Between the Folds: Stories of Cloth, Lives, and Travels from Sumba. (Book Reviews: Social Anthropology)

Article excerpt

FORSHEE, JILL. Between the folds: stories of cloth, lives, and travels from Sumba. xiv, 265 pp., map, plates, illus., bibliogr. Honolulu: Univ. Hawaii Press, 2001. $52.00 (cloth), $23.95 (paper)

This engaging book seeks to explore 'moments of possibility' (p. 3) in the lives of East Sumbanese people working within an ever-changing Indonesian textile economy. Neither a technical study of weaving, nor a simple account of the impact of tourism per se, the book describes what happens to ideas about 'tradition' and 'culture' when locally produced cloth becomes an international commodity signalling 'primitive authenticity'. The resulting focus on gendered pathways of knowledge, power, and trade is a welcome addition to eastern Indonesian ethnography, which, as the author notes, has tended to focus on internal social organization.

Part One examines the 'fabricscapes' of Sumbanese life, introducing the expanding social contexts of cloth production and trade, and the history and meaning of various motifs. The discussion of the connection between mobility and gender is particularly significant since the contrast between immobile women, literally 'embodied by their looms' (p. 25), and mobile men is one that certain later individual biographies refute. Forshee also outlines the impact of European collecting on textile design, and the many 'laments of loss' (p. 46) that echo around cloth production.

Part Two describes three very different textile-producing villages, and a number of individuals involved in design, weaving, and trade. Forshee portrays the (often contradictory) personalities and concerns of these Sumbanese men and women with great sensitivity, so much so that certain of the key characters linger in the reader's mind long after the book has been finished. 'Luka' is an innovative designer and trader whose 'royal' presentation of himself to Westerners contrasts with the half-slave status that prevents him from finding a wife. 'Umbu Pan' is a textile trader whose personal style is an eclectic mix of Sumbanese scarves, jeans, and Nike running shoes. 'Ana Humba' is an unmarried noble woman whose travels to trade fabrics in the town allow her to pursue various clandestine romances. By contrast, her silent and reclusive sister 'Madai' appears as an immobile heirloom within her family's clan house, absorbed in her beautiful textiles, mockingly contemptuous of outsiders. Indeed, Madai's consistent r efusal to be photographed whilst weaving haunts the many illustrations of this beautifully produced book.

Although superficially appearing as simply a 'locations and cast' list (not helped by the somewhat abrupt chapter endings), Part Two of the book also contains a good deal of theoretical reflection. …