Sunday, 22 April 2012

Pua Kumbu

Legend has it that about 24 generations ago, Singalang Burong, the God of War, taught his grandson, Surong Gunting, how to use the most sacred of all the pua, the Lebur Api, at the end of a war. The heads of their fallen enemies were received ceremonially on this cloth, which had been dyed a deep red colour. This pua was woven at Batu Gelong, the longhouse which was home to the goddesses of weaving, namely Kumang, Indai Abang, and Lullong.

Today, the lifestyle and beliefs of the Iban community are still closely linked to the pua kumbu. Young girls are taught the art of weaving by their mothers and grandmothers. Iban rituals and ceremonies are incomplete without using the sacred cloth for births, marriages, death, fertility or even the planting of rice.

The weavers icy out a woven graphic design of the Iban animistic beliefs, the spiritual realm and the “world view” of life such as trees, animals, insects, jungle life, natural and supernatural life. It is said that the more powerful and intricate the design, the closer it brings the weavers to the spiritual world. Subsequently, the more powerful the design, the greater is the danger to the weavers.

Prayers are recited before the start of every process to safeguard the weavers from harm or sickness they may sustain during the making of the pua kumbu. The weavers usually have a mystical experience when it comes to designing the patterns for the pua. Therefore, the making of the pua kumbu is considered a religious and spiritual journey and the sacredness of the process is highly regarded in the Iban community.

Weaving is also a means of elevating the status of Iban women. A woman, depending on the use of dye, design and skill, will fit into a certain rank within the community. In order to be a master weaver, a woman has to move up the rank by tackling a more intricate challenge.

A good pua kumbu is not only a demonstration of the weavers relative success in terms of knowledge and expertise but also shows the state of her inner self. Basically, the pua kumbu consists of two pieces of cloth joined in the centre. This is done usually by lacing a stitch.

The web threads, which have been tied together in the dyeing process, possess the same but reversed patterns, so that two halves complete it when the central joining is made. The pua kumbu has come a long way since its magical and mythical beginnings. This beautiful textile is often seen at major fashion shows regionally and internationally. A true taste of Sarawak, the pua kumbu has stood steadfastly and proudly in the face of modernization.

An exotic textile is the Iban pua, often referred to as a blanket but more appropriately simply called a cloth. Technically excellent in comparison to any ikat weaving of other cultures, powerful in its allegorical symbol, the warp-ikat pua kumbu is an outstanding material culture of Sarawak.

The uses of pua kumbu are numerous and are of great significance in the traditional life of the Iban. They are used in ceremonies: birth, marriage, funeral and healing, as well as in farming rituals. As soon as the child is cleaned after being delivered, he or she is laid upon a pua kumbu.

During the first ceremonial bath in the river, the baby is wrapped and covered with the pua kumbu and taken to the river.

During the wedding ceremony, pua kumbu are used to adorn the room where the marriage ceremony is held; the couple are seated on a gong under a pua kumbu canopy to receive blessing from the elderly folk.

Pua kumbu also forms part of the dowry.

When a relative dies, pua kumbu are hung up as curtains to shelter the body of the dead relative.

Pua kumbu are also used to veil structures (pandong) containing charms and offering in farming rituals.

The pua kumbu is also used during important celebrations such as Gawai and soul-searching ceremonies as it is believed to be a means of communication between the worlds of the living and the dead. To the Iban's, communications between these two worlds are vital, especially for a tribe that reveres its ancestors and spirits. Their world is one where past ancestors wander about, spirits linger and ancient mythical gods still rule.

In the olden days, pua kumbu were used to receive heads from a party returning from a successful war expedition.

The patterns used in all the weaving are based on the motifs as seen in the many other Sarawak decorative arts. Some common symbols include birds, deer, snakes, leeches, centipedes, squirrels, frogs, flower and fruits. The higher symbols are of humans and spirits.


In the Iban Pua series, only Pua Kumbu and Pua Karap are still available in the market where Pua Kumbu is most common. Pua Sungkit is unavailable due to the tedious process involved.

In fact, the function of Pua Sungkit in Iban Culture is exactly the same as Pua Kumbu, the only difference being the weaving technique and process.

Most Pua Sungkit are smaller in size and made into high-value items like the costumes worn by dancers of higher calibre during special occasions.

Pua Sungkit (picture inset) from the Batang Ai region of Sarawak. The motif is sometimes called Dancing Witches or War Boat on a Journey (Bong Midang). Pieces like this would have been used in the Gawai Festival, to bring protection forces to the entire village, in former times to protect the community from raiding parties. Has very fine human figure work. This sungkit dates from the mid 19th century. 76" x 21" (165 x 53 cms). Very high review in Kuching from an Iban pua expert and descendant of acknowledged master weaver


Pua Karap is another kind of pua equally important in the Iban community. In traditional ban costume, the Pua Karap makes up most of the attire. Although sometimes the skirt is made of Pua Kumbu or Pua Sungkit, Pua Karap is the preferred choice as its refined weaving technique adds texture to the Ngajat performances.

Nota Tambahan :

Pua Kumbu

Pua Kumbu merupakan kain kapas berpola pelbagai warna yang digunakan oleh kaum Iban, dihasilkan dan digunakan di Sarawak, Malaysia.

Pua kumbu ditenun oleh wanita Dayak dan dianggap objek suci. Ia digunakan dalam upacara dan peristiwa penting termasuk kelahiran anak, sampai usia, menerima barangan penting kepada rumah panjang, dan bagi tabir mayat yang diletakkan di rumah panjang sebelum pengkebumian.

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