gas and tourism is one of the sectors identified by the Government that can generate income and employment for its people. Now, through the USAID grant, the opportunity has opened up for more young Timorese to enjoy recreational diving and to step up as professionals, playing an active role in their own dive industry.

Dreamers Dive Academy Managing Director Kate Barker explained that Timorese divers are also getting involved in marine conservation and awareness-raising, one of the goals of the National Tourism Policy: “We have been surprised by the reaction,” she said, “We’ve had huge responses from the community, interested  not only in doing diving but in general looking at the sea, snorkeling, swimming, and engaging with their marine ecosystem. We’ve gained hundreds of new followers on our social media platforms, with constant interactions from youth looking to join or create a club where Timorese can gather to enjoy their sea. This shows that the USAID program is changing how people think and that they are recognising diving as one of the potential industries in Timor-Leste,” she added. This increased interest in the sport among local people has now created a new market for domestic dive tourism and Melky hopes to encourage more and more Timorese people to try scuba diving.

Professional scuba diving courses are challenging. To make the grade, Melky had to study the complex technical aspects of diving and develop a deep understanding of safety and emergency management procedures.  Apart from gaining expert diving skills, instructors also have to learn to teach and motivate their students to stick with the course. In Timor-Leste, that’s not always easy: many people are poor swimmers and lack the scientific education and the language skills needed to understand the dive theory course materials. As the first Timorese instructor, Melky was able to help new divers overcome this difficulty by explaining the course to them in the local language, Tetun.

“It was so rewarding to see so many of the candidates who were struggling with various aspects still maintain their excitement and determination and then gain their certification,” Kate explained, “Melky worked extremely hard to achieve this and Dreamers Dive Academy is super proud of him. One step at a time, learning different specialties, mastering his English and working daily in the industry. He’s a hard-working man with big dreams”.

 

Dreamers Dive Academy co-owner Ivan S. Loria Shelley said that support from USAID had helped the company to achieve its goal in bringing dive education to Timorese people: “This journey has been incredibly touching. With unexpected challenges and the need for full dedication from all our team, taking all of our experience and motivation to push through. This though, brought the greatest rewards, from professional growth to unexpected marketing for the company, as well as a profound and deep experience that goes beyond words. To share time with these young souls, full of dreams, full of potential… motivated and accelerated when surrounded by minds alike. In my heart, I know this is the beginning of a larger adventure.”

Mount Ramelau Shrine Re-opens To Visitors

Lian Tetun iha kraik

The Ministry of Tourism, Commerce and Industry and Dili Diocese held a joint news conference on July 1st to announce that the shrine of Our Lady of Mount Ramelau has been re-opened to visitors. The site had been closed to the public since March 23rd,  as a precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Director-General of Tourism Jose Quintas said that visitors to Mt. Ramelau should still observe COVID-19 prevention procedures, such as wearing masks, social distancing and regular hand-washing. He also asked that the public refrain from vandalism, littering, lighting fires and rowdy behaviour at the site, and respect it as a sacred place and a protected area.


Ministério do Turismo, Comércio e Indústria (MTCI) no Diocese Díli, oficialmente aviso ba público katak Sítio “NA’I FETO RAMELAU” loke ona bá público iha loron 27 Junho 2020.
Hato’o mos ba público sira nebe ba visita, atu continua disiplina nafatin hodi implementa protocolo prevensaun bá COVID-19, hanesan usa Máscara, halo distanciamento sosial, fase-liman, etc.

Husu mós ba público atu guarda salva ambiente hanesan hadok-an hosi vandalismo ou estragos, soe lixu arbiru, sunu-rai, respeito no hatudu comportamento etica no moral diak, etc.

Hamutuk ita protege no tau-matan nafatin ba fatin Turismo Religiosa Sítio “NA’I FETO RAMELAU” núdar hanesan fatin sagrada no area protegida. Mai ita continua harohan ba “NA’I FETO RAMELAU” hodi tulun hado’ok Timor-Leste hosi COVID-19.

