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Date: c. 1900
Medium:Cotton and metal-wrapped cotton yarn
Geographic Location: Indonesia
Dimensions: Overall: 24 1/4 x 95 3/4 in. (61.595 cm x 2 m 43.21 cm)
Credit Line: Dallas Museum of Art, the Steven G. Alpert Collection of Indonesian Textiles, gift of The Eugene McDermott Foundation
Object Number: 1983.79

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The symbols on this palepai [pah-LEE-peye], or Lampung ceremonial hanging, emphasize the important role of ancestors during rituals. The ship in the center suggests the passage of the human spirit through critical life milestones such as birth, marriage, the attainment of rank, or death. Trees on either side of the ship symbolically connect the physical and spiritual worlds, while birds represent messengers between heaven and earth.

 
This palepai was woven with cotton and metal-wrapped cotton yarn imported by Arab or Indian traders. Wall hangings like this were prominently displayed during rituals associated with titled members of the Lampung aristocracy such as naming ceremonies, weddings, or funerals.
 

 

 
Symbolism
 
Though the ship at the center of this textile is frequently called the “Ship of the Dead,” its symbolic importance in Lampung culture is much more complex than this title implies. Among the Lampung peoples, ships symbolize transition or movement through key passages in life such as naming ceremonies, weddings, and funerals. Because of their symbolic importance, ships often figure prominently in Lampung wall hangings.
 
Other symbols on this palepai [pah-LEE-peye] suggest a connection between the living and their ancestors. Birds, shown throughout the hanging, are viewed as messengers of the afterlife, and the trees on either side of the palepai are believed to connect the underworld, world, and upperworld through their roots, trunk, and branches.
 
Lampung Textiles
 
The tradition of weaving in the Lampung region of Indonesia is rich and significant. Wall-hangings like this palepai were used exclusively by wealthy and titled Lampung families to reflect, through their imagery, deeply-held common cultural beliefs. On occasions when several palepai were hung together, their position, relative to one another, would indicate their owners’ respective ranks and social relationships.
 
Lampung textiles were exclusively made by females of the society. The high position of female Lampung weavers is often compared with male warriors of the Lampung people. This palepai is woven with cotton and metal-wrapped cotton yarn imported by Indian or Arab traders. 
 
The tradition of Lampung weaving has been largely eclipsed with the growing influence of Islam in Indonesia.
 
Indonesia
 
Made up of 17,000 islands (most of which are uninhabited), Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago. For over 2000 years, Indonesia’s islands have been important centers for trade and commerce. Some of the earliest traders to visit Indonesia were from Vietnam and India. Muslim traders first entered the region during the sixteenth century followed by the first Dutch and Spanish trading missions in the final decade of the sixteenth century. By the nineteenth century, Indonesia became a Dutch colony when the Muslims and Portuguese were ousted from their trading centers in Southeast Asia. After World War II, Indonesia gained its independence.
 
Though there are over three-hundred different ethnic groups in Indonesia, today nearly ninety percent of Indonesians are Muslims. Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and animism (the belief that everything lives and has a soul) are also practiced by the Indonesian peoples. Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world.
 
This Ceremonial hanging (palepai) comes from Sumatra, the largest island entirely in Indonesia. High volcanic mountains covered with lush tropical rain forests make up a large part of Sumatra’s landscape. Recently, however, many of these rainforests have disappeared as the population of Sumatra has grown and become urbanized.
 
Indonesia-southern-sumatra-2011

 

Encouraging Dialogue

Making Connections

 
Encouraging Dialogue
 
1. Look at the overall composition of the textile. List what you see. How is the importance of the ship emphasized?
 
2. Sketch a few of the patterns and motifs that you see on this palepai. Where do they occur and what patterns are repeated?
 
3. Palepai were used during important life ceremonies. Consider important transitions in your own life, as well as your friends and family (weddings, baptisms, graduation, funerals). What important objects are used at these ceremonies and what is their purpose?
 
