Common Threads

by Wara Sabon Dominikus
Adonara Island, East Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

The weaving activity of the Adonara community was originally done as a leisurely pastime after the harvest was completed and crops were stored in the barn. At the present time, weaving has become a matter of livelihood. Weaving skill is usually passed down from one generation to the next. Weaving skills in the past were often a requirement for a woman to be married, though now it is no longer an explicit expectation.

Production Process

The stages to produce fabrics consist of two sub-activities, namely neket kewatek and tane kewatek. Neket kewatek aims to prepare and organize the yarn according to the type of fabric to be produced, while tane kewatek are activities of weaving to produce fabrics. One intact piece of fabric consist of two parts, or two nae’, with the same size and symmetrical patterns of thread color. The weaving process to produce fabric takes 4 to 5 days; however, if there are obstacles such as death or other family matters, then the time may be extended.

Nowi, Kewatek and Senae

Woven fabric of Adonara is called nowi (for men), kewatek (for women), and senae (shawl). Nowi comes in one type with a size of usually 5 to 7 hand span width and 6 to 7 hand span length. There are several types of kewatek with size 4 to 5 hand span width and 6 to 7 hand span length. The size of the senae (shawl) varies with 1 to 3 hand span width and 5 to 7 hand span length. Their designs sport a variety of motifs suitable for their purposes.

Close-up view of fabric


Weavers of senae and kewatek develop different motifs, which also distinguish the selling price. Typical traditional designs seen primarily on kewatek penetoten include kolon matan (bird’s eye), ule (caterpillar), Lako Dowa (civet creep), kau nepin (lying coconut leaves), ile wurune (mountain), and makoken (bowl). Currently, modern motifs being developed include muko kena’lan (sliced bananas), karo lolon (leaf), kuku beak (butterfly), a trophy, and combinations of different patterns.

The Bottom Line

To complete one woven fabric nowi or kewatek takes 20 to 25 spun of yarn. One spun of yarn is bought at IDR. 1,500. Generally, the fabric nowi or kewatek is sold at IDR. 150,000 to IDR. 200,000. These prices fluctuate depending on the price of yarn.

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Math Questions

  1. Imagine that you are an Adonara woman who wants to start a weaving business. What would your initial investment in supplies need to be? Calculate that amount in the currencies of the U.S. and any other country to which you’d like to export.
  2. In small groups, measure yourselves according to hand spans, then graph these dimensions in inches and centimeters.

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Extension Questions

  1. From antiquity to today, the skill of weaving has been transmitted from one generation to the next through observation. What is your opinion of this strategy. Do you think that there is a more effective way of teaching  this skill?
  2. Do you think a weaver can earn enough revenue to live on? Enough to support a family? Write down your reasoning.

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