Ceremonial Textile (Tampan)

Ceremonial Textile (Tampan), 19th century
Piya, Wai Ratai, Lampung Bay, Lampung region, Sumatra, Indonesia
Cotton; W. 31 in. (79 cm)
Gift of Anita E. Spertus and Robert J. Holmgren, in honor of Douglas Newton, 1990


Situated along the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, a crucial trade route since antiquity, the Lampung region of southern Sumatra has long been a crossroads of cultures and artistic traditions. Lampung's sumptuous textile traditions reflect the enormous wealth brought to the region through the trade in pepper, which grew in abundance. The women of Lampung developed a rich variety of textiles that included ceremonial forms as well as other types, which were used as clothing. Among the most visually striking Lampung textiles are the intricately woven tampan, small square-shaped cloths that were exchanged during important rites of passage. Tampan were owned and used by virtually every Lampung family to consecrate ritual occasions and to assist each individual as he or she progressed through the diverse ceremonies that marked the various stages of life. Tampan were displayed or exchanged at both birth and death, at marriages, circumcisions, and ceremonies marking changes in social rank. They served as the focal point for ceremonial meals, as the seat for the elders who oversaw traditional law, and were tied to the ridge poles of newly built houses. They were a sacred force that bound society together.

Tampan occur in two regional styles and in two primary colors. Those woven in blue depict the secular realm, those in red the sacred. Examples from the inland mountains show stylized natural or domestic subjects and geometric designs, while those from the coast (tampan pasisir) display richly detailed scenes of ships and other motifs. Although tampan were used by all social classes, the ornate tampan pasisir, such as the present work, were a prerogative of the nobility.

The fanciful ships that appear on tampan pasisir, steered with the exterior rudders distinctive to Indonesian and South Asian vessels, may recall the forms of large trading ships that plied the seas in precolonial times. Shown in cross-section, the ship on this work is a virtual floating palace. Within it, a single human figure, almost certainly a person of authority, lies in a cabin in the stern, accompanied, perhaps, by an attendant. Forward of the cabin, a helmsman guides the ship with a steering oar. In the central cabin, a group of men (identified by the presence of the kris [daggers], in their belts) play a group of instruments similar to a traditional Javanese gamelan orchestra. The crew appears on deck and the skies above and sea below teem with fantastic life. Replete with images of abundance and regal ease the work portrays an idealized world of opulence, beauty, and power.

The Batak

By: Emily Caglayan, Ph.D. (Department of Art History, The Graduate Center, City University of New York)

Located in the mountainous highlands of northern Sumatra, the Batak are one of the largest indigenous groups in Indonesia. They are divided into six groups, the Toba, Pak Pak/Dairi, Karo, Angkola, Mandailing, and Simalungun, and have an estimated total population of 3 million.

The traditional communal houses of the Batak have three levels, which correspond to the three levels of their universe: the upper world, the middle world, and the lower world. The high roof represents the upper world, the realm of the gods. The living level (elevated above the ground on pillars) is symbolic of the middle world where humans dwell. The space for animals below the living level represents the lower world, believed to be the home of a mythological dragon. The main decorative elements of communal houses are large, carved animal heads. These sculptures, positioned at the ends of side beams, function as protective devices that have the ability to release positive energy as well as protect the inhabitants from disease or evil.

The most powerful members of a Batak community are ritual specialists, known as datu. They are experts in religion, and are most often members of the village's founding family. These specialists, who are exclusively male, are able to cure the sick, contact the spirits of the dead, and predict auspicious days for particular events.

A datu's most important possession is his ritual staff, made of special wood that symbolizes the tree of life. Since a specialist is required to create his own staff, they vary widely in style and form. The simplest type of ritual staff, tungkot malehat ("smooth staff"), has a single wooden or metal figure attached to the top end of the shaft. Specialists "animate" or activate the power of the figures by filling them with a magical potion, known as pupuk. This substance is considered to be extremely powerful and can be stored only in certain types of containers such as the hollow horns of water buffalo, wooden vessels, or Chinese trade ceramics.