Hamotuk Ita Bele!

Young Ocean Ambassadors

Timorese youngsters Micky and Mardy have been doing their bit to protect the marine environment on the island of Atauro . They have set up a group, Ekipa Tasi Mos (Clean Ocean Team), which organizes regular beach clean-ups, and they record their findings in an international marine debris database, allowing the community to trace the pollution back to its original source. After collection and recording, the plastics are then recycled and transformed into beautiful products that can be sold as local handicrafts.
Read more »

Photo courtesy World Bank

Innovation for a sustainable ocean

Timor-Leste Marks World Oceans Day with establishment of guidelines for interaction with marine mammals

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Timor-Leste in collaboration with Conservation International has signed the Guidelines for Interaction with Cetaceans (Whale, Dolphin, and Dugong) in Timor-Leste. The main purpose of establishing these guidelines is to ensure the sustainable development of the whale and dolphin watching industry by maximizing positive impacts and education.

Read more at conservation.org

Download the guidelines here

Looking to the post-COVID era: Dive Operators Working Group and MDF launch ‘A message from Timor-Leste’ promotional video

When Timor-Leste gained its independence in 2002, it was called “the world’s newest country”. Since then, studies by visiting scientists have revealed that it also has the world’s greatest marine biodiversity, pristine coral reefs and a spectacular annual cetacean migration. In recent years, ocean adventurers looking for somewhere new to dive had started to turn their attention to Timor-Leste, but the country has yet to gain recognition as a mainstream dive destination. Indeed, few potential visitors were aware that the country existed.

This year, that was set to change. Dive operators had been participating in international travel expos and they were starting to see the results of their collective efforts to put Timor-Leste on the tourism map. Their reputation for high quality service gave dive tourists the confidence to consider Timor-Leste for their next expedition. Almost all of the operators had received glowing reviews from their previous customers. Expectations were high for the 2020 season, but all of the hard-won bookings were cancelled as international flights were suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Dive operators in Timor-Leste are small, local businesses. Whilst they were instrumental in kick-starting the initial flow of tourists, they have had their challenges.  It had been difficult for them to promote Timor-Leste on a larger scale with their limited resources. They were also used to working individually, which limits scope for collective action for promotion or growth of the sector.

In 2018, Market Development Facility (MDF), with support from the Australian Government, brought the Timor-Leste dive community together to create the Dive Operators Working Group.  The group had already engaged in a destination marketing campaign which had started to deliver good results and had planned a range of activities aimed at developing the sector and protecting the marine environment.

Now, because of COVID-19, most of these activities have been put on hold as the tourism sector re-focuses its efforts on recovery.  For tourism operators in Timor-Leste, who were already facing many challenges, COVID-19 poses a serious threat. With that in mind, MDF has supported the production of a video to connect the Timor-Leste dive sector with the global diving community.  The video shares a compassionate message about the serious threat to the industry posed by COVID-19 while showcasing Timor-Leste’s unique assets with some breathtaking underwater footage. The operators want the world to know that they will stay positive through this crisis and will be enthusiastically waiting for the travelers to return: instead of being in despair, now it is ever more important to connect to the tourists and divers all over the world.

In the meantime, the Dive Operators Working Group is taking the time to reflect on the long-term goals of growing the industry. Various initiatives are in the pipeline: improving awareness about the need to protect Timor-Leste’s pristine marine life and advocacy to minimize the negative impact of construction projects on dive sites, along with the task of facilitating better relationship with government institutions relevant to conserving the marine life. The group was also planning a range of other activities in 2020, including hosting an international underwater photography competition to boost Timor-Leste’s visibility, capacity building for whale watching operations and further destination marketing efforts.

