Women’s ceremonial skirt (lawo butu), circa 1980s
Ngada people, Bajawa district, Flores, Indonesia
Handspun cotton, natural dyes, warp ikat
The long, narrow island of Flores in Eastern Indonesia has numerous ikat weaving communities in its many ethnolinguistic groups. Warp ikat is the predominant textile format in Flores for producing boldly dyed sarongs like this excellent example in deep natural dyed indigo blue, made by weavers from Ngada villages. Stick-figure elephants march across the cloth, which is worn as a very long sarong, pulled over the body and then folded down over the chest. A ritual textile, lawo butu often are decorated with geometric beaded decorations (not present here). Other famous Flores ikat textiles are the warm brown sarongs woven by the Lio people of Central Flores, shown elsewhere in the gallery in the “Varieties of Ikat” section.
This indigo cloth was woven on a back strap loom and is quite “local” in its religious and social structural meanings. Few tourist trinkets or international fashion wear items have been made of lawo butu (to date, at least). But, this piece is actually quite transnational in its travels: it was purchased in an upscale Southeast Asian “traditional textile” shop in a luxurious area of Singapore. It was sold for about US$700 in the 1980s: far more than such an ikat would go for in a Flores village. Middlemen art dealers, in this case Singaporean, marked up the textile for profit. The weaver women’s degree of agency in such border-crossing transactions is an important issue.