The fiber making and terfo weaving tradition of the Sobei people of Papua


  • Christopher Buckley Tracing Patterns Foundation
  • Enrico Kondologit Museum Loka Budaya, Cenderawasih University
  • Yudha Yapsenang Balai Pelestarian Kebudayan XXIII
  • Sandra Sardjono Tracing Patterns Foundation


This paper describes the process by which Sobei people in Sarwar Village, on the north coast of Papua, make yarn from palm leaves and weave this into a cloth called terfo, using a backstrap loom. We share details of this isolated and endangered technique that have not previously been recorded and correct some errors and omissions in earlier accounts. The Sobei, who speak an Austronesian language, are the only traditional loom weavers on the island of New Guinea. They are practitioners of a type of weaving that was formerly found in several Melanesian islands, but which was never as widespread as the better-known weaving traditions in the Indonesian and Philippine islands. Their yarn-making technique has importance for understanding how leaf fibers were processed before the arrival of cotton in the region. The foot-braced loom used by Sobei weavers is unique in the region and raises interesting questions concerning its origins.

Terfo cloth, woven from palm fiber by a Sobei weaver from Papua