Written by Ipiq Matay.
Image credit by the author.
My name is Ipiq, which means “tiny” in Truku, and I am an Indigenous person from the Truku community of Taiwan. Despite my lack of height, I have a big heart. As a weaver in my community, I’d like to share ‘mhuma’, a Truku weaving skill which translates to “be planting”. This weaving technique can be seen in diamond-shaped patterns on women’s traditional clothing. Learning how to weave and create this pattern began my journey of connecting to my family history and the people of my community.
Since 2016, I’ve been carrying on my grandmother’s weaving tradition by practising Truku backtrap weaving with the help of my aunt, Naci. I’ve learned two ways to arrange threads and four weaving techniques. In addition, I’ve studied with my aunt and visited other weavers, where I not only learned to weave but also the histories and hopes of my family.
Dreaming is key to Truku culture and has been invaluable to my weaving experience. Our ancestors communicate messages to us in our dreams, which we enact in our daily life by weaving, farming, hunting and so forth. Weaving for me reconnects me with the missing knowledge, stories and traditions of my grandmother and family.
Grandmother’s Looms and Her Cloth
When I was a child, my grandmother and other elders would often weave together in her room. I was unfamiliar with this skill, and although our family did not consider it a tradition, we kept her tree-trunk-made loom, cloth, and blankets as a remembrance of her after her passing.
In 2003, the Truku people were recognised as one of the official Indigenous peoples. During my freshman year in college, I joined an Indigenous youth organisation and discussed various Indigenous issues, particularly regarding the Truku. After graduating, I was involved in cultural learning and development projects with my village. We created a community map with Truku names, taboos, and stories detailing the landscape and history of our village. Additionally, we interviewed the elders to gain better insight into our languages and ancestral stories. Stories are an important reflection of our worldviews, showcasing the values of our forefathers.
My grandma had a reputation for weaving skills. During the interviews, many elders shared inspiring stories about her weaving. Some collected her woven blankets, some learned to thread from her, and some recalled where they had seen her work. In my family, though, we never spoke of her weaving, nor did we practice it. Her loom was a relic in our home, never used.
After two years of interviewing weavers, I finally began weaving myself in my thirties. My aunt from my mother’s side was willing to teach me, so I brought my grandma’s weaving loom and cloth with diamond-shaped patterns and asked her to teach me how to make it. First, she laughed, explaining I was missing some weaving tools. Then, she showed me the tools my father had made and explained their use.
Reconnecting with My Family and the Community
When I discovered my father was adept at making weaving tools, I went to him, not knowing why he was surprised by my request. Our conversations brought back memories of my grandparents, and he told stories of my grandmother, which I had never heard before. My father then made up the missing tools for me.
After gathering the necessary tools, I began weaving and studying patterns on my grandma’s blankets to learn her skill. As I wove more, I discovered more patterns and finally understood why she was held in such high regard in the village. When she was alive, I was unaware of her wealth of knowledge in weaving and didn’t feel how abundant the weaving knowledge she had was. However, after ten years since she passed, I feel closer to her than ever through the practice of weaving.
She began to appear in my dreams. I frequently dreamt of her, initially as a shadow, then once as a tangible figure laughing and walking towards me. I also frequently dreamt of threads, diamond-shaped patterns, and giant loom weaving. Through practising weaving, I eventually understood the hidden messages in my dreams.
I learned more narratives and techniques by sharing my skills and dreams with weavers in other Truku villages. Weaving is an ancient custom that serves to unite us: individuals, families, and our history. Through practising weaving, our culture and knowledge live on.
You Will Learn What You Know from Weaving
My aunt’s wise words when I began weaving were, “Weaving is more than just honing skills and creating patterns – it is about grasping the complexities of our bodies, minds, and the world around us.”:
aji su kla mita ka sayang hang. tai su mkla tminu da ka. mha su mkla mita da. (You may not know what you are doing now. After you know how to weave, you will learn what you know from that).
I was a novice, but my aunt carefully guided me through each step. Unfortunately, despite weaving for seven years, I sometimes forgot the patterns. As a result, I had to start each time anew, like my grandmother before me. In Truku, the term Patas (“signs” or “words”) embodies the weaving process: rather than simply learning the skill, we sense the unique character in each cloth we make. It connects to the place where the weavers reside or the stories they wish to carry on.
In this regard, the cloth appeared as a static object, but more plentiful stories are hidden behind it. I discovered stories hidden within the cloth, from weaving the same patterns my grandmother used to and patterns from elders and the museum. Relationships and connections become apparent when placed in the contexts of the production and use of the cloth. The Truku elders taught that weaving is akin to planting seeds in the land; when creating cloth, seek out objects and colours to weave into the design. I started by making patterns inspired by my aunt’s village and my grandmother’s cloth, and with each stitch, I learned more stories of Truku culture. This is the essence of our traditions.
Ipiq Matay is an educator, a weaver, and a Truku from Taiwan.
It was published as part of a special issue on “Indigenous Weaving and Its Evolving Cultures.”