Paper short abstract:
We follow the journey of an Iban weaver from her first woven cloth to her final one allowing her to weave an undyed selvedge denoting a master weaver. Her soul had to negotiate a succession of increasing spiritual dangers until it had the maturity to withstand the most powerful spiritual forces.
Paper long abstract:
In the first half of the 20th century a master weaver named Julia Anak Ipa from the Saribas region of Sarawak Borneo wove eight Iban ritual blankets known as pua' kumbu', which are the subject of this paper. They reveal the dangerous journey embarked on by the Iban weaver in which her soul grappled with arcane supernatural powers and, if successful, could engage these powers to help her household in their endeavours.
A typical journey can be explicated through an examination of Julia's eight cloths. In each cloth Julia wove motifs which showed the development of her spiritual maturity as well as representations of concepts of her world-view. As that spiritual maturity increased, Julia signalled the stage she had reached in her coloured selvedges.
Julia, through her cloths and designs, became story-teller, historian, archivist, and commentator. She transmitted important information based on all eight cloths: information that was jealously guarded as secret knowledge and passed down from teacher (usually mother) to developing weaver.
The information was collected by the author between 1991 and 1993 in the master weaver's longhouse and in Kuching.
The images, motifs and designs Julia incorporated into her eight cloths are but a small part of the extensive repertoire of the Iban textile inventory. The sparsely recorded collective memory of Iban weavers is disputed in the academic literature. This paper seeks to offer an indigenous perspective through the medium of Julia's works to shed further light on the complex world of Iban textile design.
The Future of Craft: Apprenticeship, Transmission and Heritage