Threads Of Life

Sumba Island

Unlike its rugged volcanic neighbours to the north Sumba is mostly flat, with winding river canyons etched into high, grassy plains. In western Sumba the dry season is short, and the rivers flow year round. In the east, eight months can pass between rainfalls, and locals herd horses, goats and cattle on the savannah.

Like its position on the map, and largely because of it, Sumba is out of line with the rest of Indonesia. The waves of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, and the great empires of Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi left Sumba almost untouched. The Dutch established a colonial government in Sumba only after centuries of neglect. This relative isolation allowed Sumbanese culture to develop in something of a vacuum and to persist with remarkable integrity.

Outside a few small cities, life still revolves around the ancestral villages, clusters of large, square houses that crown Sumba’s hilltops, ringed by crumbling fortifications and hedges of cactus. A traditional Sumbanese house squats on broad wooden pillars, with a towering wedge-shaped peak soaring from the centre of the roof and a shaded veranda facing a central square. The houses can be large enough to house several dozen members of an extended family.

Villagers say that each house represents the universe in microcosm. The high roof peak contains a sacred compartment, the abode of spirits, where ancestral relics and clan heirlooms are stored. Everyday life takes place in the main chamber. Beneath the raised floor lies the underworld, where pigs and dogs scratch for food. In practice, this ground level is usually the coolest part of the building, and women sit under the houses in the hot afternoons to weave, chat and watch their children play in the shade.

Hinggi

HinggiHinggi are designed as two parts that are joined in the center with an almost invisible seam. They are worn in identical pairs during a man’s lifetime, folded over the shoulder and wrapped about the hips. Individual design elements perform practical functions, the qualities associated with each motif augmenting the wearer’s personal power during life and aiding his journey to the next world after death. Motifs are usually arranged in three to five bands of varying width. The design traditionally announced a man’s social status.

Lau

Lau Heamba Pahudu HadaThe lau is the general term for a traditional tubular textile worn by Sumbanese women for ceremonial occasions. It is turned down an appropriate length and worn either skirt-like as a sarong, or as a dress covering the breasts with the top of the tube simply gathered and held in place with the left arm pit. Individual design elements perform practical functions, the qualities associated with each motif augmenting the wearer’s personal power during life and aiding his journey to the next world after death.

Lau Witikau

Lau WitikauTraditionally a lau witikau textile was made by royal mothers for their daughters prior to marriage for inclusion in the bride’s trousseau. Thereafter used as gifts between families at times of weddings or funerals, the ultimate use of a lau witikau would be as the outermost textile used to wrap the upper part of the body of a deceased royal.

The beaded motif depicts a Marapu ancestral spirit. Marapu is the animistic religion of the people of Sumba.


Lau Heamba Pahudu Hada

Lau heamba pahudu hada is a woman’s tubular sarong with ikat technique and supplementary warp patterning and beaded decoration in one section of the two panel textile. The tapestry-like supplementary motif is created during the weaving process whereas the antique beads are added once the pieces making up the tubular sarong have been sewn together.

Textiles in Sumba have always functioned both as an indication of status and a means of ritual exchange. Colours and motifs worn still denote an individual’s position in the island’s complex social hierarchy.


Lau Pahudu

Lau Pahudu KikuLau pahudu refers to a tubular sarong with supplementary warp patterning in only the bottom section of the two panels. Ikat may also appear in such a textile. The tapestry-like supplementary motif is created during the weaving process. In the kingdom of Pau, women refer to this textile as a lau pahudu kiku. Kiku means foot or lower section of the textile.

Textiles in Sumba have always functioned both as an indication of status and a means of ritual exchange. Colours and motifs worn still denote an individual’s position in the island’s complex social hierarchy. This textile, combining these available decorative techniques, would mark its wearer as being of a high rank.


