The most sacred textiles of the Batak people of northern Sumatra are the ragidup, whose name literally means "pattern of life." Both during and beyond an individual's life, ragidup play central roles. Perhaps the most critical occurs when a woman is pregnant with her first child. At this time, her parents typically present her with a ragidup, which becomes, as her ulos ni tondi or "soul cloth," a supernaturally powerful object that will protect her and her family throughout life. During the rites, a specialist is called upon to "read" the cloth, whose complex patterns are believed to foretell the woman's future. A ragidup is also an essential element in Batak marriage rites, where it is wrapped around the mother of the groom by the father of the bride as a ceremonial gift. In death, the ragidup enshrouds the deceased and, years later, is used to wrap his or her bones when they are disinterred for ritual reburial.
Ragidup are constructed from five components—two side panels joined to a larger central section consisting of a large panel in the middle and two end panels adorned with complex geometric designs executed in supplementary weft (a decorative technique in which additional crosswise threads are added to the textile during weaving). In each ragidup, one end panel is considered "male" and the other "female," the gender being determined by the specific patterns used. The ornamentation of the central field varies, here consisting of a bold series of longitudinal stripes.
[M.L.J. Lemaire, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, until 1979]; Ernest Erickson, New York, 1979–(d.)1983; Ernest Erickson Foundation, 1983–1988