In Focus

Ceremonial mat (lampit)

Traditionally throughout the archipelago, well-made and often beautifully decorated mats (tikar) are unfurled to seat visitors, as well as laid out for use during communal functions. In addition to the customary tikar, Paminggir aristocrats had the exclusive right to use a special squarish or rectangular-shaped rattan mat called a lampit. Lampit were made from finely split sections of rattan cane that were then pierced, threaded, and lashed together. A heated sty­lus was used to draw or outline designs, and a hot ember to darken the surface. This pyrographic technique was traditionally done by men and is unique to Lampung mats.

Although their usage varied from area to area and knowledge regarding these mats is fragmentary, the pairing of lampit and tam­pan seems to have once been widespread and to have played an important symbolic role in both ritual exchange and display during rite-of-passage ceremonies. In marriage processions, a rolled mat placed on a tampan, or a tampan wrapped around a mat, was car­ried on pahar, or high-stemmed platters. Lampit were also used by a bride for a ritual bath by a riverbank, and again as her seat during the marriage ceremony. Similar to the tying of a tampan to a spear or the wrapping of one around a staff, the binding or placement of lampit and tampan together symbolizes, in simple but profound form, the principles of male and female duality. Their relationship can also be likened to that of a pillow and a sleeping mat. Together, they signify a change of state, an affirmation of ties, and the transi­tion into another state of being. In death, lampit were placed under the body of the deceased during burial preparations, and relatives were required to provide them to the bereaved.

One of the other uses of lampit, as described by Mattiebelle Gittinger, occurred during an annual meeting of village leaders within a marga (a clan or its territory). This meeting was held to promulgate laws, discuss the dispensation of titles, and address any problems that might be affecting the entire community. In the Liwa area, the village leader who was selected as the head of the gathering sat on a lampit and a tam­pan. In Kalianda, the local ruler and his four princes met in the community house, where a lampit and a tampan along with a betel nut box and wall hanging were displayed during their discussions. The most complex and most commonly pub­lished lampit depict a celestial center surrounded by four orbs or crescent moons at each of their cardinal corners. These composi­tions may reflect a long-standing hierarchical order between kings and princes expressed in cosmological imagery. On the Pasemah plateau, one court was named lampik empat, which literally means “four mats.”

The Dallas Museum of Art’s lampit is one of the finest known examples of the genre. Its sunburst center is surrounded by eight birds and four ships whose prows curl in classic Kalianda-area style. Each boat car­ries passengers and has a symbolic tree arising from the center of its hull. Added to this lampit’s solar-lunar arrangement is a swirling galaxy of stars and rosettes that include upper- and lower-world animals. The positioning of these designs and the significance of their repetition in quantities of four or eight correspond to Buddhist numerology within a mandala, the sacred circular symbol of the universe. The mat’s decorative border of tendrils and corner rosettes also serves to contain its potent designs. Far more than just a mat or seat, the lampit reflected order and supernatural pro­tection, the presence of the ancestors, and an aristocrat’s alignment within the universe.

Adapted from

Steven G. Alpert, "Ceremonial mat (lampit)," 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), 106-107.