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spacer ONLINE MUSEUM OF INDONESIAN IKAT TEXTILES   CURATOR: PETER TEN HOOPEN  BROWSE FROM:  [RANDOM] [001] [025] [050] [075] [100] [125] [150] [175] [200] [225] [250] [275] [293]





  • 001 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1940-1950. Iban people, probably from the Baleh river, a tributary of the Batang Rajang.
  • 032 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1925-1945. Saribas region.
  • 033 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1880 to early 20th c. Saribas, most likely.
  • 034 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1925-1950. Serawak, Iban Dayak (Saribas or Batang Baleh area?).
  • 035 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1940. Saribas, Iban people.
  • 036 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1930-1945. Dayak, Saribas Iban.
  • 037 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1920-1930. Iban Dayak. Simanggang, old 2nd Division.
  • 038 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1880-1920. Iban Dayak, Ngemah-Bangkit Rivers, Baleh, 7th (old 3rd) Division.
  • 039 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1940-1950. Iban Dayak, Second Division.
  • 040 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1940. Layar (probably), a tributary of the Saribas.
  • 041 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1920. Iban Dayak, Second Division, probably Batang Lupar River.
  • 074 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. Circa 1940. Iban Dayak, most likely from the Krian, a tributary of the Saratok neighbouring the Saribas.
  • 075 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1935-1950. Iban Dayak people, probably from the Batang Ai. .
  • 123 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1920-1940. Probably Batang Ai or Baleh river system.
  • 140 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1950. Baleh river system, Iban people. .
  • 151 SARAWAK
    Pua (blanket). Warp ikat. Late 19th to early 20th c. Iban people, but probably not coastal, given the absence of pre-dyed commercial yarn in the borders.
    Pua (blanket). Warp ikat. Circa 1940. Likely made by Iban people from West Kalimantan, west of Badau along the border; Iban who stayed behind during the great westward migration into Sarawak at the end of the 18th c.
  • 155 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 19th or very early 20th c. Possibly Batang Ai or Mujong River area.
  • 158 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1920-1940
  • 202 SARAWAK
    Pua kumbu. Weft ikat. 1940-1950 (?). Katibas river and its tributaries, Sarawak's old 7th division.
    Kain kebat (skirt cloth). Warp ikat. Late 19th - early 20th c. Ketungau river people.
  • 220 SARAWAK
    Kain kebat (skirt). Warp ikat. Early 20th c. Baleh river area.
  • 223 SARAWAKM
    Pua kumbu. Warp ikat. 1920s. Baleh river or one of its tributaries, possibly the Rajang river before it branches to the Baleh.
    Kain kebat (skirt cloth). Warp ikat. Early 20th c. Kantu (Kantuk).
    Kain kebat (skirt). Warp ikat. Late 19th to early 20th c. Mualang.
    Kain kebat (skirt cloth). Warp ikat. 19th to early 20th c. Ketungau river people, West Kalimantan.
  • 243 SARAWAK
    Kain kebat (skirt cloth). Warp ikat. 1920 of before. Baleh river or tributary, 3rd Division.

Iban pua - the pinnacle of ikat weaving in Indonesian archipelago

The Iban pua kumbu (blankets) from Borneo represent the pinnacle of ikat weaving in the Indonesian archipelago. While there are other areas where the technical finesse may approach or even equal that of the Iban - the cloths from the Lio region in Flores and the Balinese geringsing from Tenganan come to mind - the complexity of the Iban patterning has no equal anywhere in the region, or indeed the world.
       The meandering, intertwining patterns, which to the Western, untrained and uninitiated eye are hard to analyze, leave alone to memorize, surpass even Persian carpets in the level of their intricacy. Also striking, from an art-historical point of view, is the level of stylization. Most primitive art starts representational, and it is only in later stages of development that the artists dare to depart from that which is easily recognized: gradually reducing, accenting, reinventing familiar shapes. This aspect of Iban textile manufacture suggests that it is a very old art form, that has been central to the community for many centuries.

