A ‘Moving’ Textile: A Tapis Inuh from Sumatra

Ceremonial cloth (Tapis Inuh), Paminggir people, Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia
Silk embroidery, cut-glass mirrors
18th-19th century
130 x 20 cm

Some of the oldest textile traditions in Southeast Asia are associated with the Paminggir people who lived in the interior of Lampung in southern Sumatra, Indonesia. The most spectacular of these textiles are the tapis inuh, a ceremonial skirt woven with alternating bands of warp ikat in muted colors and embroidered panels worked in silk and sequined with bits of mica mirrors.

Two types of embroideries exist in these panelled cloths. The first type features enigmatic squid-like forms thought to represent primordial spirit beings. The second type (this example), depicts ships carrying people with feathered headdresses, trees and small houses, images that have affinities with the boat and “feather men” iconography of the Dong Son culture that flourished in Vietnam between 500 BC and the first century AD.

The cloth featured here has an exceptional quality that belies its age, which could date to the 18th century or earlier. The unusual width of the cloth (130 cm) gives the effect of a symbolic ship in motion on its spiritual journey. Unfortunately, production of these glorious textiles ceased at the end of the 19th century.

Detail of the Tapis Inuh showing human figures with feather headdresses aboard an boat fitted with an elaborate deck and pavilions

Warrior and boat imagery on Dongson kettledrum, northern Vietnam, circa 500 BCE to 1 BCE.

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