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Pua Kumbu 


This native woven cloth of the Iban of Sarawak, is no longer confined to use as wall-hangings and table cloth, they are now specially made for fashion and furnishings. In the past, Iban women used hand-spun cotton. But few grow and harvest their cotton or spin their own yarn now. Weavers use dyes made from roots, bark leaves and other vegetation. These natural dyes are closely guarded secrets and getting the right tones is a difficult skill that requires much experience. Dying often takes months and the cotton yarn is dyed many times to get the right shade. Traditional designs come from the Iban environment and universe. Most can be traced back to the ancient ‘Tree of Life’, a spiritual vision of the world filled with creatures of the rainforest.


The pua kumbu is created on a back-strap loom by interlacing parallel longitudinal threads called the warp with lateral threads called the weft. Weaving is both complicated and intricate in nature. It takes three months to complete a two by four feet piece. Iban weaving is known fir its fine hook and curl designs. Weaving skills are passed on through the generations.

Lately silk was introduced to the weavers, and creative fashion designers have turned the material into a variety of wearable art and lifestyle statements. Styled into dresses and shirts, the silk garments become one-of-a kind designer wear as each piece of woven textile is different. Silk pua kumbu make attractive shawls and wraps guaranteed to be conversation pieces at social gatherings. The latest innovation combines ikat and batik techniques resulting in batikat in the same way that the songket and ikat have become songkat. Today most weavers use chemical dyes to make commercial pieces for sale as souvenirs.


Besides conveying artistry, the pua kumbu is regarded as a status symbol in Iban society, a sign of material wealth, social rank and prestige. A young girl’s matrimonial worth and value is considerably increased if she possesses good weaving skills. The best pieces are given as dowry during betrothal ceremonies. They are treasured and only displayed publicly during weddings, births, illnesses and funerals. When Iban chiefs die, their corpses are surrounded by as many as 15 hanging pua kumbu.


Most renowned are the women of the Garie longhouse in Sungai Kain. Getting there involves flying from Kuching to Sibu, a three-hour boat ride to Kapit, a two hour upriver trip to Nanga Kain and another two-hour longboat journey to reach the destination.

Other places include the Pua Gallery at Fort Sylvia, Kapit and the Tun Jugah Pua Gallery in Kuching.




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