In Focus

Woman's skirt (lau pahudu), 1983.94

The name lau pahudu is derived from the verb hudu, which means "to land, to fish, to catch in a dip net," and pahudu, meaning something that has been "landed" or "caught." Appropriately, the dominant motif of this supplementary warp skirt is an extraordinary, large, and bold fish.

It is difficult to determine the specific type of fish appearing on lau pahudu, since no examples exactly mimic the characteristics of a particular species. It has been suggested that this fish is a ray. Rays have a horizontally flat body, both eyes on the upper surface, and a slender whiplike tail. While this fish does exhibit a horizontally flat body with both eyes on the upper surface, its tail is not that of a ray. Plaice (flatfish) also have a horizontally flat body with both eyes on the upper surface, but they do not have a forked tail. The lines shown inside this fish possibly represent bones, a device also used regularly in the depiction of human figures. Fish and other aquatic creatures are associated with the underworld. Revered ancestors manifest themselves in fish, including plaice, which are not species eaten by the Sumbanese.

In this case, the large fish is accompanied by two female consorts wearing mamuli and two horses with riders. The fish is not perfectly centered in the composition; five alternating brown and white lizards (kumbu) form a vertical band to its left. Scorpions complete the tableau. The fringed band above contains alternating rows of white and brown horses, symbols of wealth and prestige.

This remarkable 19th-century textile is not only technically superb, but also aesthetically compelling. Among the few pieces with credible documentation concerning provenance, this skirt belonged to the grandmother of Windi Tananggoendjoe, the Raja of Pau.

Excerpt from

George Ellis, "Woman's skirt (lau pahudu) (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), 224-225.