Between the Folds

Between the Folds: Stories of Cloth, Lives and Travels from Sumba

Copyright Date: 2001
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  • Book Info
    Between the Folds
    Book Description:

    Textiles have long been integral to the social life and cosmology of the people of East Sumba, Indonesia. In recent decades, Sumbanese have entered a larger world economy as their textiles have joined the commodity flow of an international “ethnic arts” market stimulated by Indonesia’s tourist trade. Through the individual stories of those involved in the contemporary production and trade of local cloth—including animists, Christians, and Moslems; Sumbanese, Indonesian Chinese, and Westerners; inventive geniuses, master artisans, and exploited weavers; rogues, entrepeneurs, nobles, and servants—a vivid account emerges of the inner workings of a so-called “traditional” society and its arts responding inventively to decades of international collecting.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6163-6
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Part One: Fabricscapes
      (pp. 3-14)

      This book is a wide-ranging ethnographic journey, contoured by people who create and trade a kind of cloth through which they interweave and convolute the traditional and the modern, blurring such definitions. I will trace how engagements with cloth motivate, facilitate, and implicate people in far-reaching connections with one another and how these links affect lives and the fabrics that surround them. InCloth and Human Experience,Jane Schneider and Annette B. Weiner (1989) emphasize that the human actions that make cloth politically and socially salient are as important as the material properties and symbolic potentialities contained in fabrics. As...

      (pp. 15-27)

      In the southernmost region of Indonesia, Sumba sits askew from the sweeping arch of islands forming the province of Nusa Tenggara Timur (the Lesser Sunda Islands). Much of the eastern coastal portion of the island (of this account) appears as a largely uninhabited open range—a monotony of savannah etched by gullies—lacking the rich volcanic soil and rainfall of the more verdant Indonesian islands.¹ Livestock grazes on eastern Sumba’s sweeping grasslands, and crops along rivers provide patches of greenery. Within the most arid region of Indonesia, Sumba (along with neighboring islands of Savu, Roti, and Timor) slips into the...

      (pp. 28-48)

      As chronicle of history and communication medium among people in Sumba, cloth has been a visible indicator of comings and goings, asserting identities, conveying meanings, and tracing diverse social intersections throughout the island’s past. Within all of this, “contradictory yearnings” are inevitable, as is cloth’s value in communicating the impermanent nature of power.¹ Whether or not cloth functions as universally as Schneider and Weiner’s statement implies, it is highly relevant within an ongoing tension between circulation and permanence that characterizes social life in East Sumba.

      There is an integral circularity to the makings and movements of Sumbanese cloth. Initially, it...

  6. Part Two: Between the Folds
    • [PART TWO: Introduction]
      (pp. 49-52)

      “Wandi,” “Hawewa,” and “Parai Mutu” maintain individual commercial connections to the main town of Waingapu, and historical alliances and grievances carry on among the villages through numerous family ties. The regions are remarkable in the contrasts between them. Tensions between old and new forms appear in the peculiar qualities of the textiles produced in each village,

      Waingapu is a centralizing hub for the fabric trade. The major commercial and administrative town, it contains about 30,000 people and is the most ethnically diverse place on the island. Government workers (pegawai, I.) in numerous bureaucracies migrate to the town from around Sumba...

      (pp. 53-84)

      In the dusty and chaotic square of the Waingapu bus terminal, the wait is never long for abemo(a minibus that serves as public transport in much of Indonesia) to the village of Wandi. Although a number ofbemos go to the village, I usually boarded the one with the name of an American rock star (Cindi Lauper) inscribed on its side, as the driver tended to be a bit more cautious than some of the others.

      Boarding abemoin Sumba is like entering a garish capsule of eclectic, popular culture—a cacaphonic and mobile warp of the...

      (pp. 85-107)

      “Parai Mutu” is the source of some of the finest textiles in Sumba. The village is referred to by many Sumbanese asna paraing huri mahari(the village of strong custom) oryang paling tradisi(I.; the most traditional). The two hundred inhabitants of the village are reputed to tenaciously adhere to concerns of social caste. Situated between a bend in the river and a twist in the road, Parai Mutu sits atop a bluff overlooking a long cultivated valley bordered by barren hills. Gardens and livestock support most of the people of the region. The peaks (tualaku uma) of Parai...

      (pp. 108-126)

      After an hour bus ride from Waingapu, I often traveled a narrow road running three kilometers inland from the sea, passing numerous households along the way, and ending at the village of “Hawewa.” The village—composed of two distinct sections—includes about six hundred people and is bordered by dry, chalky hills on one side, a river circling around half of the village area, and a government-constructed irrigation canal at the eastern boundary.

      The green landscape along this road is one of relative fertility in East Sumba, with continuous rice paddies fed by the canal and the river. The northern...

  7. Part Three: Shuttling between Worlds
      (pp. 131-147)

      A convergence of worlds occurred every other week in eastern Sumba in the mid-1990s, in organized cultural displays (pameran, I.; exhibition) for foreign tour groups. Rife with intense competition between local people, these events took shape over a couple of hours as impromptu settlements.Pameranspaces became international carnivals where people claimed regions of ground for themselves in makeshift mercantile settings. Moreover,pamerans proceeded as stages: carefully calculated personas were displayed along with fabrics as visions and desires of locals and tourists became entwined. As Toby Volkman concludes regarding the nature of tourist events in Toraja, Sulawesi, “Tourism implies a...

    • Color plates
      (pp. None)
      (pp. 148-160)

      Besides the tour groups attendingpamerans, there were various foreign visitors to Sumbanese villages, many seeking to experience something exotic or pristine. These tourists (usually traveling in couples or alone) might meet any of a collection of locals at a Waingapu hotel and be invited to a village. Foreigners also meandered through villages uninvited and were usually extended someone’s hospitality. Never predictable, the more prolonged or eventful encounters generated vivid accounts among villagers. Moreover, such visits occasionally produced disputes, displacements, and reevaluations in local lives.

      One fateful visit in 1994 involved a middle-aged Danish tourist. Her actions created a general...

      (pp. 161-180)

      One evening in 1994, an itinerant textile trader from Sumba stood spellbound on a street in Kuta Beach, Bali. Bending under a backpack stuffed withikatfabrics, Luka gazed upward. At that moment, a half-naked tourist jumped from a tower constructed on the roof of a disco-pub, then bounced wildly as the bungee cord he was attached to stretched and recoiled. Days before, the spectator transfixed by this event had traveled four hundred miles west from Sumba to Bali, where he entered into the cosmopolitan and often baffling community of locals, traders, and tourists. When he returned home, his travel...

      (pp. 181-192)

      In the last months of 1994, a relentless heat weighed upon East Sumba as people awaited the overdue monsoon. Late in the dry season (ndau wandu), this was a listless and sweltering time of the year when most activity ceased during the afternoon hours. Rain had not fallen for months, and villages were dusty and parched. This was also the season known asmusim lapar(I.; hungry season), when food stores from the year’s harvests were depleted and many people were stretching their resources until after the rains, when gardens could grow again.

      During this time, fewer foreigners visited the...

      (pp. 193-202)

      In 1996, almost two years after I left Sumba, I coiled anikatheadcloth around a Styrofoam form to be included in a glass case in an ethnographic exhibit I was curating at the Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. The case, labeled “Eclectic Wear,” displayed a costume once worn by Umbu Pari from Parai Mutu. Reconstructing what he had constructed of himself, I was continuing a chain of inscriptions involving images and fabrics from East Sumba. Next to the ensemble—consisting of ahinggi, a headcloth, and a T-shirt with a skull tree motif...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 203-230)
    (pp. 231-258)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 259-265)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 266-266)