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An Iban Tunic In A Textile

July 07, 2021 2 min read

Yes – IN a textile.

It has taken me roughly 9 years of handling Dayak textiles before my eyes have finally opened to them!

Just as I’ve foolishly let go of one masterpiece, so also I must have failed to recognise the value of others that were offered to me in the past. But never mind. At least I have arrived and my eyes are now wide open to the depth of their character.

So here is one piece that arrived today.

I acquired it as it is old and has a well developed layout and densely worked motifs. The photos on whatsapp looked good and so the deal was done.

As soon as the packet arrived, I took out the two textiles and examined them in the afternoon light of sunny Singapore. And within seconds the Iban woman revealed herself to me.

I hadn’t seen noticed her in the photos. Neither had the dealer. Yet here she was in plain sight!

The delight overwhelmed me and I hurried scrambled to find photos of women I’d photographed in 2012 on a trip to Sarawak.

And the comparison confirmed that this was indeed a depiction of an Iban woman dressed in her traditional ornamented tunic on her shoulders and bidang skirt.

Had I not seen the cultural dances and costumes in real life, I’m sure I would have missed the traditional costume representation in the pilih weaving altogether.

The discovery in the textile needed the validation from real life – otherwise it could just as well have been fiction or imagination.

This also reminds me of the parallel I read about in D’Abro’s book ‘The Evolution of Scientific Thought’ that we often see pure mathematics giving us predictions about possible realities – but unless it is verified through the physics of our reality that prediction must be discarded.

Fortunately in this case the real-life example was easily available at hand through past travel to that world.

So it reaffirms to me that the real world experience is necessary as it provides the whole framework within which we must look at our beautiful textiles.

Otherwise we only seethem partially and perhaps miss too much!

Here are more photos of this superb piece.



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