Ceremonial textile (pua)

Iban people

Not on view

This finely woven ceremonial textile comprises two similarly patterned and dyed panels that incorporate vivid, neatly executed designs. These include a particularly dramatic section that features rows of interlocking spirit figures (often termed enkarumba, or engamba): double-headed ancestral figures, their arms raised, alternate with single-figured spirits exposing claw-like hands and teeth. Opposite them are variations of the same powerful spirits, their split bodies splayed out beneath a single head or appearing on all fours, crouching low to the ground. All are hidden among a background of tendril-like foliage, purposefully disguised (since their extreme potency demands they not be gazed upon) yet conveying their power to the wearer while worn or displayed during ritual protocols. The elaborate turning tendril motif, whose circular turns are complete in this example, is complex to achieve, demonstrating the high skill and extreme competency of the weaver of this piece. Designs in the center and in the trio of patterned side stripes are created by black, white and red warp ikat with natural dyes. These areas are both flanked and separated by groups of narrow stripes (different widths) in red, black, tan and white.

The culture and spirituality of the Iban people is interwoven with the natural environment of Borneo, an island the Iban have inhabited for many generations. The genre of pua is the woven textile most readily associated with the Iban. The dyeing and preparation of textiles is highly ritualized in Iban society and the finished textiles–with their figurative motifs–are used to convey cultural and spiritual teachings. In this respect, both the process and the finished cloth are among the Iban’s most cherished cultural practices.

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