Man's shoulder or hip cloth (hinggi), 1983.91
Sumba is internationally known for the beauty, originality, and power of men’s ikat cloths, called hinggi . These impressive textiles were avidly collected by the Dutch and other Europeans beginning in the early 20th century. In Europe, exhibitions were mounted, scholars published important articles, and homes featured hinggi as decoration. More recent scholarship has added to the understanding of their complex uses and functions, further enhancing their appreciation in the West.
While most hinggi were woven for trade purposes, the finest examples were reserved for indigenous use. To own hinggi was the right and privilege of noblemen, and the number and quality of colors, the materials, and the technical virtuosity of the weaving and motifs pictured were important factors that denoted superior textiles, along with the status and power of their owners. Hinggi are worn in identical pairs; one cloth is wrapped around the waist and the other draped over the shoulders. Only donned during important ceremonial occasions, they were carefully stored in specific areas of a house’s attic and constituted an important part of the house treasury of noble families. Hinggi also served as marriage exchange gifts and as presentations on other occasions associated with both secular and religious life. Perhaps their most important function involved their role in funerary activities, when the corpse of an important nobleman was sometimes wrapped in hundreds of hinggi and could lie in state for many years before being buried.
Dating to the 19th century, this exceptionally beautiful and technically superior hinggi is colored with red, rust, blue, green, and yellow/gold dyes whose interactions result in a rich tapestry of sparkling yet subdued design elements. Revealing the hand of an outstanding textile artist, this work was once the property of the kings of Kanatang.
The wide bands at each extremity feature eight large lizards or crocodiles along with smaller anthropomorphic and crocodilian figures that are used as filler. The number eight signifies fulfillment or completeness; and crocodiles are extremely rare motifs on hingi, and they are sometimes difficult to distinguish from lizards. A large center field is inspired by patola designs. Patola are double-ikat silk cloths imported from India. They had a major influence on Indonesian textile design and were highly valued, becoming important heirlooms and forming part of clan treasuries.
In some areas of East Sumba, it is believed that crocodilian creatures represent one of the original ancestors (marapu), and they are never killed or eaten. According to local belief, they cause no harm to people unless some offense against a clan descended from the crocodile ancestor has been committed. Young noblemen are called “children of the crocodile.” Crocodilian creatures are said to live in human form in a village beneath the sea. Their depiction on this hinggi links its owner to the distant past and verifies and validates his regal status.
George Ellis, "Man's shoulder or hip cloth (hinggi)," 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), 230.