Lau Paka Komba

Lau Paka KombaThis unusual sarong was inspired by the collection of the last great king of Pau, Umbu Windi Tananangungiu who was Tamu Rambu Hamueti’s father. After his death the entire collection was sold off leaving nothing to continue to be used as models for new textiles. Many years later, Tamu Rambu Hamu Eti met with the buyer living in Bali who had photographs of many of the pieces in the collection. He promised to make copies for Tamu Rambu Hamu Eti but unfortunately there was a flood and the photographs were destroyed. Now the textiles only remain in Eti’s memory. She made this textile from her memory designing and beading the band of frogs herself and working with the dyers to create the gradation of blue.

Lau Heamba Pahudu

Lau Heamba PahuduLau heamba pahudu refers to a tubular sarong with supplementary warp patterning in both the upper and lower sections. Ikat may also appear in the textile. The tapestry-like supplementary motif is created during the weaving process. Textiles in Sumba have always functioned both as an indication of status and a means of ritual exchange.

Colors and motifs worn still denote an individual’s position in the island’s complex social hierarchy. This textile, combining these available decorative techniques, would mark its wearer as being of a high rank.


Lau Heamba Pahudu Utu Kawadak

Lau Heamba Pahudu Utu KawadakLau heamba pahudu utu kawadak refers to a tubular ikat sarong with ikat and supplementary warp patterning in one sections as well as silver ornamentation sewn on. The tapestry-like supplementary motif is created during the weaving process. Textiles in Sumba have always functioned both as an indication of status and a means of ritual exchange.

Colours and motifs worn still denote an individual’s position in the island’s complex social hierarchy. This textile, combining these available decorative techniques, would mark its wearer as being of a high rank.


Lau Humba

Lau HumbaLau humba refers to a two-part tubular textile worn by women for daily use in Hama Parengu and within the Kanatang cultural group, which is known for it’s textiles using natural indigo dye practices with additional coloured sections. In the past this textile would have been decorated with an embroidered motif of dragon, horses, or birds on the bottom panel. It would then be referred to as a lau pakambuli and worn for special occassions.

The village of Hama Parengu maintains it’s animistic ties to the Marapu beliefs – still following the traditional ways of caring for the land and maintaining strong social ties.


Lau Pakapihak Ningu Njering

Lau Pakapihak Ningu NjeringLau pakapihak ningu njering is a two-panel textile sewn into a tube and worn as a woman’s sarong. The cloth may use a mud dye technique using mud as well as several types of plants such as leaves of pahawuru (Phyllanthus sp.) and bark of pamohu, found in mangrove areas. The fringes on the motif are made by adding extra threads that are sewn to create a motif. The technique of making the motif fringe is called ningu njering. The textile was used as an everyday dress by Sumbanese women, especially in Hama Parengu twenty to thirty years ago.

Teara

TearaTeara is a man’s single panel head cloth, used for both everyday use and ceremonies. Women also use it as a shoulder cloth for ceremonies.

Teara Haringgi

Teara HaringgiTeara haringgi is a shoulder cloth worn by Sumbanese women to complete their traditional dress. It can also be worn by women and men as a narrow head cloth.

Teara Hinggi Duku

Tiara DukuTeara hinggi duku is a one panel cloth worn over the shoulder of a high ranking person along with a hip cloth (hinggi) tyed around the waist. Individual design elements perform practical functions, the qualities associated with each motif augmenting the wearer’s personal power during life and aiding his journey to the next world after death. The design traditionally announced a man’s social status. Motifs are usually arranged in three to five bands of varying width.

Tera Hita Langga

Tera Hita LanggaTera hita langga is a single-panel man’s head cloth. This textile is always a deep blue black colour with small strips made using pahitang floating warp patterning and is worn by the traditional priest (wunang) or elder man of a particular status. Tera hita langga is usually worn with rau kadama.

Rau Kadama

Rau KadamaRau kadama is a single panel that is used as a waist wrap by a priest (wunang) or elder male in Hama Parengu in East Sumba. This dress is worn with the tera hita langga head cloth. The rau kadama textile is dyed to a deep blue black and has faint light blue horizontal stripes. Kadama is a reference to a flowering plant that is spoken of in stories and songs.

