Toba Batak people
north Sumatra, Indonesia
19th-early 20th century
cotton, natural dyes
201.0 (h) x 119.0 (w) cm
Acquired through gift and purchase from the Collection of Robert J Holmgren and Anita E Spertus, New York 2000
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
The ulos ragidup [cloth with the pattern of life] is the most important gift from the bride’s family at marriage, and is also given by a couple to their daughters. As its owner’s soul cloth, it provides magical protection throughout life and in death becomes a shroud. During anxious times, particularly during pregnancy, a Toba Batak woman may consult a village shaman to read her cloth. If the prediction is dire the shaman, often a woman, may diagnose a new soul cloth in which the woman is wrapped to ward off malicious spirits.
Woven in black, red and white, ulos ragidup have schematic yet distinct male and female ends. Whether used to envelop the living or cover the dead, the orientation of the textile depends on the gender of the person it enfolds.