Many of the best pieces, and the majority of those in our collection, come from Sarawak, the North-Western part of Borneo that is now a Malaysian state, mostly from an area called Second Division, comprising the Batang Lupar and Saribas River systems. All of the Iban textiles in the Pusaka Collection are pre-war, most dating from the earliest decades of the twentieth century.
       Part of the fascination of collectors with Iban pua certainly is triggered by tales about their association with headhunting. As there are widely diverging views on the veracity of such tales, it seems best to let this issue by dealt with by a local expert. The Iban politician and expert on weaving culture, Vernon Kedit, whose lineage includes generations of master weavers, graciously allowed inclusion of the below exposé, earlier posted on tribaltextiles.info.

Debunking a myth

By Vernon Kedit

There have been a lot of stories about pua being used to receive the fruit of headhunting expeditions. But the idea of a bloody head dripping with blood and then wrapped up unceremoniously in a pua kumbu is really a myth. A very gory myth that works well with the romanticism of the era.
     In actual fact, when warriors return with trophy heads from a raid or battle, they do not bring their trophy heads directly into the longhouse. They would clear an area within earshot of their longhouse, and make camp there for seven nights. The trophy heads would be cleaned and then smoked over a gentle fire to dry them out. At the same time, the women back at the longhouse would start preparing the feast and most importantly, repairing or re-starching their prized pua kumbu for the enchaboh arong ceremony (the ritual of receiving a trophy head). Everybody would know that the warriors returned safely but everybody would keep up the pretense that they are still away on the raid.
      On the eighth morning, the warriors would dress up in their finery (presumably smuggled out of the longhouse to them by a precocious younger brother or cousin) and begin their procession from the clearing to the main stairs of the longhouse. Music would be played on gongs (also presumably smuggled in the dead of night the night before from the longhouse) as the men make their victorious approach, not unlike jubilant Caesar entering Rome to much fanfare. The women would also have woken up early and prepared themselves and all the ritual objects for the ceremony. Food and wine would be waiting in the longhouse communal gallery. Maidens would dress up and wait to be courted by the brave warriors.
      Upon reaching the stairs, the lead warrior would present his trophy head (or heads) to either his wife (if he is married) or his mother (if he is unmarried) with much shouting and yelling of war cries. The woman receiving the head would be waiting with a large plate in her arms over which a pua kumbu would be meticulously draped. The angle and the manner is very important as the most potent motif on the pattern must touch the base of the trophy head when it is placed on the pua. The trophy head, by now fully dried out and hair perfectly combed, would be placed carefully on the pua kumbu in the plate. The man would hold the head above the cloth while the woman would adjust the angles of her arms to find the best 'repository' position for the head. The pua kumbu is not wrapped around the head. It merely serves as a base cloth for the head. The woman would then welcome the head as she would welcome a new born babe, singing a lullaby to the trophy head as she gently cradles and rocks it (known as the naku pala). It is at this point that the powerful spirit of the pua is then believed to envelope and negate/neutralise all negative forces of the enemy's head. Then the next warrior in rank would do the same, until all the warriors have presented their heads. No wild dramatics. All very civilised.
      Then the heads are taken out to the tanju (open air verandah) where the enchaboh arong ceremony proper begins. After chants and prayers and blessings culminating in the climactic ritual bite (the women bite the heads as a sign of victory over the enemy - this bit, I agree, is somewhat gruesome and horrific), the heads would then be placed in rattan baskets and then hung in the longhouse over the entrance of their respective owners' bilik.
      That is why you will never have blood stains on any pua kumbu for the simple reason that all trophy heads are smoked and dried for seven days and nights before they are ceremonially presented to the longhouse. Any stain a dealer tells you is a blood stain is an outright lie to inflate his profits. Or if there really is a stain, it would most probably have come from food or drink spilt on the pua during festivities. The only time I have seen real blood stains on a pua was when a slaughtered sacrificial cockerel in its death throes flicked a few droplets of its blood onto the nearby displayed blanket during a miring (blessing ceremony), which annoyed its owner immensely. Nasty business as animal blood has a horrid stench. We like our cloths clean and unblemished, more so if they are masterpieces of high status. So if you hear fanciful stories of human blood stains on a pua kumbu, just smile and enjoy the tale.

This exposé was first published on www.tribaltextiles.info, and republished here with the author's gracious permission.

