Layar River, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia
early 20th century
handspun cotton, natural dyes
222.0 (h) x 126.0 (w) cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Huge woven, ikat decorated cloths [pua kumbu] are essential at significant social and religious events. They are not intended to be worn except when covering the head and shoulders of a shaman. Rather they are used as protection from evil and misfortune, to demarcate sacred spaces, and to honour gods and ancestors. They are prominently displayed in rituals related to the individual—a funeral, a healing ceremony, a safe homecoming—and for the great festivals and celebrations that unite the entire longhouse community.
Since pua provide a means of communicating with the spirit world, their designs are the work of older women well versed in Iban ritual. The inspiration for many auspicious patterns comes from dreams, and all stages of the textile processes for important pua are guided by helping spirits.