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    Lampung Woman’s Ceremonial Skirt (Tapis Balak)

    Abung People, Lampung, South Sumatra, Indonesia
    circa 1920

    length: 118cm, width: 61cm (these are the dimensions for one side of the double-sided skirt)



    Acquired in the UK, from the estate collection of Dr George Yuille Caldwell (1924-2016). Dr Caldwell, an English-born physician moved to Singapore in the 1950s, from where he built up a collection of Indonesian textiles and other ethnographica.

    – scroll down to see further images –

    This tapis (ceremonial skirt) is from the Abung people of North Lampung in South Sumatra. It remains closed and sewn as a skirt (rather than having been opened for display purposes).

    It comprises striped silk-cotton dyed with indigo, mustard yellow and red dyes and has alternating registers densely embroidered with metallic thread wrapped in gold.

    See Totton (2009, p. 106) for a related example which is described as a tapisbalak‘ or tapis ‘large/arrogant’.

    One name given to this genre of cloths –tapis tua – literally means the ‘ancient skirt’ (Maxwell, R., 2003, p, 184.) But the Abung term for this specific type is tapis dewasano (‘fully-laden cloth’), ortapis jung sarat in Indonesian (Totton, 2009, p. 99).

    This spectacular use of gold-wrapped thread confirms the skirt’s origins from among the Abung people. Noblewomen wore such cylindrical skirts on ceremonial occasions. Or such skirts were worn by brides form wealthy families. The wealth for such ostentations displays was afforded by the lucrative pepper trade with which the south of Sumatra became associated during the colonial era, and which benefited the Abung directly.

    The skirt is in excellent condition. There are few or no losses, no repairs, and only some loose threads here and there, as might be expected.


    Brinkgreve, F., & D.J. Stuart-Fox (eds), Living with Indonesian Art: The Frits Liefkes Collection, Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde, 2013.

    Maxwell, R., Sari to Sarong: Five Hundred Years of Indians and Indonesian Textile Exchange, NGA, 2003.

    Maxwell, R., Textiles of Southeast Asia: Tradition, Trade and Transformation, Periplus, 2003.

    Totton, M.L., Wearing Wealth and Styling Identity: Tapis from Lampung, South Sumatra, Indonesia, Hood Museum of Art, 2009.

    Vanderstraete, A., Magie van de Vrouw: Weefsels en Sieraden uit de Gordel van Smaragd, (The Magic of Women), Wereldmuseum, 2012. :


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