motif of the turtle appears on the textiles of Alor, Sumba and
On each of these islands the turtle is linked to the ancestor
stories and is still valued by the community today. The textiles
have particular functions in social, economic, religious and communal
life. The cloth carries the stories and is a mark of status and
identification passed down through generations. Motif, colour
and type of cloth indicate the position of the leaders and warriors,
priests and shaman, elders and youth, married and unmarried, the
male and female.
On Sumba the weavers learn to weave the turtle from an
early age. Mariana Matalu, a textile weaver from Pau
village explains the significance of the turtle to her community.
The turtle is such an important motif for us that we give it precedence.
It is the symbol of the Queen, of the female. The turtle is seen
as a symbol of wisdom and longevity. Turtles have their own special
traditions for us. At ceremony time when we participate in Sumbanese
dances, we must wear the turtle motif cloth.
Traditionally textiles were traded as part of economic
life and integral to ceremonies of marriage and death.
On Sumba, a dead king or noble person is always is wrapped in
Hinggi cloth covered in symbolic motifs of the upper, middle and
lower worlds. These depict the connections with the ancestors
and entry into the next world. Sumbanese society is dominated
by a belief in the presence of ancestral spirits who can influence,
for good or evil, every aspect of life. Mankind lives between
these two wolds and must maintain a harmonious position between
Inspiration for many designs is obtained through prayer,
reading magic formulae, meditating, fasting and retelling the
Ibu Vina tells of the connections between the moon and the weaving
of Alor. I like to weave. We used to weave in the old times
when we saw the full moon. At this time our forefathers went to
sea, they could see by the moon, they could sail everywhere, as
it was with the weaving… when they went to sea, they saw
lots of turtles. The turtles would come ashore, onto the sand;
we would watch them looking for a place to lay eggs then we would
begin to think about going sailing. Some wanted to plant crops,
and some to weave, like the images on this sarong, such as fish
or turtles. These sarongs are called ikat.
During the making of sacred cloth local customs or taboos
must be observed to ensure success.
On Sumba the men must never see the dying of red threads with
the plant Morinda citrifolia , also known as the Menkudu plant
and Kombu. Red is associated with the earth, women, blood and
fertility. Ibu Vina tells us If we wish to weave something
for our eldest child, in East Alor or Kolana, we don’t do
a normal weaving, we have to hold a big celebration and slaughter
a cow or a buffalo, to make a weaving for our first child, when
they are born.
In some regions weaving is said to be a gift from the
gods and a cloth may be given magic powers to heal or to predict
the coming seasons crops. On Palu'e Pak Anton warns that
the textiles with the turtle motif made by the Kima Laja people
must never leave the island - the design is the linked to the
ancestors and the island's ceremonies.