| Ritual cloth [pua sungkit]

Iban people
Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia

Ritual cloth [pua sungkit] 19th century
handspun cotton, natural dyes
210.0 (h) x 88.0 (w) cm
Purchased 1980
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 1980.1659


Among the most sacred and powerful textiles of the Iban are the rare pua sungkit that played a special role in the nexus between headhunting and weaving. At the return of a war party a spiritually mature woman held the special pua sungkit to receive the warrior’s trophy head and welcome it into the longhouse.

Many motifs relate explicitly to headhunting, a dangerous activity needing the assistance of a multitude of spirits. These include Bong Medang, the personification of the war boat, and Antu Rambun, an anthropomorphic form adopted by the spirits of the dead. Pua sungkit also depict images of the trophy heads themselves, in animated forms wailing above the longhouse fireplace, or being smoked above the hearth of another spirit, Antu Gerasi.

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