Palu’e Black

Fieldtrip Flores-Palu’e early April 2021


Mite – Black, or very dark

So, I was finally able to experience live the process of making Palu’e black colour, the overdyeing of indigo-dyed yarn with several plants/ingredients. I arrived at the island after a week on Flores, at the end of the cyclon-natural disaster (on the nearby islands), and by joining a small fisherman’s boat from Ropa in the late afternoon, after I and several other persons had missed the passenger boats returning to the island from the market midday. Early April is normally dry season, but this year the rainy season dragged on an extra month. We arrived after dusk, and I had to walk for about an hour until I found a man with a motorbike who could take me up the mountain to my village.

After a day of hanging out with my hosts and a reconciliation ceremony, we, mainly Mama Longge that is, did the black overdyeing. I was lucky to get some rare handspun cotton yarn, already dyed five times in separate indigo vats by Tante Meli (Pisane), and that all the ingredients were available: 1. fire wood ashes, or water filtered through a sapa basket containing the ashes. 2.dried leaves of the langalidhi tree 3. mangrove bark (Rhizophora*) 4. a fruit of the tall wuwu tree (the least important I assume) 5. the root fruit of loi, green porang (Amorphophallus oncophyllus), used for starching the yarn, squeezed into the yarn during the overdyeing. Only the mangrove is not endemic, growing on the Flores north coast. The wuwu fruit is not always available, neither is the green porang. In the morning I went with Longge’s husband Ware to search for wuwu fruits, not quite sure if we could find some viable ripen fruits, but we did, the ripe ones are black and fallen. Longge began with filtering the ash water, the lye, which could have been done during the night. It is filtered through a sapa basket. Ware baked the wuwu fruit on coal for a while. The ingredients are boiled together, except the green porang, which is baked, and squeezed into the yarn with the red, tannin rich, water after the yarn has been squeezed for a while in the kora, the split bamboo used for the purpose. Let the pictures speak. After the overdyeing the yarn is left to dry in the sun, it is sticky because of the porang starch, an a process of peeling (peké) and separating the threads is required before rolling the yarn to a ball or onto a stick (kaju pola kabhane). The final result is of course not a true black in the chemical sense, but more like a  donkel-black, which is more pleasing to the eye. See example-cloths in other posts: and at the end of the video below. See also for comparisons.


Tante Meli’s handspun indigodyed cotton yarn.
A neighbour girl digs up a planted green porang root fruit. This plant only became domesticated in 2020 after outsiders came searching for it, now a cash crop.
All ingredients except the ashes, from top left, on blue indigo yarn: dried langalidhi leaves, green porang root fruit, unripe and ripe wuwu fruit, moro hae mangrove bark.
The mangrove bark is better grinded.
Fire wood ashes from the kitchen stove.
The porang root fruit is baked in the coal of the stove.
The red water is mixed and squeezed with the root fruit prior to squeezing it into the yarn.
The indigo dyed yarn in the kora, the split bamboo container, next to the kettle with the red water.
Squeezing the yarn with the red water.
Squeezing the porang root fruit into the yarn with red water.
Done squeezing the yarn.
The overdyed indigo yarn is stretched on a bamboo rack with a load of rocks (tai kabha).


Wiwi ca réta ca'i liru, lema lawa lae ceré no'o tana