Borneo, Sarawak, 1920 - 1940
Commercial cotton, warp ikat, alternating warp-faced float weave, natural dyes
A large Iban woman’s skirt, woven in deep brown, brick-red and ecru ikat. The design is exceptionally detailed, consisting of elaborate rhomb motifs, interspaced by sets of coils whose organic form contrasts with the geometric rhombs. Fine feathery dark lines filling up the intervening spaces are an unusual feature which create a soft delicate effect not generally found in Iban textiles. The central diamonds are marked by blue highlights. The design appears to extend into the borders, with a central border of a feathered angular meander in the same style as the design field.
Context: Textile art has a sacred origin and ritual functions for the Ibanic people, as well as the more usual social ones. Textiles are integral in headhunting practices and shaman rites: the gifts given to the shaman who conducts the soul of the dead to the other world must include a skirt, and without these gifts she will not be able to return to the human world (M. Gittinger, Splendid Symbols, 1990, 218). Gittinger cites the myth of the headhunter who shot a bird, which turned into a skirt. The skirt belonged to the daughter of the god Singalang Burong, who then married the hunter, and the story recounts how she eventually returned to the gods, but her son was later taught the rituals for headhunting, textiles, and omen birds, which he brought back to mortals.
Iban ikat is highly prized for its powerful woven designs of great depth. Skirts contain some of the oldest known Iban patterns, that have been handed on without significant changes and are often related to plaitwork patterns on baskets and mats. Skirts do not have the same ritual efficacy as pua; a weaver would rest between making the pua that put her at risk by making skirts. While under-priced compared to the large pua because they are smaller textiles, the skirts are often much more intricate in design, take as long or longer to make, and contain some of the finest weaving of the Ibanic people.
Condition: The skirt is in excellent condition and has been very well looked after. The reverse (under) side is very slightly faded compared to the outer side; there are no holes, stains or tears. The colours are fresh, warm and clear, and the relatively light weight cotton is firm, slightly stiff, with a firm body and grainy texture.
Length: 105 cm. Width: 58 cm.