Sumba, Nusa Tenggara Timur, Indonesia, is our second destination in the expedition of the Indonesian Biodiversity project. The island of Sumba is well known for its sandle wood, horses, impressive megalithic tombs, traditional villages, strange beliefs, typical hand woven textile (ikat), and still untouched beautiful beaches.
Sumbanese is traditionally divided into three levels of social life: Raja/King=Maramba, Customary Official=Kabihu, and Slaves = Ata. Sumbanese live from farming, cattle breeding, rice-field farming, and trading. Owning cattle contributes to their social status such that if they have more cattle this gives them a higher social status. A few Muslim and Hindu are found here, most Sumbanese is officially Christian (Catholic and Protestant), however, a large part of them still strongly keep their native and animist religion called Marapu. Most cultural objects are related to the Marapu religion such as traditional houses, megalithic carved tombs, ritual handicraft, patterns of textiles.
We came to Sumba in order to find the legendary traditional handwoven textile (tenun ikat) Sumba and how people of Sumba keep their ancestral heritage.
The spectacular and very famous ikat of Sumba is made of cotton handspun, traditionally dyed with local plants (Kombu – Indigo) and minerals. Thread is spun from July to October, then bound for patterns until December. After the rainy season, they collect indigo plants and kombu tree leaves for dying. In Summer, after harvest, women began to weave and it can take one year for one piece of textile. On some kind of ikat, cowrie shells and colorful beads are intricately apply in keeping with old artistic tradition. Patterns of ikat combine animals, plants, geometric motifs, and ethnographic symbolism. Ikat textiles are used for exchange at important ceremonies and show one’s social status. At funerals, the most exquisite textiles are placed in the grave for use in the afterworld.