“Can you make that using Tais?”

It’s a strange question, but it’s exactly what you’ll be saying when your time in East Timor has come to an end and you’re madly dashing around trying to find the perfect gifts for friends and family back home.

What are Tais?

Tais are a traditional woven cloth made by women in East Timor. They are used in traditional ceremonies      (marriage ceremonies, funerals and dowry ceremonies) where they are worn as clothing/costume or used as units of exchange. They are elaborated designed and often contain traditional imagery, and symbolic patterns and colours.
uma lulik tais

An image of an uma lulik- a sacred house- is woven into this Tais
Men wear what is called a Tais Mane (male cloth) which is one large piece of cloth that wraps around the waist. The women wear a Tais Feto (female cloth) a large piece of Tais that is sewn together to make a tubular like dress.The other type of Tais you’ll see is the Selendang, a scarf like Tais that is placed around the neck. These Tais are often given as gifts at welcoming and farewell ceremonies. You’ve probably seen the pictures of foreign dignitaries and guests draped in them.

How are Tais made?

I recommend you watch this excellent video, Weaving Life, which was made by East Timor Women Australia. It shows how Tais are made (including how they turn cotton into yarn, how they dye the threads and how they weave the cloth using a back-strap loom), there is also a lot of great footage from traditional East Timorese ceremonies where community members are dancing, playing music and wearing Tais.

Where can I buy a Tais?

In the capital of East Timor, Dili, there is a Tais Market (just ask any taxi driver and they’ll be able to take you to it). It looks like a lot of corrugated iron huts placed together in a dirt car park. Each hut is filled with Tais and people trying to sell them (it can be full on, from the heat, so try and go in the morning). You can also buy Tais products from shops stocking local handicrafts like The Alola Foundation, Hafoti and Kor Timor. There is also some good stuff at the airport gift shops which is a good option if you’re anything like me and you run out of ‘Tais gift-finding time’. And if you are planning on doing any trips out to the districts, keep an eye out for some Tais sellers on your way. There is nothing better than supporting communities in the districts who don’t get the same amount of trade as their mates in Dili.If you aren’t in East Timor and you still want to buy a Tais, check out the East Timor Women Australia’s online shop.Some Tais shopping advice: After looking at a lot of Tais, you’ll start to know what type of tais you like. Some people like them bright while others like them dark. While I don’t recommend buying the first Tais you see (it’s good to shop around to get a good idea about how much you should pay for a Tais first) I do recommend that when you see a Tais you really like, you buy it. No two Tais are the same and if you don’t buy the one you like, chances are you’ll never find another one like it.

Now back to our original question: ‘Can you make that using a Tais?’

Yes! The growing tourism market in East Timor means that there now is a whole new level to Tais weaving, it’s what I like to call ‘Tourist Tais’. You can get words weaved into Tais, Tais handbags, Tais dresses, Tais bracelets, Tais headbands, Tais bookmarks and Tais business card holders; basically if you can think of it, then they can probably make it using Tais!

A customised Tais made by our friend in East Timor
If you are after a customised Tais, like above, remember that they take time to make so make sure you get your orders in early! Happy shopping.

Now for something a little more fun, we’ve been having a grand old time spotting famous- and not so famous- people wearing tais on our Pinterest. Can you help us find some more?

The following resources really helped me write this Tais blog: ETWA’s article, Hand Weaving and Sarah Niner’s article, Strong Cloth: East Timor’s Tais