The traditional cloth draped on the triangle boasts patterns as intricate as any woven by human hands. Known as Hinggi Kihil, the rectangular wrap from the eastern part of Sumba island is made up of a melange of materials including commercial thread, chemical dyes, warp ikat and plain weave as well as kabakil terminals.
The result of the design features a gradation of colors from dark and red to sky blue and white that are as seamless as they are harmonious. The age old motifs are also a study in contrasts, as their patterns prove to be as vigorous and lively on the cloths, made relatively recently in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Hinggi and others like it are among the dozen of cloths featured in the “Weavings of Southeastern Indonesia: From Bali to Timor” exhibition, which is currently being held at the Bentara Budaya cultural center in Jakarta.
Stylized horses on the lighter blue side combine well with the coat of arms with lions rampant. The latter design, inspired by the coat of arms from coins brought by the Dutch in the 19th century, highlights the artisans’ eye for detail and their sensitive observations of the world around them.
“The weavings of the southeastern quarter of Indonesia are noted for their diversity, attractive character and continuing production. Not only do their immense variety representative of Indonesia’s national diversity, they are eye catching and still of excellent quality” curator Judi Achjadi said in the exhibition’s catalogue.
“Thanks to continuing ritual and ceremonial needs and the demands of the tourist and art market, [the woven cloth of the region] are among the lively traditional arts and crafts still practiced today.”
The region’s socioeconomic structure is also touched on in a Hanggi rectangular wrap from West Sumba. The 2.79 by 1.15 meter work, whose exquisite make entails an organic process of handspun cotton, organic dye and treebark twine, portrays a horse.
While the seemingly naive depiction of the horse makes it seem like a rocking or toy horse, it belies its importance in the island’s society as a token of wealth. The symbolism is added by a figure of one of its two riders, which is shown carrying a gold rod symbolizing the family’s wealth. The horse’s importance extends to the spiritual sphere, as its shown to have both male and female organs.
“The symbolism [of the horse] is powerful but unknown at this stage, aside from prosperity and fertility” Judi said. Regardless of its meaning, the work’s motif is a powerful affirmation of the area’s cultural identity.
The tubular wraps from Flores’ Manggarai district is a study in contrasts inside and out. Every corner of the wrap comes as a surprise.
The ornate left side contrasts with a more sparsely decorated, but no less intricate, right half. The triangles that make up the bottom and upper halves reflect the differing ways to make the cloth, namely the supplementary weft and tapestry weaving.
On the other hand, the lawo butu woman’s tubular from the Ngada district used brightly colored beads to make exquisite decorations of human figures, birds, and geometric motifs. The patterns strikingly stood out from the dark cloth, as does the warp ikat figures of horses, diamonds and various geometric figures.
On its part, the Beti rectangular wrap of North Central Timor district of Miomafo features geometric patterns similar to Middle Eastern carpets and ponchos from Mexico and the Southwestern United States.
The Tais Feto tubular wrap from Timor’s Malaka district also explored the motif. Using the three paneled motif renowned from the area, the cloth saw the removal of its supplementary weave, done without damaging its basic weave. The process is testament to the quality of the craftmanship and skill of the weavers.
Bali also did its take on the weft ikat technique which was known as Endek in the Balinese language, as well as its wastra songket brocade.
However, the pattern’s more structured use of tirtanadi or zigzag rows have much in common with batik and other Javanese cloths. The similarity highlights Bali’s standing as a island serving as a transition between western and eastern Indonesia.
At first glance, the wastra songket looks like it has much in common with Javanese batik due to its use of gold cloth to make geometric, regulated patterns. But a closer look indicates that the wastra songket have more in common with their more abstract counterparts from Eastern Indonesia.
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on December 15, 2013