woman's ceremonial skirt (lau hada)

 
Nationality
Indonesian
Creation date
Materials
imported cotton fabric, nassa shells, glass beads
Dimensions
29 x 46-1/2 in.
Credit line
The Eliza M. and Sarah L. Niblack Collection
Accession number
33.682
Collection
Not Currently On View

The large male and female figures on this skirt, a common motif in Sumbanese textiles, allude to fertility and the continuity of life.

Throughout Indonesia, red is generally associated with earth, woman, blood, and fertility. This elaborately decorated skirt would have been given to the bride as part of the ritualized gift exchange that accompanied her nuptials.

The shrimp and lobsters on this skirt symbolize rebirth-the shrimp because they shed and replace their shells; the lobsters because they can regenerate their limbs.

Eliza M. and Sarah L. Niblack Collection; given to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1933 (33.682).
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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Depicted in an imposing and authoritative stance, the large male and female figures on this skirt, likely an ancestral couple, are a common motif on Sumbanese textiles. Their arms are raised in prayer, and both figures are adorned with elaborate crowns or garlands, while their wrists, elbows, and knees or ankles—which the Sumbanese traditionally hold to be repositories of energy—are also decorated.

This skirt could only have been owned by the highest nobility: it is made of costly, imported, machine-woven cloth, and lavishly ornamented with nassa shells, a material once used as money in Sumba. It would have been given to the bride as part of the ritualized gift exchange that accompanied her nuptials; pakiri mbola, or “bottom of the basket,” refers to the way these cloths are presented as marriage gifts. Throughout Indonesia, red is generally associated with earth, women, blood, and fecundity. Paired male and female ancestral figures also allude to fertility and the continuity of life, which makes this important garment a fitting dowry gift. Thus, the imagery encourages offspring and promotes a good relationship with the spirit world.

The shrimps and lobsters on this skirt symbolize rebirth—the shrimps because they shed and replace their shells, the lobsters because they can regenerate their limbs.