MDF is a multi-country initiative which promotes sustainable economic development, through higher incomes for women and men, in its partner countries. MDF connects individuals, businesses, governments and NGOs with each other, and with markets at home and abroad. This enhances investment and coordination and allows partnerships to flourish, strengthening inclusive economic growth.

Timor-Leste Seeks UNESCO Recognition For Tais

Traditional Tais weavers are hoping that UNESCO recognition will help to preserve their craft for future generations 
Photo: Ann Turner/USAID’s Tourism For All Project  

Timorese Hand-Woven Textiles Strengthen Cultural Identity

Last March, Timor-Leste celebrated an important cultural milestone when it officially submitted its application for the country’s traditional textile – known as tais – to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to be inscribed as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding”. If successful, this will lead to Timor-Leste’s first-ever government-led UNESCO designation. Tais would then be listed alongside renowned cultural assets from other countries, such as traditional hand puppetry in Egypt, the Bisalhães black pottery manufacturing process in Portugal, and the ancient art of hand-crafting “phinisi” boats in Indonesia.

Video: Ann Turner/USAID’s Tourism For All Project

Speaking at the ceremony to witness the signing of the application, the Secretary of State for Art and Culture of Timor-Leste, Teofilo Caldas said, “I am confident that this nomination will gain the approval from UNESCO and that Tais will be recognized internationally – affirming our cultural identity as one people and one nation.”

UNESCO’s decision about Timor-Leste’s application will be given towards the end of 2020.

The UNESCO application conditions are stringent and preparation of the documentation was a lengthy process, starting in January 2019. USAID’s Tourism For All Project provided support to help Timorese authorities and stakeholders every step of the way, starting with the creation of a National Committee for Intangible Cultural Heritage to coordinate the application procedure, and assistance to the Government of Timor-Leste in securing funding from UNESCO to finance the preparation of the nomination file.  One of the primary UNESCO requirements is the close involvement of the various stakeholders – ranging from Government representatives to national NGOs and community weaving groups – to ensure a full consensus supporting the application. This was achieved through extensive consultations that took place at a forum organized by USAID, on the theme “Protecting, Preserving, and Promoting Tais: the Road towards UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Recognition”.  More than 100 people from local and international organizations, development partners and tais weavers contributed to the drafting of a plan to safeguard the tais tradition, with a funding request from Timor-Leste to UNESCO for its implementation. The final step in the application process was the production of a short film required by UNESCO, to describe the significance of tais and the traditional spinning, dyeing and weaving skills used to make it.

The Secretary of State for Art and Culture of Timor-Leste with USAID’s Contracting Officer Representative and members of the National Committee for Intangible Cultural Heritage of Timor-Leste
Photo: Elvis Guterres/USAID’s Tourism For All Project

Local NGO Timor Aid has been working with tais weavers for more than two decades, and the organization’s Culture Program Team Leader Rosalia M Soares  represented the organization on the National ICH committee: “We are bursting with pride to see our long-term dream turn into reality,” she said, “We would like to thank USAID’s Tourism For All project for their insight into that dream, and for triggering the tais registration process with UNESCO. We are deeply grateful for the support of the American people.”

Timor Aid co-founder Maria do Ceu Lopes da Silva added: ”UNESCO recognition would be a huge step forward to ensure the preservation of traditional Tais production. It will have a positive impact at national and international levels.  UNESCO recognition will enhance national pride, strengthen cultural identity, and officially acknowledge and honor weavers’ artwork and their skills. It will provide an opportunity to raise the recognition of Tais not only as tradition, but also as a tourism product, which will contribute to expanding economic opportunities for rural women. Tais could be the future Roving Ambassador of Timor-Leste for the promotion of our national cultural heritage around the world.”.

