IKAT FROM SIKKA, INDONESIA
- 024 SIKKA
Sarong. Warp ikat. 1925 or older. Identification of Sikka provenance is tentative. Another possibility is the area in Ende Regency north of Lio called Detusoko.
- 049 SIKKA
Utang (sarong). Warp ikat. 1950. Geliting, Maumere area, Lamaholot people.
- 050 SIKKA
Utang (sarong). Warp ikat. Circa 1950. Maumere area. Lamaholot people.
- 051 SIKKA
Utang (sarong). Warp ikat. 1925-1945. Maumere area. Lamaholot people.
- 053 SIKKA
Utang (sarong). Warp ikat. 1930s. Welai village, Maumere area. Lamaholot people.
- 093 SIKKA
Utang (sarong). Warp ikat. 1940 or earlier. Village not identified. Probably Maumere.
A weaver from the Sikka region in East Flores, apparently arranging the dyed warp to prepare for weaving. Photo Drs. Pienke Kal, Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), Creative Commons Licence.
Ikat weaving: a vital role in traditional Sikka culture
The Sikka region in Eastern Flores, which includes the island of Palue off the north coast, is home to some 300,000 people, connected by a shared language, Sara Sikka, and a culture in which ikat textiles play a central role. Ikat cloths are still used intensively in all life cycle ceremonies, and are also still relatively common as daily wear, especially for women. Each community has its own styles and motifs, which are widely known in the region and immediately identify the wearer.
All Sikka communities make a clear distinction in the types of sarongs women wear, which may be either predominantly 'red', actually russett, or 'black', actually a brownish purple achieved by overdyeing indigo with morinda. The black sarongs, utang mitang, are reserved for widows. The red sarongs, utang merang may be used by all women, and are the only type acceptable as bridewealth. Ceremonial sarongs are always made to be used in bridal exchanges, to cement the alliance between two families, so on festive days women always wear a sarong made for them by someone else, from a family that they are related to by marriage – either their own marriage or that of a sibling.
The social importance of ikat cloths in Sikka can not easily be overstated. Christianity, in the form of Catholicism, came very early to these parts, but apparently the Dominicans who were the dominant force here – also the dominant worldly force, most of the time – apparently did not mind the population retaining their traditional textiles, at least not terribly. There were attempts made at suppression, but these have been largely unsuccessful, and the Sikkanese keep valuing their cultural and spiritual heritage, though what is left of it now is more cultural than spiritual.
The production of impressive cloths is still vital to a woman's chances of attracting a desirable husband, and at bridewealth exchanges the cloths offered are scrutinized by the prospective in-laws and, should they fail to impress, critiqued in terms that can border on insult. Mature women continue to refine their skills, sometimes taking as many as ten or twenty years to complete a fine textile, as it takes more than ten consecutive dyeings to achieve the highly valued saturated morinda red tones, and the threads need to dry for many months in between dyeings for the colour to set. Moreover, in some years the morinda roots may have to be left alone to regrow so as not to damage the bushes.
The original meaning of the motifs used in Sikka ikat, which used to be transmitted orally along with the region's myths of origin and ancestral deeds has largely been lost, but it is clear that patola imitation is one of the chief sources of inspiration. There is however no attempt in Sikka to copy the overall design of patola, as is done elsewhere on Flores, notably in Ende, Lio and Ndona. Instead, elements of patola design are inserted in a banded structure, which is narrowly prescribed. Every type of band, wide or narrow, usually seven in all, is identified by its own name. Some are used only once in any given sarong; others, that serve as separators, may occur several times. The most important band, and often the widest, is called ina gete, or 'mother's elder sister'. The second most important is the ina kesik or 'mother's younger sister'. Another crucial band of substantial width is the bottom one, called renda, which may be the widest, but may never be overdyed, so must be pure morinda or pure indigo. It may however be split in two by a plain band.
The Sikka ikat language – still spoken but dead
Sikka nowadays still produces fine ikat, but it has become a dead language. No new patterns evolve, no new stories are woven into the cloths made today. Women simply take old cloths that they admire and copy their patterns painstakingly. This had led to a shift in the local appreciation for ikat away from eloquence towards technical finesse. A cloth is no longer judged on how powerfully expresses the Sikkanese myths and beliefs, but on how well it is made. This ties in well, in a way, with the gradual commercialisation of ikat weaving that is under way in the region.
Several Sikkanese villages, Watublapi most prominent among them, have become important partners in 'revival' projects like the Threads of Life referred to above, and have turned into hubs for the budding 'ikat tour' industry. When visitors arrive they are welcomed by groups of women dressed to the nines in colourful ikats, dancing ahead of them on the path to the village, where they are given demonstrations of dyeing and weaving before being herded to the shops. While purists may decry such developments, actually it is probably the only way that traditional ikat is going to survive in Sikka, albeit at a spiritually impoverished plane, gradually descending to the level of a handicraft like any other.
The best literature on Sikka ikat textiles that we have come across is E.D. Lewis's contribution to Roy Hamilton's Gift of the Cotton Maiden.
Map of Sikka region in Flores
©Peter ten Hoopen, 2017. All rights reserved.
©Peter ten Hoopen, 2017. All rights reserved.