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Tampan – the bewitching extinct weaving of Lampung

February 10, 2013 3 min read

 Weaving ceased in Lampung at the end of the 19th century. Ceased. Extinct. Forever. This fact would be tragic even if we were speaking of some other geography.

But once we see the weavings of Lampung,  the tragedy assumes a far greater significance.

The textiles woven here are some of the most beautiful ones ever woven.

From the perspective of color. From the perspective of weave. And from the perspective of the drawing & the mysterious iconography.

The tradition of burying important cloths in the grave and the traditional rituals necessitating use throughout its lifetime,  result in the vacuum of pre-19th century Indonesian textiles in the world today. Of all the textiles in Lampung, the Tampans were at the heart of rituals and used as integral elements of ceremonies during births, deaths, weddings etc. And through usage, they were subjected to wear and tear, that made it hard for most to survive.

Further, legend has it that the tsunami following the Krakatau eruption led to widespread devastation that also caused these weaving skills to die out. And so we have very few surviving pieces.

As I read more about this piece of textile I cannot decide whether I am more struck by their beauty or by everything they represent

The boats, the men, the trees, spirits and the story ….

The iconography used in these Tampans is vivid and showcases lifestyle snapshots presented within symbols. These cloths are used during ceremonies that signify transition : birth, death, boyhood to manhood, singlehood to marriage etc. and ship in these signifies the blessing of security within which the transition may take place. Some articles on the subject suggest that the boats were also omnipresent in the port life of the location in that era and those were copied into the weavings. In Indonesian literature of that era there is a mention of palace communities – rulers with their retinues – that travelled on the boat from port to port with prestige goods . The woven icons may be reflections of that lifestyle. Since the original weavers have taken their secrets with them, the words ‘conjecture’ ‘outsider’s attribution’ ‘only a hypothesis’ may be seen in the material available on the subject.

All that I know for sure, is that these pieces have an enigma, an allure and a mystical quality that is hard to match in other textiles.

Here are recently acquired  examples in the Wovensouls collection that are possibly from several different weaving regions in Lampung : Kalianda, Komering & Kota Agung.

E 71 X 65sThe asymmetry and the large motifs make this so clearly authentic – for no one would create this incongruence with intent. This is a case of ‘it just so happened that’ …. no space was left for a symmetrical motif. The lack of perfection makes it endearing! I can just imagine how perplexed the maker must have been at suddenly realising that some improvisation and adjustment would have to be devised imaginatively in order to complete this piece.



70cm x 57cm

Tampans from that era are never perfectly symmetrical but the asymmetries  seen throughout the weaving are usually in the minor field elements (as seen in the first Tampan) that usually result from the imprecise technique and estimation errors. In this piece the asymmetry in the middle section appears planned. This feature is  unusual.


LARGE ANTIQUE TAMPAN  FROM KALIANDA OR JABUNG, SUMATRA, INDONESIAThe two people in the upper half of this wearing crowns possible signify royalty or nobility.  The rest are their  relatives & descendants.


F 72x70cFour dinosaurs, trees, flowers, birds and people in boats that are well detailed.



This one with bands separating the sections and men riding on dinosaurs that are riding in boats,  is from a different region in Sumatra. This one is also asymmetrical vertically. The horizontal mirror symmetry is created so that when the cloth is placed over an object as a cover, folded over along the horizontal axis, the picture appears correctly oriented in the  upward direction on both sides.   From Komering.



An amazing 4 color Tampan also from Kalianda.


Another with a fantastic drawing also from a noble family



And this one (also 4 colors) from Kalianda that takes my breath away ………

Rare antique Museum quality pre-19th century Tampan ship cloth

Rare antique Museum quality Tampan ship cloth

Size: 86 cm x 74 cm.

A quick google image search will throw up several beautiful pieces, most in museums….. but none is as bewitching as this one


June 2013


p..s studying the geometry in these and other weavings I wonder about the math contained in weavings….

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