The Tradition of the Sumbanese Ikat and Its Culture

Sumba is an island in the province of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). There are 4 districts and their capital cities, namely East Sumba with the capital Waingapu, Central Sumba with the capital Waibakul, West Sumba with the capital Waikabubak, and Southwest Sumba with the capital Waitabula. Sumba is well-known as Sandalwood Island because of its long-standing Sandalwood horse-breeding site. Besides, Sumba is also famous for its megalithic gravestones and woven cloth.

Let’s discuss more deeply about things that can not be separated from the inherent traditions in Sumba starting from the decorative woven cloth, the magnificent traditional house, the ritual marriage that is “complicated” or the burial ceremony with their grand megalithic grave. All of these things are inseparable from the Sumba literature / Sumba weaving which has symbols and cultural works of art that are characteristic of Sumba. 

Sumba Weaving Starts to Attract Attention

Sumba Weaving started to draw the attention of European visitors from the late 19th century. The boldness, dramatic, and colorful range of patterns and designs. The variety of shapes and colors starts from the horse which is a special thing that can not be separated from Sumba, birds, crocodiles, chickens, various sea animals, and many others. The variation of images and shapes that exist in Sumba weave is taken from flora and fauna. Tourists and locals use Sumba weaving as decoration to hang on the wall of the house, placed on a divan, or stretched on a table or bed.

Sumba weave is also used as a valuable museum collection, so it cannot be denied that it is common knowledge that the price of this weaving is high depending on the quality and time used to make a Sumba weave or cloth. As stated, the Sumba weave is always present in the cultural life of Sumba. Although the people of Sumba mostly adhere to Christian teachings, Sumba literature is still used at weddings and funerals which means that this literature has become a characteristic of the Sumba region. Weaving is an inseparable part of society. Let’s talk a little about Sumba culture, the first is marriage.

Sumbanese Ikat Weaving at Kaliuda Gallery Bali

Traditional Sumba Marriage

Traditional Sumba marriage is known for its complicated process. Starting with the bridegroom’s family who sends representatives to the bride’s family, the envoy offers gold mamuli and animals, which will be exchanged with hinggi (men’s clothing) and lau (women’s sarong) as a sign that the proposal is accepted. Followed by a visit from the bride’s uncle to the family of the groom to discuss the number and form of dowry, bringing along the necessary gifts.

When the number and form of dowry have been agreed upon, the bridegroom’s family will send back some jewelry and horses as a sign of marriage. More visits are carried out with the exchange goods until it is time for the bridegroom’s family to come to pick up the bride, which can only be done after the bride’s family is satisfied with the gifts that have been brought. The bride will be delivered together with various gifts and baskets containing a number of the beautiful weave to her new home to live with her in-laws. The bride will also be taken around the village and a festive party will last for several days.

There is also an interesting thing that is the bride’s personal maid usually replaces the bride’s place during the celebration, wears beautiful literature and jewelry, and is covered with a thick hat and veil. This was replaced by his sister or cousin, so the bride was free to enjoy various activities.

Short Movie about Marriage in Sumba

Traditional Sumba Funeral

Likewise, the traditional funeral arrangements which also take a long time to complete, especially the funeral for the king. All relatives must be notified in accordance with applicable procedures, negotiations carried out to determine what is needed for burial purposes appropriate for the deceased, who have not been considered dead until all customary ceremonies have been carried out, and all are prepared for the event. Funeral costs are enormous while displaying wealth is important to the good name of the family and the honor of the deceased.

Similar to marriage, Sumba literature has a very high value, where the literature will be given to the bereaved family to wrap the body and will be circulated again, in accordance with existing customary rules. The interesting thing is that it is said that a late ruler who had a fairly good reputation, wrapped around 100 weaving literature provided by his family, his wife’s family, the family of his son-in-law and other relatives. Residents who come also represent certain family groups. They wore the best literature and were welcomed with betel nuts and loud announcements about the names of their clans. The chanting of the sacred song is sung by professionals, families who visit to mourn, walk into the courtyard, with men in front and followed by women. All stood up straight and walked firmly towards the building where the deceased was buried. Here the host will welcome and receive gifts that are submitted and recorded in a special book under the supervision of several people. The men turn to the side, while the women will walk to the deepest place of the building to mourn.

In modern times marriages and funerals have been modified, especially with the inclusion of Christianity or Islam in marriage. The number of valuables exchanged has decreased at various stages, the number of animals requested and slaughtered at wedding ceremonies or burials have also been greatly reduced, while bricks and cement have also been used to build graves. The huge stone is no longer being dragged from the hill to the burial site because it could endanger the lives of hundreds of men who work together to drag the stone.


Sumba Textile or Sumba Ikat Weaving with various motifs from flora and fauna has become inseparable from the daily life of the people on Sumba Island. Diverse motifs and colors have their own meanings and can be used to find out which area the fabric is made from. Is it in Kaliuda Village, East Sumba? Is the ikat cloth from Waitabar, West Sumba? Please subscribe to the Kaliuda Gallery Bali Blog so you don’t miss the next article “Pasola and Sumba Ikat Fabric Production”.
If you are interested in Wastra Sumba, you can also see several collections of Sumba Ikat Woven Fabrics at Kaliuda Gallery Bali.

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