4. Weaving, to the people of the Lampung province of Indonesia, was exclusively in the domain of women while men were hunters and warriors. What do you think of as “men’s” work and what do you consider “women’s” work? Are these categories important? Where do ideas about women’s work and men’s work originate and what do these ideas mean to you?
 
Making Connections
 
1. Compare the patterns on this Ceremonial hanging with the patterns on the Ndebele Cape (linaga). Consider also the materials used by the makers and the function of each textile.
 
2. This palepai relates to rituals that surrounded important events in people’s lives. Important events in human life can be birth, entering adulthood, marriage, gaining recognition in one's community, and death. What have been important events in your life? How were these important events celebrated? Make drawings of the events that have been important to you. Discuss how works of art can be an important way of marking these times.
 
3. Birds, on this palepai, symbolize messengers between earth and heaven. Consider what animals have symbolic meaning to you and give a brief presentation discussing your chosen animal and its significance.
 
4. Throughout this palepai, there are multiple occurrences of symmetry. Find as many examples of symmetry as you can. Notice how, in some of them, there are small differences on either side of the bisecting line. Create your own symmetrical work of art, rich with patterns and motifs. Feel free to include small differences to highlight some aspect of the image.
 
5. Many of us may never get to visit Indonesia in our lifetime. Make a class list about what you know about Indonesia. Then begin a class research project to learn more. Make travel brochures for each of the major islands. Include a drawing of a work of art that comes from Indonesia and consider the following topics in your brochure:
 
     ·What time is it in Indonesia compared to where you are?
     ·What are the landscape and weather like?
     ·What major cities should you visit?
     ·How long does it take to get there?
     ·What kind of money is used there?
     ·What are some important natural and cultural sights to see?
  

 

Books

 
Books
 
Reference Books:
 
Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection. Dallas, 1997.
 
Selections from the Steven G. Alpert Collection of Indonesian Textiles: Gift of the McDermott Foundation. Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1984.
 
Fischer, Joseph. Threads of Tradition: Textiles of Indonesia and Sarawak. Oakland: University of California, Berkeley, 1979.
 
Gittinger, Mattiebelle. Splendid Symbols: Textiles and Tradition in Indonesia. Washington D.C.: The Textile Museum, 1979.
 
Kahlenberg, Mary Hunt. Textile Traditions in Indonesia. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1977.
 
Books for Students:
 
Burton, Tristan. Indonesia (Countries of the World). New York: Facts on File, 2006.
 
Lim, Robin. A Ticket to Indonesia. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, Inc., 2001.
 
Suyenaga, Joan. Martowiredjo, Salim. Indonesian Children’s Favorite Stories. Periplus Edition, 2005.
 
Websites
 
This timeline offers a brief history of art in Oceania.
 
This guide discusses the history of Indonesia with a special focus on its recent history.
 
This book, freely available online, is a history of Sumatra written in 1811 by English traveler William Marsden.
 
Map
 
Indonesia-southern-sumatra-2011

  

  

Many works of art seen in museums have a religious or ceremonial significance that may not be readily apparent or easily understood.  Because many of the beliefs, values, and traditions associated with these objects are complex or unfamiliar, teaching about these objects can be challenging.  In a diverse and global world, it is important to maintain a high level of cultural sensitivity in the classroom and to promote cultural literacy.  Presented here are several guidelines for teaching about the beliefs, values, and traditions related to these works of art in a sensitive and respectful manner.

 

  1. Consider the Museum Setting

Remember that these objects were not originally intended to be displayed in museums and many served utilitarian as well as aesthetic functions.  Some objects were never meant to be preserved and others were only supposed to be seen by a small, elite group within the source culture.  These issues make it all the more important for educators to provide relevant contextual information surrounding these objects.  Older students can consider the ethical implications of the placement of these objects in museums, from the colonial expansions that encouraged their acquisition to the educational benefits of publicly accessible art.

