Cover Story
Alfonsa Horeng /

Weaving the way to empowerment

On the Indonesian island of Flores, women are encouraged to ditch their day jobs and follow their calling.

Lepo Lorun (meaning "weaving house" in Sikka) was set up in 2002 by master weaver Alfonsa Horeng.

There is a deep social motive at the heart of this co-operative, which seeks to empower women and enhance their standing in the community.

‘It’s better to work with the pigs, chickens and plants and to spend time weaving than to cook for a husband’

Elisabeth Pagan

Upon arrival at Lepo Lorun, a few things will immediately become clear; the first is the feeling that you’re at home. This is partly due to the beautiful setting of this women’s weaving co-operative, which is nestled amongst lush green farmland on the Indonesian island of Flores. But it’s mainly because of the mood in the air. On the face of every woman here is a restful smile that will invariably give way to cackling laughter. Once a cackle begins, it will only grow louder before spreading across the entire site. You might not always know the reason for the cackle, but you will inevitably join in with the cackle. It’s one of the many signs of a natural harmony that flows throughout the women here: harmony with self, harmony with nature, harmony with each other.

Lepo Lorun (meaning "weaving house" in Sikka) was set up in 2002 by master weaver Alfonsa Horeng. What began as a handful of local women coming together to preserve the heritage and tradition of Ikat weaving, has grown into a social enterprise of over 800 women weavers across 17 villages on the island of Flores. Ikat is the traditional hand-woven cloth that requires lots of patience, lots of dedication and even more skill to create. There’s an unwritten science behind it that is passed down from one generation to another: from how dye is processed, to making patterns and how the body is positioned. There is also mathematical certainty required to know where to tie or bind unwoven threads together in order to achieve the desired pattern after dyeing is complete. Put simply, these women are masters; or, as Horeng describes them, "profesoras" (professors of their pieces).

While preservation of tradition, knowledge and culture is central to the mission, there is also a deep social motive at the heart of this co-operative, which seeks to empower its members and enhance their standing in the community. There is a strong sense of belonging and community at Lepo LorunLepo Lorun encourages highly skilled weavers to leave their menial day jobs by offering time and space for them to deepen their skills in weaving. Horeng describes the loss of identity these brilliantly skilled women can experience when they are reliant on their husbands to survive. ‘Weaving is good for our self esteem. If these women are working at a club or restaurant all day and then going home to complete domestic duties, they are not getting time for themselves or weaving. Here they are independent’, she explains.

Not all of the weavers have husbands, and Elisabeth Pagan, 53, wouldn’t have it any other way. ‘It’s better to work with the pigs, chickens and plants and to spend time weaving than to cook for a husband’, she explains, to howls of laughter. ‘I love coming here to weave with my friends’. There is a strong sense of belonging and community that is fostered among Lepo Lorun’s weavers. Sama-sama or socialisasi (socialisation) is key; bringing the women together to socialise, collaborate and work together. The ikat process is incredibly challenging, which means music, singing, dancing and cackles of hysterical laughter have become an unofficial (but essential) part of the process.