Sacred textile (mawa') depicting tadpoles and water buffalo

Sa'dan Toraja peoples
probably early 20th century
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General Description

The word "mawa'" (or "maa'") designates a large, rectangular textile that the Sa'dan Toraja consider sacred. Whether imported patterned cloth from India or the stamped and painted type once made locally, "mawa'" were thought to have extraordinary powers and were often given personal names. They were stored in baskets or wooden chests in the southwestern part of the traditional house, an area associated with the ancestors. "Mawa'" were worn by the primary participants in feasts of purification and thanksgiving. They also adorned altars, defined the space for ritual, and enshrouded the dead. The indigenous stamped and painted "mawa'" embody the intimate relationship between the Sa'dan Toraja people and their environment. On this example, myriad tadpoles swim from left to right across the surface, which probably depicts a rice field, while five water buffalo, the most prestigious Toraja animal, move through a split circular enclosure at the center. Although the area seems to function as a corral, it may also allude to the circular fish pond at the center of Toraja rice fields. Outside the enclosure, a buffalo offers her milk to human figures holding bamboo containers. Field research by scholar Eric Crystal has revealed that the water buffalo is vulnerable to the bite of a venomous snake that frequents rice fields. Tadpoles are often described as good-luck charms for the treasured animals, for in rice fields abounding with tadpoles, the snakes gorge themselves on the aquatic creatures, allowing the water buffalo to pass undisturbed. "Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection," page 66