Pages 95, 101
Far to the north, in the interior of Sumatra, ship imagery found expression among the Batak people, not in their textiles, but in the sweeping facades and bowed saddle roofs of their great painted and carved houses, which loom like ships in a sea of rice paddies. The textiles are somber blue or deep maroon cottons relieved in their severity by occasional warp ikat patterning, warp stripes, or twined borders. In some textiles supplementary weft yarns are used to delineate simple geometric forms. Among the Batak there is a hierarchical structuring that determines the appropriateness of a certain type of gift textile relative to the age and social status of the receiver, and the occasion. The most sacred and prestigious of all textiles is the Ragidup, a dark cloth with white patterned end panels. This is the most important gift the bride's father bestows upon the groom's mother during the wedding ceremony. It is a statement of the bride-giver's superior status and protective and fructifying role. The sibolang, a textile that goes to the father of the groom, has a similar significance. Paralleling these two in relative prestige, but imbued with a slightly different character, is the ragi hotang, which is the highest-ranked textile to be given to the bride and groom. If no child is born after a suitable time has elapsed, the young husband may return to his wife's family with a pig and demand the blessing of the bride-givers in the form of the ragidup. In pregnancy and at the death of an elder the ragidup is once more the adat-sanctioned gift textile. The sibolang, a somber blue cloth with five bands of blue ikat patterns, also has a major role at funerals. It is the major gift of the fathers of the son's wives and others who stand in the position of bride-givers to the dead person. It also serves as the chief mourning cloth a widow receives from her mother; in this case it is worn over the head, but in normal circumstances it is wrapped about the hips or folded over the shoulder.
Over two dozen types of Batak textiles
have been identified. They are still made today, but few modern weavers are
able to complete all the stages of production. This is especially true of the
ikat textiles whose yarns are now ikatted by one woman and woven by another.
More and more, the white panels interlocked in the end zones of the ragidup
are woven separately and sewn onto the other segments of the cloth instead of
being interlocked during the weaving process. Nevertheless, the textile craft
is still alive in the mountains of the northern interior, and the centuries-old
system of gift exchange is still being practiced.
61. Ulos padang rusak
Sumatra, Toba Batak people Warp-faced plain weave, warp ikat, twining. Cotton. Warp 213 cm, weft 81 cm. Museum voor Land- en Volkenkunde, Rotterdam 2742
The advent of finely spun commercial yarns and harsh aniline dyes has robbed the plain textiles of the Batak of their gentle sophistication. This example, collected from the Toba Batak before 1884, is evidence of that lost quality. Here simple ikat patterns of "arrowheads" appear in dark stripes set against a reddish brown field. The lateral margins are the same brown, with an off-white selvage. Seven rows of twining terminate the textile, and the hands pun cotton ends are plied and twisted. The combination of natural materials and the skills of an expert weaver produced a textile of quiet dignity.
Sumatra, Batak people. Supplementary weft, supplementary warp, twining. Cotton. Warp 227 cm, weft 98 cm. Howard and Bernice Beers, Lexington, Kentucky.
The ragidup, whose name literally means "pattern of life," is the most sacred of all Batak textiles, and is used for important gift exchange ceremonies. One of these occurs when a woman is seven months pregnant with her first child. On this occasion, her parents present her with one of these cloths, which becomes her ulos ni tondi, or soul cloth. The designs of the textile, which are thought to spell out her future, are "read" by a knowledgeable elder.
This textile is composed of three bands sewn together in the warp direction. The lateral bands are warp-faced plain weave, with narrow stripes of supplementary warp patterning. The central band contains white end panels woven by interlocking a new set of white warp yarns with the center warps. This is done by weaving the central area, then overlaying the remaining dark warp yarns with the white ones, and weaving a few wefts to lock the new warps into place. The dark warps are then cut away, and weaving continues on the white yarns. These panels have supplementary weft patterns on a warp-faced, plain weave foundation. The ends are finished with twining.
63. Ulos godang
Sumatra, Angkola Batak people. Warp faced plain weave, twill, supple¬mentary weft, twining. Cotton, beads. Warp 217 cm, weft 99 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 30.827. Maria Antoinette Evans Fund.
The Angkola Batak are one of the few peoples in Indonesia who know how to make a twill weave on a simple back tension 100m. They use twill as a decorative element in its own right, or as a founda¬tion for decorative supplementary weft.
The twill appears on the two basic textiles of the Angkola people, which are distinguished from one another by their width. The size determines the function. A single panel cloth approximately 45 cm wide, called parompa sadum, serves as a baby carrier. Two panels joined together create the larger wrapper, or shoulder cloth, called ulos godang. In addition to twill, the Angkola work may include supplementary wefts, tapestry weave, and twining, as well as beads which may appear on the body of the cloth and the borders.
In this example the muted warp stripes of reddish brown and deep blue are highlighted by fine yellow stripes, and white beads in rows and patterned clusters. Four rows of simple geometric forms and an occasional stripe constitute the major designs in the weft. This elegant simplicity makes a strong contrast to today's popular textiles, with their continual series of designs or even words worked in harsh, synthetic dye colors.
Both the ulos godang and
the parompa sadum are crucial to the ritual commitments involved in
gift exchange. The latter textile in particular is used as a gift from maternal
grandparents to the grandchild.
Sumatra, Batak people Weft twining. Cotton. Width 13 cm, depth 9.5 cm, height 28 cm The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C. 1987.15.1 Gift of Fred and Rita Richman (Color plate, detail)
This seamless bag worked in weft-twining is a rare example of a Batak man's carrying satchel. Similar twining appears at the ends of the Batak ulos, but the use of this technique to form an entire item among the Batak is unusual. The technique is used to make men's jackets among the Iban and headhunter's costume pieces on Timor.