The Toba Batak, located in the center of the region, are known for their hand-woven textiles. Made exclusively by women, these cloths are used as traditional clothing and ritual gifts of exchange. One important type of cloth, the rulos ragidup, is traditionally used at wedding ceremonies. On the day of the wedding, the father of the bride presents this cloth to the mother of the bridegroom. This symbolic act unites the two families and ensures the fertility of the couple. It is then passed down from one generation to the next as an heirloom, along with jewelry and other household objects.

The Toba Batak also create carved wooden puppets known as si galegale. These puppets are used during funerary ceremonies for wealthy men who have no male descendants to perform their mortuary rites. The puppets are carved in the likeness of the deceased individual, dressed in clothing, and given a complex system of internal strings that are controlled by a puppeteer. After dancing amidst the mourners, the puppets are stripped of their clothing and thrown over the village walls, marking the conclusion of the ceremony.

Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Traditional Indonesia: The beauty of Lake Toba

Indonesia is not only famous by it's beaches but also it's lake. One of the largest and the most beautiful lake in Indonesia is Lake Toba. If you have a chance to travel to indonesia. please don't miss to have a chance to see this gorgeous lake.

Lake Toba is the largest lake in South east of Asia, located in North Sumatera. It is formed by a gigantic vulacanic erruption at about 75,000 years ago. The erruption made the volcano collapse and formed the caldera that well know nowaday as Lake Toba. The bottom of the volcano rose and formed the island called Samosir.

Samosir island is the cultural centre of Batak's Tribe. On the Samosir Island we can see The Batak King Grave, The King Court are made from stones,Sigale-gale doll,the dancing doll. the traditional Batak's house, see how to make traditional Batak's cloth called Ulos.You can go there by boat or ferry.The air in the island is fresh and cool.You can enjoy the variety of water sport there such as canoing, kayaking,snorkling, and of course swimming or just enjoying breathtaking scenery a beautiful island in the blue water of Lake Toba and the glory of sunset and sunrise on the lake.

Ulos, One of Symbol Batak Arts

One of the uniqueness of the many secrets of a unique art skill combined with a culture that is found in ulos, is a Batak traditional costumes. And the uniqueness of both the wealth that is still maintained at least thanks to the perseverance that still care about the arts and cultural traditions.

A couple Sitompul D St. (67) and F Br Panggabean (60) since the 1980s has struggled to preserve the weaving ulos. Armed with hereditary skills of parents, traditions and skills of this any artistic talent and became a source of support family life.

Not only them, the villagers of Siatas Barita Sitompul District, about five miles from Tarutung City, are the majority have the skill to weave ulos than rice farming.

"80 percent of the villagers weave Sitompul ulos," Sitompul said when met at his residence yesterday, some time ago (July 2006).

Ulos-making process is not easy work. Besides take a long time, also needed skills in the art of combining color and weave the threads into ulos and "mandar" (sarong) is motivated art.

"This is not an easy job," she said, pointing Sitompul, showing materials chemical coloring neatly behind his house. "This is my office," he added jokingly.

The main raw material, yarn, is decisive. The higher the quality the higher yarn prices also. In addition, the more difficult to do pattern ulos, the higher the price is. For example "Letter Mandar Batak", are more expensive than mandar ulos or another, starting Rp 250 thousand to Rp 2 million.

The construction is also not for a moment. One mandar ulos or quality yarn quality and level of difficulty making a higher hue takes two weeks if finished by one person. "So we more frequently work together," said Boru Panggabean.

While, there are also simple construction cheaper valuable ulos. Like the "The Leaven Ulos Life", "Leaven Hotang" and "Sadun" are cheaper, which starting from Rp 20 thousand to Rp 600 thousand.

Yarn 100 is one of high quality raw materials. This yarn imported from India after purchased by agents from Surabaya, Bandung or Jakarta. Initially the color was plain white. "This is where the special skills needed to integrate chemical colors into the desired color," said Sitompul. Then, as the colored yarn, weaving process was carried out after the colored threads were dry by the sun.

"Well, here's where the process is more difficult because it requires the creation of art," said Sitompul. Besides yarn 100, Sitompul said, to create patterns or writing on them ulos also use gold thread (which resembles the color of gold), nylon, porada, and yarn singer.

Sitompul said, however, he more often obtain advance orders than sell directly to the agent ulos. "Apart from Tarutung, orders often come from Medan, Jakarta and other cities. They already know me and this village through ulos," he said.

