In Focus

Ceremonial cloth (tampan), 1983.71

The tampan in the Dallas Museum of Art collection of Indonesian textiles can roughly be divided into two basic types: tampan darat and tampan pasisir. Tampan darat are said to come from inland areas, and their compositions are less courtly and less Indianized than those of their coastal counterparts (tampan pasisir). Many tampan pasisir feature a single large ship laden with an array of animals, embellished with various architectural forms, and crewed by numerous figures often rendered in Javanese style. The narratives on tampan darat tend to depict more modest boats, one along the bottom edge, which is often mirrored by an inverted ship at the top of the cloth, as is the case here. Between these “borders” of boats, a lone animal, or a dominant subset of creatures, is generally depicted, along with more archaically styl­ized figures, symbolic trees, pavilions, and shrine houses.

The various motifs on this tampan darat’s dragon-shaped boat include five jellyfish, a nascent tree, and a figure next to a ritual house shaped like a parasol, a rumah pojang, that was once associ­ated with deities, ancestors, and a marga’s treasures. Dominating the boat is a looming composite mythological creature whose oversized head, hunkered body, and arms or tails with fingerlike or featherlike appendages are typical of those associated with protec­tive, supernatural animals. Similar to a Batak singa, it has a long, triangular face with a sharp, V-shaped chin, an open mouth with exposed teeth, flared nostrils, and accentuated eyes. The eyes on singa are usually raised and bulbous. The "eyes" on this tampan resembled coiled Greek keys. Like pieces of a fictive puzzle they are possibly anthropomorphic and/or the branches of a symbolic tree whose trunk and root system suggests a fanciful bridged nose with flared nostrils. The frontal rendering of a creature is atypical on tampan. However, when the components that create the beast’s limbs and its face are seen as individual motifs, they resemble other smaller animals depicted in profile.

Such an archaic-looking composition was most likely the result of a weaver’s ability either to faithfully copy older cloths or to con­tinue to reinterpret their existing vocabulary in novel ways. The depiction of mythological and sacrificial animals is deeply rooted in South Sumatra’s ancient artistic traditions. On the nearby Pasemah plateau, they appear on prehistoric boulders, megaliths, and cist tombs, one of which is famous for its frontal depiction of a buffalo. The inspiration for this tampan’s zoomorphic vocabulary undoubtedly reflects an amalgamation of indigenous motifs from the region’s Bronze Age cultures with imagery from Indianized Buddhist and Hindu areas and from else­where throughout Southeast Asia and China over a very long period of time. For example, Chinese ceramics featuring another version of a monstrous protective face (t’ao tieh) have been found in south­ern Sumatra on the lugs of earthenware storage jars dating as far back as the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE). Export jars and Chinese blue-and-white porcelain from the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) often depict mythical creatures such as dragons, kylins, and phoenixes. These were once widely circulated in Lampung and more than likely influenced the contours and character of some of the fantas­tic creatures found on Lampung textiles.

As an integral component in rites of passage and as currency within an intricate system of ceremonial reciprocity, tampan were exchanged and displayed during status-raising rituals and rite-of-passage or life-crisis ceremonies (for example, birth, circumcision, marriage, and death). In the case of many larger-sized cloths (tam­pan penedung), it is unclear whether they reflect the high status of their owner or a cloth’s specific ceremonial function. Among their many uses, larger tampan served as the outer wrappers for other smaller, bundled tampan containing food or symbolic tokens. Tampan were displayed, used as covers and pillows, and stacked or clustered near important elders during ceremonies. They were also reported to have been laid over bowls that were presented at funeral feasts. The word tampan also refers to ceremonial trays and shallow wooden bowls used for offerings.

Adapted from

Steven G. Alpert, "Ceremonial cloth (tampan)," 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), 92-93.