The village of Hama Parengu maintains it’s animistic ties to the Marapu beliefs – still following the traditional ways of caring for the land and maintaining strong social ties. Hama Parengu is part of the Kanatang cultural group that is well known for it’s textiles using natural indigo dye practices.


Tambakuku Utu Kambar

Tambakuku Utu KambarTambakuku utu kambar is used as a ceremonial funeral wrapping for a woman. Tambakuku means shroud and kambar means beads. This textile is the final textile used in wrapping the deceased member of a royal family who still follow the traditional beliefs of the Marapu tradition. The body is tied into the fetal position and then wrapped in many textiles – up to a hundred depending on the status of the woman. This tambakuku utu kambar is the final wrapping that encases the entire body including the head and only leaving the face uncovered.

Kalumbut Hada

Kalumbut HadaKaliti NjaraA kalumbut hada is a beaded betel bag worn by the male papanggangu, a ritual representative at important ceremonies such as funerals; once, they headed agricultural rites as well. The word papanggangu means ritual attendant. A nobleman`s funeral ceremony requires at least one male and one female papanggangu, and as many as four to seven might be in attendance. During the funeral ceremony for Tamu Rambu Yuliana, the late great queen of the royal compound at Parai Yawangu, two male papanggangu–called the keliti njara and the lunggu manu–carried kalumbut hada bags. The keliti njara rode a horse at the head of the procession of papanggangu. The lunggu manu followed on foot carrying a rooster, a symbol of faith and continuity. The rooster crows each morning, without fail; his presence in the ceremony signified the family`s intention to fulfill the essential funerary rites.

  • Ceremonial Betelnut bag
  • 2007
  • Appliqued beads
  • Rindi village, Sumba
  • 25 cm – 63 cm (9 x 24 in)
  • Made by Umbu Darius
  • Code # C.SU.RE.029

Tangawahilu Wala Mangata

 

Tangawahilu Wala MangThe people of Rindi offer betel to visitors as a sign of hospitality and respect; they say that betel nut opens the way to honest and friendly conversation. The Sumbanese would bring out a basket like this to honor a high-ranking guest. Tamu Rambu Ma Ayu used a rare technique to create the raised image of a rooster in the center of this piece. The rooster is an important animal in the Sumbanese tradition; locals believe that roosters bear witness to ritual proceedings as representatives of the ancestors. Users chew a sliver of a nut from the pinang palm tree (Areca catechu), the leaves and peppery flower spikes of the male sireh plant (Piper betle), and powdered lime to produce a mild intoxication–and a mass of red saliva. Chewing betel also suppresses the appetite, a useful side-effect in areas where food and water are not plentiful. Ma Ayu and other basket weavers display their work, Rindi, Sumba

  • Betel Basket
  • 2006
  • Lontar palm leaf
  • Rindi village, Sumba
  • Width 21 cm. (8 in)
  • Made by Tamu Rambu Ma Ayu
  • Code # C.BS.RE.003A

Tanga Bola Uhu

 

Tanga Bola UhuThe people of Rindi offer betel to visitors as a sign of hospitality and respect; they say that betel nut opens the way to honest and friendly conversation. Users chew a sliver of a nut from the pinang palm tree (Areca catechu), a leaf and a piece of the peppery flower spike of the male sirehplant (Piper betle), and powdered lime to produce a mild intoxication-and a mass of red saliva. The rooster perched atop the lid is an important animal in the Sumbanese tradition; roosters must bear witness to many ritual proceedings, as representatives of the ancestors.
When Threads of Life met Tamu Rambu Ma Aya, she was the last master basket weaver in Parai Yawangu, the small capital village of the traditional domain of Rindi, East Sumba. Her pieces sold quickly, and Threads of Life came back to order more. Tamu Rambu kept up with demand by sharing her weaving skills with her daughter.

