In Focus

Ceremonial cloth (tampan), 2000.357

This tampan is from an area east of Semangka Bay on the south coast of Lampung. Its large size reflects both its importance and its ceremonial function. The overall story line may refer to an event of mythic or even historical origin, or may simply allude to status-raising ceremonies, alliances, or marriage. No doubt the pictorial content of this tampan reflects the sensibilities of a local aristoc­racy that borrowed much from the refined courtly cultures of Java. Mixed with these courtly and mythic elements are icons of worldly wealth set amid an ancient cosmology of time-honored symbols.

At the heart of the upper tier of motifs are a man and a woman facing each other on a platform that resembles a barge. They are further united by a gabled roof or the lintel of a ceremonial gate (lawang kori) that floats above them. The female is on the left and the male on the right. Each wears a long flowing ceremonial sarong (kain dodot ) similar to those worn by Javanese elites. The male car­ries a keris, or ceremonial dagger in the Javanese style, which is tucked in the rear waistline of his garment.

To their left and right are two comical figures. To the Javanese, these punakawan embody the virtues of both guardian knights and court jesters and are considered to be reincarnations of deities in an outrageous mortal form. They serve humanity and their lords with selflessness and integrity. The punakawan on this cloth appear to be based on Javanese models. Each figure seems to carry weaponry and sports an item of clothing of foreign manufacture. In Lampung, masked comical figures accompanied their chiefs as the latter were being pulled or carried in boats during ritual processions. Their role in these ceremonies was figuratively and literally to turn things upside down, create chaos by hindering the ship, and engage in outlandish antics. This was done to clear the way and sanctify the path of the elites.

On the far left are musicians: two holding drums at their waists and a third positioned next to two suspended gongs. A profusion of masts, flags, pennants, banners, and streamers that surrounds the couple, courtiers, and entertainers adds to the celebratory and festive mood.

Below this tampan’s centrally placed motif is a large ship pro­pelled by many oars. Its cargo, two poised horses that face each other, elegantly mimics the couple. Horses and elephants rarely appear on tampan, but when they do, it is as symbols of power and wealth. The suggestion of rare and costly imported goods is also echoed in the structure of the central pavilion or “tree” between the horses, which is flanked by a pair of tall standing objects resem­bling lamps. Their Continental-style feet reflect those produced in Holland in the 17th century.

This tampan ’s narrative is essentially informed by pan-Indonesian notions of a tripartite cosmos. Befitting a coastal culture’s maritime outlook, the sea (the underworld) is depicted at the bottom of the tampan with an imaginative plethora of fish and aquatic creatures. The most interesting of these denizens is to the left below the prow of the central ship. A human torso, long, slender arms in wayang style, two pincer claws of a crab, and the lower body of a serpentine sea creature together form a compel­ling figure. She is most likely modeled on Dewi Urang Ayu, a sea goddess and the wife of the god Bima, who represents good in the struggle against evil in the great Hindu epic the Mahabharata. As though magically assembled, the goddess and her entourage are also “guests,” whose presence, in conjunction with this textile’s upper-world imagery of birds and dragonflies, serves as a visual reminder that balance in all things is essential to ensur­ing harmony, vitality, and abundance during important ceremonial proceedings.

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), 98-99.