Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99
Length: 212.000 cm
Width: 81.000 cm
Collected by Dr Charles Hose
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Ikat-dyed blanket (pua)
Iban, late 19th - early 20th century AD
Iban women on the war path
The Iban live in the central regions of Borneo and nowadays mostly in Sarawak, east Malaysia. Entire communities live in long houses built along the rivers, whose natural environment is a source of beliefs as well as inspiration for textile motifs. Reptiles, such as the lizards visible here, are a common theme as are the diamond shapes in the top row, suggesting boat paddles.
The difficulty in obtaining the brick red dye and the skill required to make a warp ikat imply great ability on the part of the women who make these blankets, or pua. As Iban men are judged on their prowess in head hunting expeditions, so women are recognized for their weaving skills.
Cloth in general is intimately related to Iban beliefs and myths. Pua, for example, play a fundamental role in ceremonies, and are hung to mark out the ritual area. The ritual importance and spectacular nature of Iban textiles attracted the interest of collectors in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. One of the first classifications of Iban textiles was carried out by A.C. Haddon partly on the basis of the detailed information obtained by Charles Hose about the pieces he collected, including this example. For this textile, he noted the presence of patterns of edible fruit, the elephant bird and a young bird.
M. Gittinger, Splendid symbols: textiles and (Washington, D.C., The Textile Museum, 1979)
M. Hitchcock, Indonesian textiles (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)