Detail View: Museum and the Online Archive of California: Textile; lesu; head cloth. Indonesia

Museum and the Online Archive of California
Creation Place: 
Flores Island
Creation Place: 
Creation Place: 
Creation Place: 
Wolotopo Village
Creation Place: 
Yosefina Jigha
Textile; lesu; head cloth. Indonesia
hand woven
back tension loom
morinda dye
69.0 cm by 71.0 cm
Current Location: 
Fowler Museum of Cultural History. University of California, Los Angeles.
Los Angeles, California 90095-1549
Object ID: 
UCLA FMCH X88.1281
- fabric hand woven back tension loom cotton indigo morinda dye
During the entire tying and dyeing stages, which may take up to two years, the weaver is in an endangered state and must take ritual precautions [Vogelsanger 1980:118]. Weaving is considered the female counterpart of male headhunting and both together are related to cosmological notions regarding the fertility of crops and humans, the prerequisites of social continuity. Skill in the textile arts was considered a desirable trait when judging the eligibility of a woman for marriage, just as skill in warfare was for men. Early European sources provide a record of "pua" techniques and motifs [see Howell 1912; Haddon & Start 1936]. Unfortunately there is little information about stylistic change in recent times or, more broadly, about the fate of "pua" production and the entire cultural complex of which it is a part as the Iban have come increasingly under outside influences. Nor is there much information about any relationship between Iban textiles and those of neighboring peoples. It is known that commercial thread became available beginning at the turn of the 20th Century [Gittinger 1979:216]. There are also examples of "pua"-like cloths produced by other Bornean peoples, such as the bast fiber cloths of the Bahau people [Gittinger 1979:217, includes photo].
REMARKS COMPILED IN 1987 BY ROY HAMILTON ON BASIS OF EXISTING RECORDS, EXAMINATION OF OBJECT, AND REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE: Ikat sections are made of handspun(?) cotton; striped margins are made of commercial thread with commercial dyes. BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON IBAN "PUA" TEXTILES FROM SARAWAK, MALAYSIA: "Pua" are large ceremonial cloths made by the Iban (formerly known also as the Sea Dayak), a riverine longhouse people inhabiting the interior of the Malaysian state of Sarawak in northwest Borneo. Most "pua" are constructed in warp-faced plain weave, with two panels sewn together selvage to selvage, and decorated by the warp ikat technique. The FMCH collection also includes several "pua" decorated by the supplementary weft or "songket" technique. "Pua" are woven on body tension looms. Originally they were made of locally grown handspun cotton. Natural dyes are used [see Palmieri & Ferentinos 1979:76 for list of dye sources]. Major "pua" motifs are named and represent familiar entities from the Iban environment or belief system. Some examples are deer, shrews, crocodiles, spiders, and various anthropomorphic figures. Typically these creatures are important talismen, omen animals or spirits which are also represented in Iban mythology and carving. Even those motifs stylized beyond recognition to the non-Iban are representational to the Iban, although in some cases interpretation is subject to dispute. According to Iban belief, the powerful motifs of "pua" have the ability to attract the attention of the gods. Thus "pua" are used or displayed in a variety of Iban rituals where participation of the supernatural is desired. Two fields of activity in particular were the major preoccupations of Iban ritual practices: swidden rice agriculture and, in former times, headhunting. At the "manggol" rites which inaugurate the yearly agricultural cycle, for example, a "pua" enshrouds the ceremonial whetstones during a ritual to procure a successful clearing of the swiddens [Gittinger 1979:26, includes photo]. In headhunting times, newly taken heads were paraded through the longhouse wrapped in a "pua" [Gittinger 1979:31]. The supernatural power of "pua" can also be harnessed in a variety of personal rites. Newborn infants are placed on a "pua" and when a shaman enters a trance during a dream chant, he wears a "pua" as a protective cover [Palmieri & Ferentinos 1979:73]. Iban warriors seeking the attention of a spiritual guardian through dream revelation once slept under "pua" with particularly potent motifs [Vogelsanger 1980:120]. "Pua" are considered efficacious in curing illness. "Pua" also served as family heirlooms and burial property. They are carefully stored in the individual family''s private apartment in the longhouse along with other family treasures, including ceramic jars, brass gongs, enemy skulls, and a special strain of sacred rice grains. Provisioning the dead with adequate burial property is a serious and costly responsibility of the Iban family, as the value of the goods must be commensurate with the prestige of the deceased. The Iban believe that even inanimate objects possess a separable spiritual counterpart and that in this form burial goods are able to accompany the dead to the afterworld. A year after the death, the ghost of the deceased is welcomed back as an honored guest and presented with a final inheritance, including textiles, which will be utilised in the afterlife [Freeman 1970:37]. Inexperienced weavers practice by copying patterns of "pua" in the family''s possesion. New "pua" motifs were revealed in dreams to experienced weavers by their spiritual helpers, most often the wife of the Iban mythical ancestor and culture hero. The Iban believe that great psychic power is required to partake in such a relationship and the weaver is accorded considerable prestige.
Collection Description: