Kain Tenun Toraja
Created Date: 05 Jun 0 Comments
For at least 600 years, the Toraja highlands were an end destination in the long networks of trade that stretched from India and China across Island Southeast Asia. Indian textiles were very highly sought after all over the archipelago and were used as a currency in the spice trade. Their superior workmanship and bright, fast colors were as much admired here as they were in Europe and the Middle East. Toraja was not itself a spice-growing area, but cloths must have reached here originally through the Buginese kingdom of Luwu’, which rose to prominence in the 14th and 15th centuries and was engaged in long-distance trade. Later, large quantities of textiles passed through Makassar, which became a major port of the spice trade starting in the 16th century. Remarkably, Toraja is the area where the greatest numbers of very old Indian cloths have survived, testament to the enormous care with which they have been preserved as sacred heirlooms over the centuries. Some are now in museum collections, where since the 1990s they have been tested with newly refined radiocarbon dating techniques, revealing that they are of much greater antiquity than previously thought. The oldest examples have been dated to the 14th century, and a few even to the late 13th century. These rare and exotic textiles were incorporated into a category of sacred cloths called mawa’ (also pronounced maa’ in some dialects). Mawa’ include both imported and locally made cloths, and are used for display especially in the life-enhancing Rites of the East. These rites encompass all those connected with the enhancement of life and fertility, including celebrations for the building or rebuilding of ancestral origin houses (tongkonan), agricultural rites, and rituals to ward of sickness. Gujarat was the source of most of the earliest Indian examples, while from the 17th century onward, painted and printed cottons from the southeastern Coromandel coast predominated. Especially highly prized throughout the archipelago were the famed double- ikat silk patola cloths from Gujarat that were widely traded from at least the 14th century, and whose designs were incorporated into indigenous ikat weaving in many places. Palampore are large block-printed and painted cotton hangings from Coromandel (also known to Europeans as chintz), which typically bear the image of a flowering tree and were produced mainly in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are also large and long hand-painted cotton cloths depicting a climactic battle scene from the Hindu epic the Ramayana, in which Rama, aided by Hanuman and his monkey warriors, does battle with the demon king Ravana of Lanka. Ramayana cloths have been found not only in Toraja but also in several other islands including Bali, Sumbawa, and Sumba. Narrative textiles of this sort were traditionally made by groups of chitrakattis, a caste of singers, musicians, and painters who toured the villages of Andhra Pradesh making a living as storytellers. They used the cloths as backdrops in their recounting of the epics. However, the Ramayana textiles that have been found in Island Southeast Asia, while related to this tradition, have no close parallels in south India and may have been made especially for the Indonesian market. This is especially intriguing since some of the areas where they ended up are outside the zone of familiarity for the Ramayana story; the narrative is well known in Java and Bali, but not in Toraja or the more eastern islands. We know little about how the peoples of the latter places may have reinterpreted these cloths. The aristocracy of the southern districts of Toraja claim genealogical connections with Luwu’ royalty, and it is possible that some textiles might have been gifts presented to Toraja chiefs by the rulers of Luwu’ in an effort to establish tributary relationships with them. However, this political use of textiles for cementing alliances does not seem to have existed here on a large scale. Most cloths were probably brought into the Toraja highlands by Bugis traders. The Toraja aristocracy may have paid for them in horses, buffalo, or valued forest products such as camphor and dammar resin. From the late 19th century, when coffee began to be more intensively cultivated, local headmen had a valuable new product to exchange for luxury goods. Only the nobility could afford such items; mawa’ could be worth as many as ten or twenty buffalo. Textiles thus lent an aura of sacred power and prestige to the houses that owned them, and served as impressive markers of status on the rare occasions when they were brought out for public display. Throughout history, elites have sought out luxury objects from distant places as a means of expressing their superior status. The more remote the origins of such goods, the more likely that they will come to be viewed as having supernatural power. Thus it is not surprising that Indian textiles are often attributed mythical or divine origins by the Toraja. The same claims are made, however, about their own indigenous cloths. Who exactly produced the latter, whether men or women, and from what precise areas, is difficult to establish, for their creators have remained anonymous, and by now they are generally declared to be of divine origin. These pieces, while occasionally finding inspiration in motifs borrowed from the Indian repertoire, have a strongly indigenous flavor, giving ebullient and poetic expression to homely images of everyday life and subsistence activities. These scenes overflow with signs of nature’s fertility and abundance, depicting both the actual bounty of the Toraja landscape and the desired outcome of rituals. Every inch of the field is deliberately filled, an intensification of design that in the ritual context is part of what gives these cloths their power. Their unfolding is in itself a kind of prayer, or in Toraja terms, pelambean : a term of great importance in indigenous ritual, meaning “hope” or “expectation,” which is the driving force behind all Rites of the East.