Materials & Techniques


Lampung shipcloths are habitually divided into two main categories, tampan and palepai, based on shape and use. Tampan tend to be relatively small in size, and are square, with sides that rarely exceed three feet in length. As is the case with many traditional Lampung forms of art, the production of ship cloths came to a standstill at the end of the 19th century, after which the fabrics gradually disappeared from society. The designs of tampan are always achieved by extra, or supplementary, wefts inserted during the weaving process (a technique that is often called brocading). The floats of the extra wefts must be held down at intervals by the warp yarns of the ground to prevent them from tangling or snagging. The expert weaver creates secondary patterns through her selection of these holding warps. In the best examples, those secondary patterns suggest texture.

The tampan played a role in practically all rites of passage. They were often used as sitting rugs for the initiate(s), often in combination with decorated mats (lampit). The textiles were con­nected in a more intrinsic way to the celebration of marriage. Many tampan appear to have been produced especially for this occasion. Marriage was all about fertility, a social value expressed in the designs of many of the fabrics that were used during the ritual.

Fertility is the main theme in the ornamentation of many smaller tampan; as a whole, these tampan—displaying a wide array of design elements—make up a dominant category of ship cloths.[1] These mainly served a role at weddings, the occasions where a union between two suku (patrilineal clans) was forged. Before the wed­ding ceremony—during the marriage negotiations—substantial amounts of ceremonial gifts or food, wrapped in these tampan, were exchanged between the wife-giving and wife-taking suku. The cloths played an important role during the actual wedding and were most likely part of the bride’s dowry.[2]

Their role in the wedding ceremony reveals a great deal about the character of these cloths. During the ritual, the tampan symbol­ized the bride and her role within the suku: taking care of progeny. Weaponry or animal figures, in contrast, represented the groom and his duty to uphold the clan’s reputation. This was a typically Indonesian pattern. On many islands of the archipelago, textiles were associated with new life, because they were produced by women and were made of cotton, which is a product of the earth, the ultimate source of fertility. Likewise, weaponry was widely associated with male tastes and pursuits. In Lampung society, this symbolism could be observed during the wedding ritual in the sticking of a spear, with a tampan attached to its shaft, into the ground next to the bridal couple; in other cases, a yarn reel and a spear would be used.[3]

The ornamentation of many tampan can be related directly to traditional Lampung marriage. The motifs often refer in a symbolic way to the bride and groom, with a prominent role for nautical love symbolism, the metaphoric language of love songs. We repeatedly see an animal (the captain/bridegroom) in a sailing boat (the bride). In many cases, the depiction of a highly stylized hornbill is found, but the peacock, originating from the Asian mainland (China and/ or India), also occurs remarkably often. This bird was probably adopted into traditional Lampung animal symbolism in a way similar to the incorporation of the garuda (a mythical bird originating in Hindu imagery). The peacock feathers and crests that are present in other animal motifs also suggest this.[5]

In many designs, another primary motif besides the boat of mat­rimony is visible: a tree sprouting from a boat. The motif recalls the tampan maju (a rare kind of Lampung shipcloth) and the rata (a boat-shaped carriage used by the bride and groom on their wedding day). The symbol of the boat (the woman) that, through the imagery of sprouting vegetation, is presented as a source of fertility. The significance of the boat/tree motif was also visible in another way in 19th-century Lampung society. At parties and at their weddings, the marriageable girls (muli) from the highest social class traditionally wore shiplike head decorations (called siger) made of gold leaf and sporting a floral motif. In this way, siger symbolized female fertility, just like the boat/tree portrayals on the tampan.[6]

[1] Based on dominant design elements, it is pos­sible to distinguish between various categories of smaller tampan. In this manner, Gittinger (1972: 95–132) classifies all tampan that she investigated into six categories.

[2] Regarding the dowry, see Gittinger 1976: 213 and op ‘t Land 1968–69: 114.

[3] Gittinger 1976: 214 and Hissink 1904: 144. The association of smaller tampan with fertility would sometimes also be splendidly visualized in another phase of the marriage ritual: across a symbolic bridge, composed of several tampan woven together, the bridal couple would walk to a ceremonial bedroom (see picture 165 in R. Maxwell 2003).

[5] This is exemplified by the design as shown in fig. 44 (tampan maju ), in which a boat’s prow shaped like an animal, decorated with a peacock crest, is shown.

[6] According to Funke (1961: 180–81), the floral motifs of the siger represented among others flower species and the “growing waringin” (a kind of Ficus tree).

Adapted from

  • Nico de Jonge, "Lampung Ship Cloths: Ancient Symbolism and Cultural Adaptation in South Sumatran Art," in Eyes of the Ancestors: The Arts of Island Southeast Asia at the Dallas Museum of Art, Reimar Schefold, ed. in collaboration with Steven Alpert (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013), 85-91.

  • Carol Robbins, Acquisition Proposal (2000.357), 1999. Copy in Collections Records object file (2000.357).

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