Sitompul, after 20 years in weaving ulos, until now has successfully completed three children from the university. "This is all thanks to the power of God and the perseverance to maintain ulos family as one of the wealth of the Batak land," he said.

Ulos Ragidup

Ceremonial Textile (Ulos Ragidup), late 19th–early 20th century
Toba Batak people, Sumatra, Indonesia
Cotton; L. 42 1/2 in. (108 cm)
Gift of Ernest Erickson Foundation Inc., 1988 (1988.104.25)
(click image for larger picture)

The most sacred textiles of the Batak people of northern Sumatra are the ragidup, whose name literally means "pattern of life." Both during and beyond an individual's life, ragidup play central roles. Perhaps the most critical occurs when a woman is pregnant with her first child. At this time, her parents typically present her with a ragidup, which becomes, as her ulos ni tondi or "soul cloth," a supernaturally powerful object that will protect her and her family throughout life. During the rites, a specialist is called upon to "read" the cloth, whose complex patterns are believed to foretell the woman's future.

A ragidup is also an essential element in Batak marriage rites, where it is wrapped around the mother of the groom by the father of the bride as a ceremonial gift. In death, the ragidup enshrouds the deceased and, years later, is used to wrap his or her bones when they are disinterred for ritual reburial.

Ragidup are constructed from five components—two side panels joined to a larger central section consisting of a large panel in the middle and two end panels adorned with complex geometric designs executed in supplementary weft (a decorative technique in which additional crosswise threads are added to the textile during weaving). In each ragidup, one end panel is considered "male" and the other "female," the gender being determined by the specific patterns used. The ornamentation of the central field varies, here consisting of a bold series of longitudinal stripes.

Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ulos Batak in Indonesia

An important ceremonial weaving from the Batak people of Lake Toba in northern Sumatra, this ulos ragidup is their pattern of life cloth. It is the most significant of Batak tribal textiles, a powerful protector and soul cloth central to the rites of birth, marriage and death. Although the ragidup appears always to be made of five parts--two side panels, a middle panel and two end panels--the colors vary, and the end pieces have greatly differing patterns, which are said to predict the future of the owner, and can be "read" by certain tribal members. While textile scholars agree on the cloth's cultural significance, they differ about when and to whom it is presented. Sylvia Fraser-Lu in her book "Handwoven Textiles of Southeast Asia" says that it is presented to a woman during the last months of her pregnancy.

John Gillow in his book "Traditional Indonesian Textiles" says, however, that it is presented at weddings to the mother of the groom by the father of the bride to confirm that the two families are inextricably linked. Perhaps it is used both ways but there is general agreement that this beautifully handwoven piece is central to the lives of the Batak people. This one from the Lake Toba Batak is from the mid to late 20th century and is in excellent condition with only minimal fading to the purple panel on the right side. Dimensions: length 72" (183 cm), width 29" (74 cm).

In brief: Ulos Batak (Traditional Indonesian Textile)

The Batak people of Northern Sumatera have a story of weaving Ulos ni tondi ( Cloth of the Soul ) for ritual and ceremonial purposes that dates back to their earliest history.

Batak myth tells that Lake Toba is the centre of the Earth and that the Batak are descendants of the first humans. The Toba Batak people live on Samosir Island and around the shores of Lake Toba.

Weaving is still a vital and important part of the Batak way of life. Making Ulos was done with very simple tools and traditional. Ulos weaving done by the women under his house. Traditional Toba Batak Ulos ( cloth ) is hand made on a body tension ( back strap ) loom using hand dyed thread. Natural dyes are used in combination with commercial dyes. Twinning and braiding are techniques specifically used by the Batak. Woman are the traditional weavers, children and men assist in twinning and spooling.

(Click for larger image). Photo: Johnny Siahaan (2008). Source: Flickr

Often villages produce only one or two Ulos designs, slight variations are seen between weavers. Some pieces have limited availability.

Ulos has to be carefully given to others, as they have different purposes. For instance, Yeast Hotang Ulos is given for those who are less successful, with the hope that the good Lord would bless them. Ulos Sibolang also often used in Batak traditional funeral rites. Then, Ulos Sadum is often used for custom wedding party Batak tribes.

Batak people are proud of and cherish their own personal Ulos and weaving traditions.

Source: Indonesia Cultures ;