The Weaving Land

January 16, 2023

Rebecca first visited when she was just 18 on an odyssey journey across South East Asia, With her fascination with tribal culture and alternative remote travel,  little did she realise that many years later Rebecca would be back to support and collaborate with the Eastern communities of Sumba.

Once known as ”Sandalwood island’, Sumba was historically regarded as a source for the prized, aromatic wood, and subsequently, for the sturdy, miniature horses that are bred there.

The island is often portrayed as composed of two distinct zones, the dry, rocky and relatively barren Eastern half of the island, and heverdant West that is more amenable to agriculture. Sumba is home to a people who formerly followed a way of head-hunters and until recently adhered closely to the ancestral region (Marapu) of their forefathers.

Sumba is renowned for its communally-quarried megalithic stone monuments and large stone slab tables, which were ceremonially dragged and raised to honour departed members of the nobility and offer homage to ancestral lines.

In bygone days, the funerary rites of Sumbanese rajas were epic events, which included human sacrifice, ritual slaughter of large herds of livestock, and the interment of resplendent treasure hoards intended to accompany the dead. In West Sumba, annual ritual combat, involving opposing clans of spear-wielding horsemen, is held to offer blood sacrifice in the tournament known as the pasola.

Aristocratic weavers in Sumba produced exquisite ikat including the iconic men’s hip cloth and matching mantles, known as hinggi kombu. They additionally fashioned some of the archipelagos most extraordinary sarongs, known generically as lau pahudu. Royal sarongs were woven using supplementary weft ikat techniques, which were often further decorated with beaded bands and carefully dyed tufts.

Another variety of ceremonial skirt is known as Lao hada. This is the appellation of a sarong featuring applique designs composed of nasa shells and trade beads on a black or red solid ground. These skirts are also called pakirimbloa, ‘lying at the bottom of the basket’, a term that refers to the way they are carried and presented during an elite exchange of marriage gifts.  Of special note are the ceremonial beaded miniadieres used for betel nut, its chewing components, and assorted paraphernalia. These accessories are matched in grandeur by female chest pectorals fashioned from trade beads and elegant combs, delicately excised from tortoiseshell.

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