Ceremonial Cloth (pua kumbu)

Iban peoples
19th century
more object details

General Description

The central design motif on this pua or ceremonial cloth is known as Bali Bugau Kantu, a design that was taken from the Iban’s enemy, the Kantu, during a 19th-century raid. The design was imitated and later reinterpreted throughout the Saribas region in the south of Sarawak. The top of this cloth is banded by pyramid-like forms called Pucuk Tubu or “bamboo shoots” while chevron-like designs called Sepit Api or “fire tongs,” appear at the bottom. The heat of the tongs and the prickly bamboo, along with a border of omen birds, are image devices used to contain and calm the potent spirit of this blanket’s central design.

Master weavers and dyers participated in a ceremony known as kayau idu or “woman’s warpath.” A superior weaver’s finest creations are both complementary and integral to headhunting, as the most potent cloths were meant to protect and goad menfolk to achieve feats of great valor. Pua kumbu were sometimes hung to demarcate sacred space at ceremonies and festivals. They were also used during important rituals to celebrate a family’s success and to insure the blessings of the ancestors and deities.

Excerpt from

Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, 2013.

Web Resources

  • Wikipedia
    Learn more about the Iban people.