Monday, May 28, 2007

Ulos Batak --005

Toba Batak ritual wedding mantle, Sumatra

TYPE: WEDDING MANTLE (ULOS RAGI HOTANG) Origin: Indonesia, Sumatra, Toba Batak people.

Technique: Commercial cotton, natural dyes, supplementary warp and weft weaving, twining.

Description: An exceptional, early example of one of the most important types of textile (ulos) made by the Toba Batak people of North Sumatra, this ulos ragi hotang shows the tri-partitioned Batak textile structure: 2 deep wine-red side panels frame a dark central panel of dash ikat, with end panels of supplementary weft motifs spanning the whole width. The extraordinarily fine ikat design (visible in the close-up) represents rattan by stippled or dash cream / indigo ikat between deep red pinstripes, interspaced by a cream pinstripe, on black ground. Its rippling movement and texture show the consummate Batak mastery of simple stripes. The supplementary bands at each end carry delicate geometric spiral, rhomb and hook / key motifs dating back to the Dongson era; these are difficult to execute and showcase the skill of the weaver. Particularly significant for the ragi hotang’s use as a ceremonial wedding shawl is the subtle difference between the main supplementary motifs in the weft bands at each end—the lozenges motifs (boru boru) at the top in the images represent the female principle and the double stars (baoa) at the bottom symbolize the male.

A very similar example is shown in Neissen, Batak Cloth and Clothing, OUP, 1993, 34. Executed in white with glimmering touches of red, yellow, and green, these motifs present a beautiful variation as they shift from the black to the deep red ground. Special finishing touches that distinguish the textile’s quality are the fine lines of supplementary warp-faced float weaving that mark off the center panel from the red side panels (Batak textiles uniquely combine supplementary warp and weft weave), and the wide band of red/ black / white twining in crisp hook-and-key motifs at each end. The long fringes are finely twisted. A rich, magnificent example of the refined execution and sophisticated dignity of Batak weavings.

History & Context: The ulos ragi hotang is close cousin to the ulos pinunsaan, both of which have an ancient precedence among Batak textiles, and show similar small geometric motifs in the end panels, as well as a symbolic distinction between male and female main motifs at either end. Indispensable in certain rites, both pinunsaan and ragi hotang are still woven, but only southeast of Lake Toba. The ritual significance of textiles in traditional Batak society is manifested in the role of the ragi hotang as a ceremonial wedding mantle, where as a symbol of rattan, it binds the couple together with toughness and longevity. At the moment when the marriage is made, an act called mangulosi is performed by the groom’s father in which he drapes it over the shoulders of the wedding couple sitting side by side and wishes them a happy life and many children. They then pull the ends together to create a full circle as a symbol of unity that binds them together as tightly as rattan. The band of twining at the ends called sirat godang is wider than that on any other Batak textile. Further examples are shown in Tsuzuki 17; Sibeth, The Batak, 1991, 198, fig. 278.

Condition: The textile is in exceptional condition, especially considering its age, with no stains, holes or tears except for 2 barely visible repairs (see images). The red is dark and vibrant, the white lively, and the touches of red, yellow and green are still vivid. The cotton is medium heavy and closely woven, fine, soft, and slightly crisp with age. A very special piece of ritual weaving.

Dimensions: Length: 212 cm plus 18 cm fringes at each end. Width: 98 cm.

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