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1844 Antique Iban Ceremonial Ikat - Spirit-Figures / Anthropomorhs / Engkaramba

Antique Iban Ceremonial Ikat Pua Kumbu

Among the Iban, textiles are treasured as they are more than just objects made of fibre.

In some cultures, such as the Iban, textiles have played a major, if not central role, in all the ceremonies surrounding the important events in life. Power structures among women are based on dyeing and weaving skills. Perhaps the most important materials owned by families were textiles.

Ikat textiles are among the hardest to make, as the tie-dye is done on the unwoven threads before they are woven into cloth. So with a design in the weaver's imagination, the thread is dyed in sections as per the pattern that is required to be created. This takes immense precision and calculation. So when we note that these textiles were made decades ago in the rainforests of Borneo - Kalimantan, Sabah & Sarawak, there is a sense of awe for the creators.

Further, textiles themselves were believed to have the power to connect to the spirit world. The motifs, the dyes and the complexity of the weaving - all factors that were a direct result of the weaver's skill and experience - contributed to the power held by a textile.

Only textiles with certain features could be used during the most important community ceremonies and the weavers of these therefore enjoyed an elevated status of prestige.

So to study an Iban textile, requires us to focus on patterns, motifs, complexity and lastly and equally importantly - the dyes. The process of dyeing enjoys a far greater role in the value chain of production of Iban textiles than it does in any other group of textiles.

Size: 170 x 76cm


  • The pattern on this ikat is similar to Anthropomorphic Pattern (buah engkaramba) Fig 181 on page 110 of "Iban Ritual Textiles" by Traude Gavin and Fig P5 in "Pua - Iban Weavings of Sarawak" by Edric Ong
  • There are five rows in the main field, each with 6 figures of one type.
  • One of these rows depicts the 'engkaramba' or spirit-figures or anthropomorphs.
  • Fantastic Ikat with tremendous soul.
  • Pliable handle as the yarn has softened with age.
  • Note the well developed anthropomorphs in the row in the bottom end or Selakoh
  • Note the horizontal bands - that are difficult to execute - in the side borders or Ara.



This item has spent a lifetime being used for the purpose of its creation with the original artist/user. Signs of this life lived heartily may be present on the piece in the form of stains, thread loss, loose threads, holes, tears, color run and other imperfections. Therefore the condition must be assumed to be “not” perfect. More photos of such imperfections will be provided on request.


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