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Pua Kombu ikat textile, ceremonial hanging
Iban people, 3rd Division, Sarawak, Malaysia
Handspun cotton, warp ikat, natural dyes
Second half of 19th century
Anne and John Summerfield Textile Study Collection
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery, College of the Holy Cross

Pua Kombu ikat textile
half view
Pua Kombu ikat textile close up

This large warp ikat is made in four panels and has strong ground color and razor sharp ikat.  The ikat work is quite exceptional: the patterns are clearly defined, with approximately 30 paired warps per inch.  This ikat took many months or even several years for its woman creator to complete.  The center field shows mythical tigers (buah remaung) in deep, dark coloration in alluring reds, blacks, and creams.

The several selvedge bands are particularly effective: softly ikatted, with complex small motifs.  In overall design, as is the case with many Iban and Dayak pua cloths, this textile has the general layout of an old patola Indian trade cloth, with a busy center field, forceful selvedge bands, and stripes and rows of motifs at each end of the cloth.

Pua Kombu were used to enclose ritual spaces and wrap sacred objects in Iban ceremonies of life and death.  Women’s work in dyeing and weaving these textiles was sometimes seen as “the women’s warpath” closely related to their bravery in gestating and birthing babies.  The ritual counterpart to that in Iban village thought was “the man’s warpath”: the literal war journey young men once took into enemy territory to do battle and sometimes bring back an enemy’s head. When the latter was brought into the Iban village, it was welcoming by women holding pua cloths, to swaddle it.  Today many Iban see such activities as “old traditions” no longer to be followed.