Tais Listed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage ListSeptember 10, 2023
Australian War Memorial Tais Commission
Project: 2021 - 2023
LO’UD’s journey is Timor’s journey, their experiences mirror their nation’s, and their Tais reflect the nation’s culture and spirit.
The backstory; how it happened
Inspired by ETWA’s short documentary film, Heru Ini Lafu, a curator at the Australian War Memorial reached out to ETWA to explore the possibility of commissioning Tais from LO’UD that could speak to themes of independence, and women’s role in peace and nation building. After conversations over many months, an agreement between ETWA and the Memorial was formalised in late 2021.
The agreement outlined that new Tais would be created by each of LO’UD’s three weaving groups along with the provision of images and stories. ETWA’s voluntary role was to administer the project, liaise between LO’UD and the Memorial, and support LO’UD on this amazing journey. The agreement also contained four proposed themes that LO’UD could interpret to inform the Tais designs:
- The importance of Timorese traditions and culture,
- The period of the occupation and women’s role in the resistance,
- Women’s contributions to peacebuilding,
- Their hopes for the future.
The design process
Consistent with local practices of cooperation and collaboration, the designs were carefully chosen and co-designed by LO’UD members during a Design Workshop held in January 2022. The workshop was attended by more than 30 LO’UD members, representing three generations of women from LO’UD’s three weaving groups.
The four themes were discussed in depth, with discussions focussed on Tais as symbolic of the fight to preserve culture and identity during both the occupation and the decades since independence.
Accordingly, LO’UD chose to create the four cultural Tais worn by brides in traditional weddings in Iliomar. Three Tais would represent each of the weaving groups, with an additional Tais gifted to the Memorial to represent the many hands and collective work of the cooperative, and as a symbol of their appreciation.
As Tais designs and symbols are handed down by ancestors, they are specific to the unique cultural heritage of language groups and often clans within those groups. The four Tais produced by LO’UD characterise the unique cultural heritage of Iliomar where most LO’UD members were born, however, LO’UD’s intent is that the Tais for the Australian War Memorial represent women’s historical and contemporary roles in culture and society across Timor-Leste.
LO’UD’s dynamic Coordinator and second-generation member, Ilda da Cruz, said:
We are proud to represent LO’UD, but more importantly, to represent all women in our nation to the people of Australia through our Tais.
Tanba Kultura (because of culture)
LO’UD saw the four themes as holistic, integrated concepts connected to women’s life experiences, histories, cultural beliefs, and hopes for the future. As a result, the Tais tell a unified story.
As Timor-Leste’s most enduring cultural art form and tangible expression of culture they are essential to ceremonies that uphold the kinship relationships that strengthen Timor-Leste’s culture and society. The Tais chosen by LO’UD represent women’s cultural roles in the ceremonies that bring families together.
The Tais selected by LO’UD and produced for the War Memorial are:
- ‘Tais Nunukala’ the first of the three tais placed on the bride.
- ‘Tais Pailale’ is the second of the three tais placed on the bride.
- ‘Tais Naeleki’, the last of the three placed on the bride.
- ‘Tais Watahasa’, simpler and similar to the Tais Pailale can be worn in place of the Tais Pailale.
Tais also share an important link with the nation’s journey to independence. Weaving was important during the resistance and the bonds of kinship ensured women’s survival. The Australian War Memorial understand this.
The acquisition of these beautiful Tais allows the Australian War Memorial to tell the story of the Australian-led deployment to Timor Leste. But most importantly, it also allows us to consider the impact of the conflict on the East Timorese people and to see it through their eyes, and expressed in their culture,
Kinship bonds and traditions are central to LO’UD’s journey. LO’UD was founded by female freedom fighters in 2003, and 2023 marks 20 years of continued service to their communities in south-eastern of Timor-Leste.
Ilda: “Just like our nation, our Cooperative and our members have experienced many challenges over the years. During the occupation, women worked hard to provide for and protect their families.
Many joined the resistance and dreamed of a free Timor-Leste where the quality of life was restored, where there was peace, and where culture could be practiced without the threat of violence.
We never forget the contributions of our founding members and all Timorese women during the occupation, and in their name, we continue their vision for women’s self-determination through LO’UD.”
LO’UD’s weaving groups are growing. They now have additional groups Iliomar and in Luro, and others are waiting to join. They are the grandmothers, the mothers, and the daughters of Timor Leste's independence struggle. They are leaders in their communities and survivors who fought to keep their culture alive. This is what they want to share with Australians.
Traditional dyeing and weaving practices are the foundations of their work. Through weaving, they preserve culture, they give women access to income; they bring women together to support each other and build the confidence of young women as weavers and entrepreneurs.
Our Tais represent the importance of culture, the key reason we fought for independence, our contributions to our nation and our hopes for a culturally sustainable future,
The Tais are made with a mix of plant-dyed cotton and commercially dyed cotton, symbolising the merging of traditional and contemporary socio-cultural life in a modern Timor-Leste.
You can help them continue their critical work by donating to ETWA (100% goes to LO’UD) or purchasing one of their unique textiles.
Throughout the project, LO’UD members generously shared their life experiences and memories, cultural beliefs and practices, through storytelling, audio, and video with the Australian War Memorial. They regularly sent photographs taken on their mobile phones, participated in interviews by professional, local film-crew AquadioVisial, and endured ETWA members’ constant requests to pause their work for photos when they visited in June/July 2023.
Their generosity of spirit enabled the capture of high-resolution imagery and stories of the culture of weaving and dyeing, and a quirky reenactment of a marriage ceremony. Members patiently explained the meaning behind the Tais symbols and the intricate way that the smallest of designs are named and communicated between weavers. The cultural knowledge they shared with us will be managed with consideration and respect, ensuring its interpretations retain its accuracy and intent.
ETWA’s visit to Timor-Leste was part funded by the War Memorial and enabled long-time members, Deb and Sally, to gather additional information to help with Memorial’s the interpretation of the Tais.
LO’UD’s hope is that their generous sharing increases Australia’s understanding and appreciation of the importance of their culture to their nation.
Ceremonial Handover at the Australian Embassy
A symbolic handover of the commissioned Tais by LO’UD Cooperative dynamic duo Ilda da Cruz and Amelia Fernandes to the Australian Chargé d’Affaires was held in July 2023. In keeping with tradition, LO’UD were keen to ensure that Australian Government representatives in Timor-Leste received their Tais on behalf of the Australian War Memorial who were unable to attend. The ceremony aimed to replicate processes of traditional exchange and gift-giving in Timor-Leste. It was also an opportunity for LO’UD to talk about the Tais Commission.
LO’UD Coordinator Ilda da Cruz explained the importance of each of the four Tais to the Caitlin Wilson, who noted that NAIDOC week ended the previous day, and receiving the Tais in continued spirit cultural engagement was a privilege.
Amelia Fernandes, Finance and Administration Manager for the LO’UD presented Australia’s Defence Attaché, Colonel Paul Pembroke with an ‘I Love Timor-Leste’ scarf woven by LO’UD member and master weaver, Viana Peirera.
The four Tais were carefully packaged and sent via FedEx the following days and arrived at the War Memorial soon after.
We are grateful to the Australian War Memorial for selecting LO’UD for this project. An art commission was something new for us. Telling our nation’s story through Tais is an honour and strengthens our resolve to continue to practise and promote our culture.