In Focus

Ceremonial cloth (tampan), 1990.201

Given its perfect condition, deep colors, excellent use of negative space, and unusual pictorial qualities, this tampan is an excep­tional example of the genre. In contrast to 1983.72, here the primary designs, except for the topmost center motif, are symmetrically aligned. Within these designs are carefully placed argyle patterns, smaller diamond shapes, rosettes, and dots. The background teems with lines set at various angles, along with chevrons, coils, keys, and additional dots. As a whole, these elements create an impres­sion of charged movement and a depth of field. The cloth’s optical effects are further sharply enhanced through the use of alternating supplementary weft bands in indigo blue and natural red dye.

The composition is anchored by a lone ship whose zigzagging bow and stern ornaments resemble a pair of elongated serpents. It is dominated by four large composite mythological creatures. Despite having four legs, these birdlike animals with their fan­ning tails and curved beaks most likely draw their inspiration from hornbills (Bucerotidae). Between these birdlike animals stand a prominent couple. The smaller figure is enshrined in a structure whose walls double as part of the elongated legs of the larger figure standing above and wearing an elaborate headdress. With raised, bent arms, this figure seems to be presenting six ovoid forms, pos­sibly trophy heads. These are mounted on a V-shaped crown that doubles as either the lintel of a gate or the inverted roof gable of a ritual structure.

Headhunting was practiced in Lampung but eventually ceased after the area’s conversion to Islam. At least four human heads are said to have traditionally been required during the unveiling of a papadon seat and its attendant feast. As in other traditional Indonesian cultures, trophy heads represented a male component that once enhanced fertility and were often likened to fruit, seeds, or the jewels of a crown.

Above these figures and their surrounding structure is a treelike motif that can also be imagined as a splayed anthropomorphic fig­ure whose lower “limbs” extend in such a way as to resemble boat shapes. Alighting on this symbolic tree’s lower limbs are two large creatures reminiscent of birds, along with a cast of other avian and anthropomorphic forms. Between the tree’s upper branches atop a polelike, knobbed edifice is a pair of hornbills. The larger of the two birds is preening its head backwards toward the smaller baby hornbill perched on its back.

Hornbills not only were omen birds and revered upper-world symbols but also allegorically reflected the cult of the warrior. While Lampung’s only known creation myth does not mention their presence, hornbills are closely associated with creation myths in many other parts of Indonesia. In terms of material culture, the hornbill is perhaps best known from the artwork of the Ngaju Dayak of Borneo: drawings, painted panels, mortuary carvings, and engraved bamboo containers. There are remark­able similarities between the cosmic orientation and depiction of serpentine naga, symbolic trees, and hornbills in Ngaju Dayak art and those occasionally depicted in Lampung textiles. Despite the weakening of the marga system occasioned both by Dutch colo­nization and the area’s conversion to Islam from the 16th to 19th centuries, the sensibility of this particular tampan is remarkably conservative, and a testament to the lasting power of mythic memory.

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), 96-97.