 

  1. Provide Context and Narrative

When discussing works that carry a religious or ceremonial significance, it is important to consider the original context in which the object would have been used.  Where appropriate, emphasize that many of the ceremonies and religions studied are living traditions that are still practiced today.  Additionally, providing a narrative through contextual storytelling engages students in learning about a culture or religion different from their own in a nonthreatening way. 

 

Equally important to context is geography.  Emphasize the diversity of the continents and encourage students to remember that Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas are made up of many countries and cultures.  A great starting point is to locate where students live on a world map and then locate the country or region from which the artwork comes. 

 

  1. Use Inclusive Language

Use language that is inclusive, and avoid indicating your own cultural or religious biases.  By remaining neutral, all backgrounds can be respected and no one treated like an outsider.  Avoid setting up a dichotomy of “us” and “them” when discussing these cultures and arbitrary categories such as “western” and “non-western.”  Instead, be specific, and categorize the objects by country or religion.  Specificity steers students away from the trap of oversimplifying diverse continents such as Asia or Africa into homogenous regions that serve as the “other” of the “western” world.

 

  1. Carefully Select Vocabulary

When discussing works of art with cultural and religious significance, avoid terms that carry a derogatory tone or that have typically been used to disparagingly describe works of art from other cultures.  Avoiding loaded terms will discourage a value hierarchy between cultures and encourage both unbiased accuracy and sensitivity.  Examples include: idol, myth, tribe, artifact, fetish, primitive, non-western, etc.  This list is in no way exhaustive or without exception, and it is important to select words carefully when referring to various cultures or religions. 

Insensitive vocabulary is sometimes compounded by the fact that there may not be English equivalents for the names of religions, belief systems, or peoples from other cultures (i.e. many of the belief systems practiced by various peoples throughout Africa).

 

  1. Avoid Decontextualizing Activities

Remember that religious and ceremonial objects have a very specific purpose and their own cultural context.  Avoid the inclination to design open-ended, “make your own” exercises where the objects are directly appropriated and removed from their context.  (i.e. make your own Hindu god or African spirit)  Keep in mind how certain activities could be viewed as disrespectful or even blasphemous by peoples from the culture being studied. 

 

  1. Find Common Connections

Humans throughout time and all over the world share a fundamental unity of experiences that reflect common concerns, instincts, and desires.  We all seek to understand the world and our place within it.  Universal themes and commonalities may be found among diverse peoples.  Invite students to search for meaningful connections between the culture studied and his/her own.  While honoring a common human experience, also encourage students to embrace particular nuances and maintain the integrity of differences of each culture or religion.  Understanding both similarities and differences between cultures allows students to be more compassionate, culturally sensitive, and literate. 

 

  1. Consider the Study of Cultures

In the last century, scholarship regarding Asian and African cultures and their associated religions and practices has expanded immensely.  Information that was once scarce or obscure is now more accessible than ever and can provide greater understandings about the art and culture of these peoples. European and American art making and record keeping mostly emphasize the individual artist or artistic movement.  This may differ from standards in African and Asian cultures.  Consider the role art plays in various cultures, why makers may or may not be identified, how record keeping varies, and why some cultures emphasize certain aspects of objects and their history over others. 

 

FURTHER READING

 

Breuilly, Elizabeth, and Joanne O’Brien, Martin Palmer, Martin E. Marty. Religions of the World: The Illustrated Guide to Origins, Beliefs, Traditions, and Festivals. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2005.

 

Eck, Diana L. On Common Ground: World Religions in America. Columbia University Press, 2006. 

 

Mbiti, John. African Religion and Philosophy (African Writers), 2nd sub edition. Hinemann, 1992.

 

Nash, Robert. Teaching Adolescents Religious Literacy in a Post-9/11 World.  Information Age Publishing, 2009.

 

Prothero, Stephen.  God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter.  Harper One, 2010.

 

Prothero, Stephen.  Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know-- and Doesn’t.  San Francisco: Harper, 2007.

 

Ray, Benjamin. African Religions: Symbol, Ritual, and Community, 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2000.

 

Said, Edward.  Orientalism. Vintage Books, 1979.

 

“A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools”