Kalianda district, Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia
handspun cotton, natural dyes
64.0 (h) x 286.0 (w) cm
Purchased with the assistance of James Mollison 1985
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Ship imagery is synonymous across Southeast Asia with the journeys of ancestors from distant lands to present-day villages. Also a metaphor for the spiritual journey of a person’s soul, ship motifs are frequently depicted on textiles associated with life cycle events including births, puberty and initiation rites, betrothal and marriage, and funerals.
In southern Sumatra large heirloom ship cloths, palepai, are the prerogative of the nobility and are made for ceremonies celebrating high rank. Shown here are two elegant ships with sweeping prows and curling oars. Lining the decks of each vessel are aristocratic figures, some gathered beneath large parasols, and impressive elephants that confer prestige. Smaller boats are depicted alongside creatures of the watery underworld, while the birds of the upper world soar above.