In Focus

Ceremonial cloth (tampan), 1983.76

Among the most distinctive of all Lampung textiles are the large multicolored tampan and longer ship cloths depicting boats (pale­pai) from the area around Kalianda. Numerous examples of tampan from Kalianda have survived. Often they combine varying hues of maroon-red, indigo, tan, and white dyed yarns on a neutral ground. In skillful hands, such a rich palette of natural colors could be com­bined to create a sumptuous and regal-looking product.

As early as the 16th century, following the first Muslim ruler of Bantam, people from Kalianda began to convert to Islam. Many of the most aristocratic families there trace their ancestral ties to this kingdom. The Sultans of Bantam dispensed titles and privileges in exchange for Lampung’s valuable pepper crop, the result of which was to introduce increased social stratification.

A well-developed titular hierarchy is reflected in the symbol­ism of the great ship, which is always the most prominent feature appearing on Kalianda tampan. Not only does a great ship signify transition and pedigree, but as a conveyance, it is also a bringer of wealth and prosperity. The hulls on these emblematic boats are characterized by multiple prows or wings whose flanges end in curling key designs. Attached to these prows and to the bottoms of the ships are numerous other decorative hook motifs that may represent oars. They may also be a vestigial reminder of the outrig­gers that were once attached to Southeast Asian seagoing vessels of the type represented on the bas-reliefs of Java’s 8th-century Borobudur.

This ship’s top deck is also densely packed with forms that recall communal houses and ancestral shrines. Above these build­ings is another construction that further suggests transitioning from one state to another. It most likely represents a ceremonial entryway (lawang kori) that was used to honor bridal couples and the recipients of titles. Supporting its archway are the bows of two ships, each carrying two pairs of figures, one of which is holding hands in a dwelling, the other standing atop an elephant. Above these, the lawang kori is flanked by two smaller boats transporting peacocks surrounded by avian figures, rising tendrils, and triangu­lar pennants.

Separated by the narrow Sunda Strait, Kalianda lies strategically close to Java and not far from Palembang, the capital of Sumatra’s Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya. At its height in the 8th century, Srivijaya’s empire stretched from Thailand to Java and included much of Lampung. In recent years, increasing parallels have been drawn between certain characteristics of tampan and the shared techniques, forms, design motifs, and functions of the textiles of various T’ai peoples including the Shan of Burma, the Lao Neua of northeast Thailand and Laos, and the Dai of China. Kalianda tampan have also been compared to the soul ships and tiered temple archi­tecture on Shan Buddhist temple banners erected for the dead.

Most likely these connections were established during the ascendancy of Srivijaya. In 687, after studying for eleven years at Nalanda, a renowned monastic and academic center of Buddhism in India, the Chinese monk Yijing (I Tsing) came to Srivijaya, where he translated Buddhist texts into Chinese. He wrote that monks should include Srivijaya in their intellectual and spiritual pilgrim­ages. The ongoing transformation of prehistoric imagery and its intermingling with Buddhist, Indian, and Javanese sources are perhaps what lend the textiles of Lampung their unique syncre­tism and fascinating allure. Mattiebelle Gittinger’s hypothesis that tampan “may have arisen in the service of Buddhism,” but their use persisted because of their intricate involvement in a “complex web of alliances and reciprocal relationships” widens the understanding of the evolution of tampan, while reaffirming the enduring role that ceremonial cloth plays in Indonesian society.[1]

[1] Gittinger 1979: 90.

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), 102-103.