Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

Social Fabric: Circulating Pua Kumbu Textiles of the Indigenous Dayak Iban People in Sarawak, Malaysia

Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

Social Fabric: Circulating Pua Kumbu Textiles of the Indigenous Dayak Iban People in Sarawak, Malaysia

Article excerpt

Within Borneo, the indigenous Iban pua kumbu cloth, historically associated with headhunting, is steeped in spirituality and mythology. The cloth, the female counterpart of headhunting, was known as women's war (Linggi 1999). The process of mordanting yarns in preparation for tying and dyeing was seen as a way of managing the spiritual realm (Heppell, Melak, and Usen 2006). It required of the "women warriors" psychological courage equivalent to the men when decapitating enemies. Headhunting is no longer a relevant cultural practice. However, the cloth that incited headhunting continues to be invested with significance in the modern world, albeit in the absence of its association with headhunting. This thesis uses the pua kumbu as a lens through which to explore the changing dynamics of social and economic life with regard to men's and women's roles in society, issues of identity and nationalism, people's relationship to their environment and the changing meanings and roles of the textiles themselves with global market forces. By addressing these issues I aim to capture the fluid expressions of new social dynamics using a pua kumbu in a very different way from previous studies. Using the scholarship grounded in art and material culture studies, and with particular reference to theories of "articulation" (Clifford 2001), "circulation" (Graburn and Glass 2004) and "art and agency" (Gell 1998, MacClancy 1997), I analyze how the Dayak Iban use the pua kumbu textiles to renegotiate their periphery position within the nation of Malaysia (and within the bumiputera indigenous group) and to access more enabling social and economic opportunities. …

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