The technique of 'ikat' - literally: to link, to bind - is something that is done worldwide, but nowhere is the technique so refined as in Indonesia. The weaving of ikat is a very laborious and time-consuming process. You only have to watch the women weavers at work to realise that it takes months for one ikat to be completed. The weaving technique probably stems from ancient China.
Large warp ikats are produced in Kalumpang with striking geometrical patterns. The ikats, which come in various qualities and thickness, were used in funerary rites. The pori lonjong (long cloth) was hung on the walls of the death house, or used to make textile pathways along which, according to the ancient religion Aluk Todolo, the dead could reach heaven (Puya). The seko mandi, large square cloths, were mainly used as shrouds, but could be hung as a canopy over the corpse or combined with others to create a sheltered area for the funeral guests. In the period in which the deceased is considered "sick" (see: Funeral Ceremonies), the body is wrapped in a lot of ikats and other cloths. This period can last for several days or weeks up to a year, and the widow must sit in the death house by the corpse until the actual funeral is performed.
Ikat weaving centres
In Sulawesi there are two centres of ikat weaving: Rongkong and Kalumpang, both situated in the more isolated areas of Torajaland. The closest to Tana Toraja is Kalumpang, in West Toraja, north of Mamasa. Mostly, the ikats that are made in Kalumpang are sold and distributed to Central Sulawesi (to the North) and Malimbong (close to Sa'dan) to the South. However, ikats are also made in Toraja and you can see people weaving them in villages such as Sa'dan and Lemo. Most ikats that are offered for sale are new but just as beautiful as old ones.
In the past, the large ikat cloths were used in Tana Toraja as fines and to act as pledges of peace between feuding members of the upper casts. They were made exclusively from hand-spun cotton that was grown in home gardens and the dyeing-process could take many months. The traditional colours used in Toraja ikats are reddish brown, cream white and grayish dark blue. All of these colours were traditionally made from natural dye materials. The red colouring in ikats was derived from a mixture of morinda, dammar resin and chilies, and blue came from Indigo and torae grass mixed with ink fruit. The typical colouring of Toraja ikats is blue, black and white against an apricot background, and traditionally blue weft (horizontal) threads are used.
True display of colourful feathers, batik and ikats at a funeral ceremony in Toraja
The motifs in ikats generally represent ancestors or water buffaloes, but tend to be so abstract that the figurative can hardly be recognised. In general, the designs are dramatic arrows and triangles, alternating with zigzag motifs and the sekon (hook and rhomb), that represents a human figure, and is present in the majority of ikats. Toraja weavers tie a double thickness of warp threads to enhance the dramatic effects of the images.
Due to the anti-government rebellions in the 1950s, the weaving centres of Rongkong and Kalumpang showed considerably less activity in the following period. Today, these centres produce imitations of the traditional cloths for tourists, and are sold at various places in Tana Toraja. These new ikats are usually made from machine-spun cotton and can make stunning wall or floor decorations.