Man’s shoulder or hip cloth (Hinggi)

Sumba Island

Not on view

The island of Sumba in Indonesia is renowned for its technically accomplished and visually dramatic textiles. Impressive works such as this hinggi (man’s shoulder or hip cloth) were prestige garments used as formal attire by Sumba men at important events and ceremonies. Worn in matched sets, one around the hips and a second around the shoulders, cotton dyed hinggi were also an indispensable component of ceremonial gift exchange.

This example is particularly accomplished in the complexity and dynamism of its design that features paired sets of creatures drawn from the realms of land, sea and sky, and which can be identified as snakes, stags, fish, shrimps and wild fowl. The repeated symmetry of paired creatures reveals vivid new motifs when viewed from different positions, creating a lively and dynamic design. For example, paired shrimps around a single fish icon become the steady eyes and open mouth of a man when the fish icon is anchored as a central axis, emphasizing the inevitable presence of man and his ancestors in this overall scheme of life. Likewise the raised antlers and tail of each stag become lively and animated creatures which appear to be climbing when viewed upside down. This overlapping iconography creates a rich and visual play across the surface of the textile, allowing for embedded meanings to spring forth. A small, apparently decorative feature between each repeated set of raised antlers reveals itself to be a skull tree, a subtle allusion to the significance of headhunting in early Indonesian cultures. The capture and display of the skulls and jaws of defeated warriors from neighboring communities ensured the continued vitality and spiritual sustenance of a community. While headhunting was practiced throughout the Indonesian archipelago before its suppression by Dutch colonial authorities at the turn of the twentieth century, skull tree imagery remains unique to east Sumba and was incorporated into gold ear ornaments known as mamuli -- significant examples of which are also in the Oceania holdings of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see 1990.335.3).

Man’s shoulder or hip cloth (Hinggi), Cotton, pigment, Sumba Island

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