In another post Kedit wrote [first line edited to fit]: "Weaving in the Saribas continued right into the middle of the 20th century where it saw its zenith, as demonstrated by the textiles woven by my fore-mothers whom used very fine bought threads to further refine and develop various weaving techniques. Weaving only declined after the end of the 2nd World War with the advent of 'modernisation'.
     The Japanese Occupation which stalled trade during the war also contributed to the slowing down of weaving as bought threads became scarce. Women focussed on surviving the war and taking care of their families rather than weave for leisure and status. The British colonisation that followed placed an emphasis on education and many young Iban girls flocked to schools instead of staying in the attic to weave.
     By the 60s, one would have been hard pressed to find any woman weaving in the Saribas, although weavers still lived but had little inspiration or need to take up the loom. A 'new dawn' had come with Independence in 1963 and things of the past were put aside. The flourishing of Christianity in the Saribas also replaced Iban rituals and the attending need for ritual accoutrements, especially textiles.
     All is not lost, though. There is now a 'revival', which began sluggishly in the 90s but is now gaining momentum as retired professional women from the Saribas take up the loom to continue the tradition of their fore-mothers, and weave for leisure and status"



The Women's Warpath - and other durable classics

Several field researchers have spent a great deal of time and energy to make an inventory of Iban Dayak textile patterns. Some of them bitterly attack each other's findings, with an acrimony and vehemence well suited to headhunting. Whoever one wants to credit, it is clear that there will always exist some level of ambiguity, both on account of the secrecy in which part of the subject matter is wrapped, and on account of the unreliability of the primary sources, the Iban themselves, who are certainly not above misinforming foreign students of their culture, if only because most aspects of their weaving are secret and surrounded by taboos. Having said this, we are still left with a few works that may be expected to become (perhaps flawed) classics in the field.
       For anyone wanting to come to grips with the social role of the textiles of Borneo, Traude Gavin's classic The Women's Warpath is an invaluable resource. It explains the central role of ikat weaving in Iban Dayak culture, as a parallel to the men's headhunting - prowess on the battlefield versus prowess at the loom. Critics, specifically Michael Heppell, allege that Gavin was led to misunderstand the symbolism of the designs, and even their importance, which has caused her to state that the decorative aspect is predominant, not the cultural and magical aspect - which Iban sources like Datin Amar Margaret Linggi, Vernon Kedit, and other experts such as John Kreifeldt contradict. In Iban or Sea Dayak Fabrics and their Patterns, Haddon and Start argue that even the tiniest curl, rhomboid or swirl carries a meaning that is immediately understood by the local people, which is why these cloths can be read almost like a story, and are emblematic of the weaver's level of culture. Still, the parallelism between weaving and headhunting that Gavin pointed out is an insight of lasting value.
      As for getting a visual impression of the Dayak's daily life, Among the Dayaks is unbeatable. Poh Chiang Lim's intimate pictorial account of life as it once was in the jungles of Sarawak is a unique document not just for its recording of history, but also because of its gentle, seemingly unintrusive photography. Now, as both the jungle and it's indigenous peoples are fast disappearing, these stunning black and white photographs taken in the 1950s and '60s reveal with great poignancy a way of life that is all but gone.

Online sources of information on Iban culture

There are several fine sources of information on the internet about the Iban and their culture. Some of the most interesting are found on a blog by Gregory Nyanggau Mawar, published under the GNU licence, the most import of which - his article on Iban adat - we republish here with great thanks for the author's courteous permission. The reason we republish instead of just providing a link, is to help preserve this material. Blogs have a tendency to come and go, and while there is no guarantee that this site will outlive its author. At least there now is another source out there, again to be freely copied or republished as long as the GNU licence is respected and the author credited. Please do visit the original blog, which has much more material on the Iban and their culture beyond the two articles linked to below:
  • The origin of Iban Adat, described the Iban's mythical past and the social setting of their traditions.
  • The Asun rebellion, the historical developments leading up to it, the river systems, and Iban character as it was shaped by the environment.
  • The Early Iban Way of Life, which describes traditional Iban life from the cradle to the grave in great, and often beautiful detail.

Map of Borneo

map Borneo

©Peter ten Hoopen, 2018. All rights reserved.


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