  • Betel Basket
  • 2006
  • Lontar palm leaf
  • Rindi village, Sumba
  • Height 29 cm. (11.5in)
  • Made by Tamu Rambu Ma Aya
  • Code # C.BS.RE.007

Mbola Happa Pallaku

 

Mbola Happa PallakuThe unusual mbola happa pallakuholds the ingredients of the betel nut quid, but also conceals a number of secret compartments. The people of Rindi village use these special drawers to hold mamuli, ornaments of delicately wrought gold that indicate high status. The Sumbanese offer betel to visitors as a sign of hospitality and respect; they say that betel nut opens the way to honest and friendly conversation. Users chew a sliver of a nut from the pinang palm tree (Areca catechu), a leaf and a piece of the peppery flower spike of the male sireh plant (Piper betle), and powdered lime to produce a mild intoxication–and a mass of red saliva. Chewing betel also suppresses the appetite, a useful side-effect in areas where food and water are not plentiful.
Threads of Life is working with the basket makers of Rindi, East Sumba to revive the intricate art of basketry.

  • Betel Basket
  • 2007
  • Lontar palm leaf
  • Rindi village, Sumba
  • Height 26 cm. (10 in)
  • Made by Dembi Tamar
  • Code # C.SU.RE.012

Tangawahilu Kawudu Kalimang

 

The people of Rindi offer betel to visitors as a sign of hospitality and respect; they say that betel nut opens the way to honest and friendly conversation. Users chew a sliver of a nut from the pinang palm tree (Areca catechu), a leaf and a piece of a peppery flower spike from the malesireh plant (Piper betle), and powdered lime to produce a mild intoxication–and a mass of red saliva. Chewing betel also suppresses the appetite, a useful side-effect in areas where food and water are not plentiful.
The Sumbanese would serve betel in a kalimang only to guests of the highest rank. The woven rooster in the center is an important animal in the Sumbanese tradition; locals believe that roosters bear witness to ritual proceedings as representatives of the ancestors.

  • Betel Basket
  • 2007
  • Lontar palm leaf
  • Rindi village, Sumba
  • Width 19 cm. (7.5 in)
  • Made by Tamu Rambu Ma Aya
  • Code # C.SU.RE.017

Ndabi Wai

 

Basket weaver Tamu Rambu Ma Aya attained the rank of master only when she learned to create three-dimensional, sculptural pieces like thisndabi wai. Woven from a single lontar palm leaf, the ndabi wai is used to cover food offerings during traditional ceremonies. The rooster, perched atop the woven column of the ndabi, is an important animal in the Sumbanese tradition; roosters must bear witness to many ritual proceedings, as representatives of the ancestors.
When Threads of Life met Tamu Rambu Ma Aya, she was the last master basket weaver in Parai Yawangu, the small capital village of the traditional domain of Rindi, East Sumba. Her pieces sold quickly, and Threads of Life came back to order more. Tamu Rambu kept up with demand by sharing her weaving skills with her daughter.

  • Ceremonial Basket Cover
  • 2007
  • Lontar palm leaf
  • Rindi village, Sumba
  • Height 34 cm. (13.5 in)
  • Made by Tamu Rambu Ma Aya
  • Code # C.SU.RE.021

Ndabi Ri

 

Basket weaver Tamu Rambu Ma Aya attained the rank of master only when she learned to create three-dimensional, sculptural pieces like this ndabi ri. Woven from a single lontar palm leaf, the ndabi ri is used to cover food offerings during traditional ceremonies. The rooster, perched atop the woven column of the ndabi, is an important animal in the Sumbanese tradition; roosters must bear witness to many ritual proceedings, as representatives of the ancestors.
When Threads of Life met Tamu Rambu Ma Aya, she was the last master basket weaver in Parai Yawangu, the small capital village of the traditional domain of Rindi, East Sumba. Her pieces sold quickly, and Threads of Life came back to order more. Tamu Rambu kept up with demand by sharing her weaving skills with her daughter.

  • Ceremonial Basket Cover
  • 2007
  • Lontar palm leaf
  • Rindi village, Sumba
  • Height 17 cm. (7 in)
  • Made by Tamu Rambu Ma Aya
  • Code # C.SU.RE.022

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