In Focus

Ceremonial cloth (pua) with Jugah's jawbone (rang Jugah)

Celebrated throughout the Baleh region of central Sarawak, the enigmatic design of this pua kumbu, known as the Rang Jugah or Jugah's Jawbone, has been much discussed by students of Iban ritual textiles, collectors, and anthropologists. To the Baleh weaver, it is one of the most terrifying designs she could attempt to weave, second only the the Lebur Api, or White Heat (see 1988.124.McD and 1983.131), which reigns supreme in the Baleh as the monarch of all pua kumbu.

No weaver in the Baleh now remembers who the Jugah named in the design's title was, but all Baleh weavers know that the Jugah's design is a synonym for a trophy head taken in battle. Interestingly, no weaver today, not even a grandmaster, would be able to decipher all the enigmatic motifs that make up this distinguished design. The Rang Jugah is definitely one of the oldest designs known to Baleh weavers and in all likelihood had its genesis centuries ago, before the migration of the Iban into Sarawak from Kalimantan, so much so that the meanings of most of the motifs that constitute the design have been lost.

Along with its vivid color, very precise knotting, and excellent control of backstrap pressure to ensure symmetry of both left and right warps, this Rang Jungah is a classic example of how Baleh master weavers employed weaving conventions in the overall design of a ritual cloth of high rank. The cloth has four major parts to it:

  1. The central design depicting the majestic Rang Jugah.

  2. A lower band between the edge motif and the central design that weavers call selaku (literally, "a rope") consisting of the Mayau Tindok, or Sleeping Cat, design (in the shape of a curled-up letter C). Sleeping cats are innocuous. But every Iban would know that cats always sleep in the communal area in a longhouse, near the warmth of a hearth with embers and beneath a cache of trophy heads. It is ritual practice to smoke trophy heads to keep them "warm." The weaver is therefore using a cryptic device to indicate that trophy heads are present, though not depicted.

  3. An upper band of selaku displaying the Leku Sawa, or Path of the Python. No pythons or motifs resembling snakes are shown, but two trails left behind by two pythons record their presence.

  4. Edge motifs of a very old pattern known as the Bali Mabuk, or Drunken Decapitated Corpse. The weaver was not implying that the corpse was drunk; rather, she was describing the victim's wobbly gait immediately after he was decapitated.

The Dallas textile is an excellent work displaying the Rang Jugah both in all its ferocity but also securely contained. The weaver was careful to use not just the requisite edge motifs composed of decapitated bodies offered as food for the devouring jawbone of the spirit of the design but also woven-in ropes as added safeguards. Unseen trophy heads hanging above sleeping cats appease the spirit of the central design at one end, while two pythons guard the other. Omen birds on either side calm the spirit with their singing. To Iban eyes, this pua kumbu is a magnificent demonstration of fine Baleh weaving conventions impeccably executed.

To understand why the Rang Jugah design is so revered among Baleh weavers is to understand its julok, the secret praise-name given by the weaver to her work. One such praise-name was recorded by Michael Heppell, "Rang Jugah, ngawa ngempuan, bau sinang" and translated as "Jugah's Jaw [the severed head he has taken], mouth bellowing, pungent smell [of game]." [1] Margaret Linggi gives an extensive variation of another style of praise-name for the Rang Jugah:

Kandung nibung berayah tangkai besembah, Bujang Berani

Kempang berapa kali' iya udah matahka dilah nukangka rang

atas bedlilang.

Behold the Palm, heavy with ripened fruit, and its swaying fronds bowing in obeisance; Behold the Brave and Fearless Warrior; countless times has he dashed in pieces men's tongues and pried open jawbones upon my hearth! [2]

In this recorded example, a weaver has created the Rang Jugah design and given it a praise-name with allegories of ripened fruit representing trophy heads and mutilated body parts smoking above her fireplace. She clearly means to boast of her menfolk's heroism, or even incite them to feats of greater daring. To the Iban mind, such words conjure fantastical images and simultaneously enhance the prestige enjoyed by head-takers valiant in war. For a weaver to replicate such a design is also an indication of her spiritual maturity, her ascent into the ranks of master weavers.

[1] Personal communication between Steven Alpert and Michael Heppell, in the notes of Alpert, 2010.

[2] Linggi 2001: 107

Adapted from

Vernon Kedit, "Ceremonial cloth (pua) with Jugah's jawbone (rang Jugah)" in Eyes of the Ancestors: The Arts of Island Southeast Asia at the Dallas Museum of Art, ed. Reimar Schefold in collaboration with Steven Alpert (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013), 162-163.

Web Resources

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