This traditional hand-made textile, woven by women across Timor-Leste, plays an important role in the life of Timorese people. The entire process of producing tais requires delicate skills, patience and time. Raw cotton is grown in community farms, processed and spun by hand, and dyed using locally-available plants, roots and trees. The yarn is woven on a simple backstrap loom: some pieces produced by expert weavers take months to complete and can sell for hundreds of dollars to visitors. Other items are reserved for community use and are not for sale. Timor Aid’s Ms. Soares explained: “Tais is ever-present as a cultural necessity in the lives of all Timorese regardless of socio-economic background. Tais is an imperative presence during birth, traditional marriage contracts, funerals, and in traditional rituals. The Timorese must wear Tais for all traditional ceremonies. They also offer Tais to foreign guests, and they wear Tais to represent the country abroad”.

Not only is tais an important source of income for Timorese women and their families, it is an essential expression of culture. Ms. Lopes da Silva said that local history and cultural legends are expressed in the motifs woven into tais, which vary from region to region. For example in Oe-cusse, where Portuguese missionaries brought the Catholic faith to Timor-Leste more than five centuries ago, Ms. Lopes da Silva explained that nuns introduced European patterns on paper, “to teach the weavers in Oé-cusse to incorporate European religious themes, such as angels, macramé copies, even Botticelli inspired images, into their tais”. In other municipalities, tais motifs are inspired by ancient traditional Timorese legends, such as the myth of the crocodile, and local flora and fauna.

The 24-year struggle for independence from Indonesia caused irreparable loss to the traditional ways of producing tais: “Many master weavers died. Immigration and forced displacement of Timorese from rural areas to cities, from highlands to valleys, and environmental destruction contributed to the shortfall of raw materials and loss of skills and original designs, many of which were never to be recovered. Timor-Leste doesn’t have a written tradition. Unlike other countries, particularly in the Asia region, where traditional textiles have recorded history, Timor-Leste’s Tais production was based on memory alone,” Ms. Lopes Da Silva said, “Grandmothers passed the weaving skills to their daughters, from daughters to granddaughters and so on.  It was the method of creating a memory chain of knowledge. Cultural heritage is important, because it makes the past continuous. Weaving, songs, dances, languages and rituals, strengthen our cultural identity. They connect us to a range of emotions, feelings, offer information, inspiration, education, myths and facts about the lifestyle and development of our communities, relationships, successes and tragedies.”

Beyond its cultural significance, tais is one of the “must have” souvenirs bought by tourists, a vital market for local weavers. Tais also inspires the fledgling fashion industry in Timor-Leste, presenting an opportunity, but also a threat to the integrity of tais culture: “Urgent monetary needs force the weavers to produce cheap tais, woven with industrial yarn of poor quality, for quick sale. This creates conflict between tradition and modernity,” Ms. Lopes da Silva warned.

As Timor-Leste struggles with economic hardship and uncertainty about the future of its tourism industry in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Lopes da Silva hopes that Timorese women – who traditionally work from home – will keep producing their woven art and lay down stocks for later sale.  In the meantime, she is looking forward the day when the UNESCO decision is announced: “At international level, there’s an expectation of an upsurge in demand by museums, collectors, galleries, and international exhibitions,” she said, “Which in turn could trigger integrated rural development investment in the environment, agriculture and agroforestry, where the raw materials for tais-making come from: cotton, seeds, roots, plants and tree barks to extract natural colours”. She is hopeful that there will be increased institutional support for the creation of a National Tais Museum, more preservation work, curatorship training and the development of small to medium textile weaving industries. Timor Aid also has plans for a Tais Resource Centre and intends to ask the Government to declare a National Tais Day. These initiatives would serve not only to attract tourists, but also to raise awareness in Timorese youth about the importance of preserving their own cultural assets. And if the tais application is successful, as a result of their experience, national organisations – especially government officials – will also be able to apply for additional nomination files for other Timorese cultural assets in the future.

Ann Turner/USAID’s Tourism For All Project

The whole community participates in a ceremony to celebrate the corn harvest inSuai, Covalima Municipality in 2012. Wearing tais is required at this event.

Photos: Chamot/Timor Aid