Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ripih kayu pua Saribas ti ditusoi niang Julia Indai Nan (Julia anak Ipa).

  1. Terubah rubah berengkah ngebat pua lima (lima puloh kayu), tau bepanggal (eg. panggal tiga).

  2. Udahnya, tau ngebat pua enam.

  3. Pua tujoh.

  4. Pulai ka pua enam.

  5. Pua ka lima tau ngebat barang kayu, tang enda tau lebih ari lapan.

  6. Pulai ka tujoh.

  7. Pulai ka enam, tang tau bepanggal.

  8. Pua lapan, tang tau bepanggal.

  9. Pua ka selapan.

  10. Pua ka sepuloh enda tau enda bekayu seratus. Pua seratus tu dikumbai pua tembu kayu. Iya enda tau enda betisi burak dikumbai besemalau labang.

  11. Enti udah tembu kayu, tau ngebat barang kayu. Tisi tau besemalau labang.

  12. Pua seratus tau bepanggal semilan dikumbai pua nyeratus.

  13. Pua nyeratus ngerang tu pua bekayu lebih ari pua nyeratus.


The Saribas Order of Pua Widths as recounted by the late Julia Mother of Nan (Julia anak Ipa).

  1. In the beginning, you tie fifty widths (one width equals three upper warp belebas and three lower warp belebas which totals eighteen strands of warp yarn), with 'cushions' (additional widths, eg. three 'cushions').

  2. Thereafter, you tie sixty widths.

  3. Seventy widths.

  4. Return to sixty widths.

  5. You may tie any amount of widths for your fifth pua so long as you do not exceed eighty widths.

  6. Return to seventy widths.

  7. Return to sixty widths, with 'cushions'.

  8. Eighty widths, with 'cushions'.

  9. Ninety widths.

  10. Your tenth pua must be of a hundred widths. This pua is called the pua tembu kayu or graduation pua. It must have a white selvedge which is called besemalau labang.

  11. After you have graduated, you may weave any number of widths. The selvedge may be white.

  12. The hundred widths pua may have nine 'cushions', which is called pua nyeratus.

  13. The pua nyeratus ngerang is the pua that has more widths than pua nyeratus.

Niang Julia Indai Nan Indu Muntang Indu Tengkebang, Pelandok, Paku, Saribas. My grandaunt who taught me to tie my first dabong, segala, kukut burong, gelong and jerit lima lantang.

One of the oldest patterns known to Iban weavers.

This classic pattern is one of the oldest patterns in the Iban pua kumbu repertoire of patterns. It is known by various names, all of which point to the same hidden meaning.

In the Saribas, it is called the Dan Ridan Nyelengka Takang Bindang Besara. Elsewhere, it is known as the Bali Berinjan. Among the misinformed the Sepepat. To be grammatically correct, it should be called the Bali Berinjan Beselempepat. It has even been called the Penyandih Indai Ngelai. Different river systems would have different names for this otherwise universal pattern that traces its roots right back to Kalimantan prior to migration into Sarawak via the Kapuas centuries ago. Despite having very different names which do not seem to have any remote connection to one another or an obvious common pedigree, it is interesting that these very distinct names all suggest the same meaning for this pattern. To add to the confusion, the weavers of my family call it by a totally different name which has the furthest reference to its hidden meaning; the Leku Sawa Tuai. (Not to be confused with the punggang leku sawa, a punggang pattern.)

There are male and female versions of this pattern. A male version would have certain symbols incorporated into the pattern while a female version would be devoid of familiar symbols associated with male aggression.

(Contrary to what has been written and published, female versions are not copies of an original. Copies of an original tengkebang pattern are just as valid in spiritual efficacy, and therefore may either be male or female, not necessarily female. Not all patterns are gender inherent, and where a gender is recognised, the male version is determined by how the indu buah is embellished by the weaver as compared to the female. 'Genitalia' are sometimes woven into a pattern to further establish its gender. It really is as simple as that, and often times anthropologists read too much into an otherwise uncomplicated artform.)

Why would one weaver weave a male version and another a female version? Rank and status within a community would determine this. 'Aristocratic' women would weave male versions while women of lesser rank would not presume to do so.

Is this pattern highly ranked in the taxonomy of Iban patterns? Yes. It is one of the oldest known pattern woven by women as a visual statement to incite their men to acts of bravery and war. Look closely and you might see not just innocuous fireflies but also slithering pythons and soaring eagles.

I have attached nine photographs of this pattern, executed differently by different weavers. The indu buah (pattern proper) remains the same, the embellishments differ according to the style of the period and local taste, and level of skill of the weavers. I have also arranged these pieces according to periods and approximate age, from oldest to youngest. All these pieces have their provenance in the Saribas.

Click on photographs to enlarge.

OLD (Pua Lama or pre-1900)

Pamela Cross collection, UK

Private collection

John Kreifeldt collection, USA

CLASSICAL (Pua Baru or post-1900)

Private collection

Private collection

Private collection

Private collection

Hanne Christensen collection, Denmark

Male version
De Foe Heirloom, Singapore
Woven by Mengan anak Budin Gerasi, circa 1920s

OKP Dana Bayang x Mengan Tuai =
OK Aji x Dimah =
Mindu x Budin Gerasi =
Mengan x Ketit =
Sendi x Gelau =
Inja x Ivory Kedit =
Alice Renti x John De Foe =
Donald x Donna =

Raison d'ĂȘtre

Does every blanket tell a story, grandma?

Indeed, my child! For why else would we weave? Every coil is like an unspoken word, every tendril an unsung verse, and together they whisper the tales of our hearts, the legends of our forefathers, the hymns of our gods. Every strike of the Belia is a prayer, every dip in the Trough a silent wish. And anyone who tells you otherwise should just stay in the kitchen and make herself useful like the rest of the servants.

Tales of our hearts, grandma?

Each blanket has a soul, and the soul exists even before it is woven. You must look deep into your heart to search for the soul of the blanket that wishes to be born from your heart. And when you find it, you must treat it with respect and honour, reverence and awe. Never fear it, but make it captive. And then give it form and shape through your fingers tenderly. Call it by its name.

Name, grandma? How would I know its name?

Kumang will tell you. Lulong will guide you. And your heart will sing its song in the silence of the night when you shall dream dreams. You will learn secrets, you will discover the Other World.

The Other World?

The world from which all blankets come and the world to which we will all go. Your spirit will learn to converse in another tongue, the unspoken tongue. The world where warriors pluck ripe fruit off The Tree, and maidens weave unceasingly The Wondrous Menyeti.

Why do we call it blanket, grandma, when we never use it as such?

Ah, my child! But we do! Your father and your father's father would wrap themselves in our precious blankets the night before they go to war, blankets of the Serpent's Path, the Blazing Fire and the Fruiting Palm. And in their deep slumber the gods and goddesses will come to them and speak of the ways of the shrieking baboon, the spitting serpent and the roaring crocodile. Then awakened they will listen for the calls of the omen birds, and the whispers of the Ancient Ones.

Teach me to make a blanket grandma!

In time, child. But first you must learn to sing the songs of our foremothers. For it is in these songs that the secrets of our sacred blankets are hidden.

Every coil is like an unspoken word, every tendril an unsung verse...