In Focus

Skirt (lawo butu), 1983.100

While the basic form and use of this textile (lawo butu) are equivalent to those of 1990.205, its overall composition differs. Contrasting with the asymmetric placement of beadwork motifs in the other lawo butu, here the decoration is more rigid and balanced. In this case, the hexagons, human figures, and birds (chickens?) all exist in splendid isolation, while heads and shells form an elegant terminating border. Further, the textile ground with human figures and horses rendered in ikat contributes to the overall impact of the piece. Although the precise meaning of lawo butu motifs is no longer known, chickens are used in ritual sacrifice, horses were highly valued possessions of the nobility, and the human figures most likely represent ancestors.

Beads were extremely valued throughout Indonesia, and their presence was indicative of wealth and prestige. Less elaborate beaded textiles are found among other ethnic groups in central Flores. The Lio and Sikka people used beads similar to those seen here to form a single motif. The rhomb beaded motifs with flowing tendrils attached were placed in rows at the lower end of women's skirts. Elder Lio and Sikka informants recall that at one time beadwork depicting horses, chickens, and human figures was also placed on their skirts.

Lio lawo butu are worn by young unmarried women during the mure rain dance ceremony and also by high-ranking married women during the ritual for the roof renewal of the most important houses.

The heirloom skirts (utang beke) of the Sikka people display a series of beaded rhomb designs in colors that echo Lio and Ngada examples. Their meaning is no longer known, but beke refers to long hunger, the period of famine often experienced before harvest. It is possible that this skirt also played a role connected with famine and harvest.

Excerpt from

George Ellis, "Skirt (lawo butu) (detail)," 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), 242-243.