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KAIN IKAT FROM LAMPUNG, INDONESIA

literature

  • 168 LAMPUNG
    Tapis (sarong). Warp ikat, silk embroidery. 18th-19th c. Paminggir, mountain people.


Lampung, home of precious tapis


Lampung province lies on the southern tip of the island of Sumatra. The region earned an early renown for its rich weaving tradition, and its cloths are eagerly sought by collectors, but ikat is used in only a few of its various types of textiles Ė notably the ceremonial tubeskirt called tapis, where it is nearly always combined with silk embroidery.
     Weaving in the region may date back to the first millennium AD when the Buddhist Srivijaya empire, with its capital at Palembang in south Sumatra, was the undisputed hegemon in southeast Asia. Srivijaya attracted monks, ambassadors and traders from as far away as China, Cambodia, and India, and from the 8th till the 12th century served as the region's chief hub of cultural interchange. As a result, as Thomas Murray phrases it, "in the textile art of the area we witness cultural and aesthetic hybridisation at its most fertile, both esoteric and compellingly beautiful."

Heirlooms with supernatural powers

Tapis from National Gallery of Australia, 19th

 
Tapis from National Gallery of Australia, 19th C., with bands of silk embroidery in excellent condition.
The Lampung textiles that excite collectors were not used for daily attire but reserved for ceremonies such as religious occasions, initiations, weddings, and, after the regionís conversion to Islam, circumcisions. Old cloths, such as our tapis, were cherished heirlooms, pusaka, passed on from one generation to the next as a symbol of the familyís status. Just like patola and the Balinese geringsing, tapis were ascribed supernatural powers, consulted as oracles in times of momentous decisions, and brought to ailing people's bedsides in hopes to benefit from their assumed curative powers.
What their motifs stand for is likewise shrouded in mystery. As the legendary collectors Holgren and Spertus write in Early Indonesian textiles, "their complex iconographic content remains almost entirely conjectural". They do speculate that the embroidered amoebe-like shapes, which with some imagination might be seen as anthropomorphs, may represent spirits.      Many of the best cloths were made by the Paminggir, Abung, Krui, and Pesisir people. Production was particularly prolific in the southern Lampung Kalianda Bay area and in northern Lampung among the Krui aristocracy. But the exact provenance of most tapis may forever remain shrouded in mystery because their use in bridal exchanges assured that over time many of them ended up far away from their place of manufacture. The mystery has almost certainly deepened as a result of Sumatran antique dealers' interest in spreading disinformation about the source of these precious, sought after cloths.

Older than originally thought

It now seems fairly certain that the best pieces were made in very remote mountain villages - and that they are much older than originally thought. Whereas fifty years ago most were routinely identified as 19th C., many are now taken to date from the 18th or 17th C. A few tapis with red ikat ground, extremely rare, were carbon tested by collector and dealer Thomas Murray, resulting in a dating of 1452-1526 and similar ranges, proving that this technically and artistically very sophisticated type of textile was already produced some five centuries ago - in a very remote, mountainous area, where general living conditions must have been, if not poor, then at least very challenging.
     Because they have been considered precious pusaka since time immemorial and treated with reverence, the Lampung tapis were always very well cared for, rarely even displayed, and as a result often look fresher than most textiles in the tropics that are only a fraction of their age.

Nature, economy and religion conspired to cause tapis's demise

The production of fine textiles increased in the late nineteenth century as Lampung became prosperous due to its pepper cultivation and related industry and trade, but the devastating eruption of the Krakatau volcano in 1883 destroyed many weaving villages, especially in the Kalianda area. In the early 1900ís continued conversion to Islam decreased the importance of the regionís traditions, including those requiring special textiles, while the collapse of the pepper trade ruined the buying power of the ruling classes. As a result, by the 1920ís, the production of high quality Lampung textiles had ground to a halt. As a result, antiques are de facto the only Lampung cloths available - sporadically.


 

Literature

The chapter on Lampung in Holmgren and Spertus's Early Indonesian Textiles, informative and poetic, is essential reading. Another fascinating source of information on tapis with ikat ground is Thomas Murray's scholarly article Red Tapis, an early textile tradition of Lampung Sumatra Indonesia.


Map of Lampung






©Peter ten Hoopen, 2017. All rights reserved.


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