Sumba Warp Ikat Cloth


What is Sumba Warp Ikat Cloth?

Sumba Warp Ikat is a traditional way of making brightly patterned or large pictures on cloth with blue, red, white and dark purple colour combinations with natural dyes. The large hinggi is worn by men and the lau sarong by women during ceremonies and cloth is an important part of the bride-giving and burial ceremonies.

Creating Sumba Warp Ikat Cloth

Sumba warp ikat cloth is created in many steps, often by different artists. Quality cloth is made from cotton, tied with palm leaves to make the unique pattern, dyed with natural dyes and hand woven to create unique and eye catching pieces. Pure cotton thread is mostly purchased, but if you are lucky you may come across pieces made from hand spun cotton.

Kabukul – the cotton is wound into balls then placed on a loom. Three to six pieces of cloth can be tied and dyed together to make the symmetrical pieces needed for a man’s Hinggi . P1040753

Pamening –  1 day for pamening, leave it 3-4 days in the sun so the thread stretches

Karandi – divide the threads into bunches and tie – 1 day

Hondu – tie the threads with palm leaves to prevent the dye from entering – Hondu the middle part then pull it up to the top before tying the middle sections – 1 weekP1040756 (600x800)

Ngiling – soak the tied threads overnight in a dye made from fermented Indigo leaves to make the blue colour then dry in the sun for 2-3 days. Repeat this process 5-10 times depending on the strength of the colour required (total of 3-6 weeks)

Hondu mau – tie the threads that will be blue to exclude the red dye, and untie the parts of thread that will be red -2-3 days P1040750 (800x600)

Kawilu – Soak the threads in water infused with Candlenut and skin kulit dedap – pohon duri to prepare the threads for red dye, then dry in the sun for 1 week until 2 months until the sun bleaches the threads white.


Kombu – Dye the threads overnight in a red dye made from the roots of the Kombu (Morinda citrifolia) tree. Dry in the sun for 2-3 days. Repeat this process 2-3 times until a strong red colour is achieved.

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Katahu – take the palm leave ties off the threads – 1 day

Wallahu – separate the threads for the individual pieces of cloth

For each piece of cloth

Pameirang – arrange the threads for the right picture (P1040741 (800x600)

Karandi – tie the threads top and bottom to hold the pictures in place while weaving

Kawu – sprinkle water mixed with cornflour on the cloth so that the threads are easily separated and not easily broken.

Pawunang – thread a white thread between the front and back threads to hold the threads separate for weaving

Tinu – Weave the cloth, only the vertical threads are seen, the horizontal threads that hold the cloth together can be plain black.


Utu – Sew the two sides of the cloth together for a man’s hinggi

Kabakil – Weave a thin panel on the top and bottom of the cloth for a neat finish and to prevent the threads unravelling.

Puti – Twist the threads at the bottom and top of the cloth for a neat finish

Motifs and symbols in the Kambera Kingdom of East Sumba

 IMG_20170709_164016_004 Skull tree – Andung

The Andung is a skull tree that was formally among the burial stones in the middle of the village. The dead tree was used to hang the heads of enemies who were killed during tribal wars.

 P1040778 (600x800) Lobster – Kurang

The lobster is the symbol of eternity, we see that the lobster changes it’s skin but does not die, just has humans change their ‘skin’ when they die and become Marapu, the spirits of the ancestors who are worshipped in traditional culture

Crocodile – Wuya Rara (na ana wuya rara na ana kara wulang)

Crocodiles are the spirits of the ancestors embodied, they are the symbols of the kings family (Maramba). The pair of the crocodile is the turtle, both egg laying creatures they are an excellent example of the duality of the Sumbanese culture, things always have pairs. The crocodile also represents strength and courage, some of the qualities of a good king.

Turtle – Kara wulang

Turtles are the pairing of the crocodile, symbols of the king, they represent the other qualities of a good leader, patient, wise and when the turtle is rolled on his shell he needs help to stand up again, just as the King is reliant on his people

Sun and the moon – na ana lodu na ana wulang

During ceremonial discussions the kings family are never referred to by their names, one common reference is as the sons of the sun and daughters of the moon.

Chicken & ducks na ama manu, na ina rendi

The chicken and the duck are paired to represent the King’s people and at the next level are the pairing of the crocodile and the turtle. The Sumbanese saying is that the king is ‘the father of the chickens the mother of the ducklings’, this is the role of the king in looking after his people

Elephant – Gajah

Elephant tusks have a long history as a luxury item for jewellery and as such have been a prized addition to bride price, generally in the form of bracelets.

Horse – Ndjara

Sumbanese horses (Sandalwood or Timor ponies) are short sturdy work horses that hold a special place in the hearts of the Sumbanese people. Horses area prized part of the bride price (mixed with buffalo), for centuries they were the main form of transport and they are horse races (bareback). In early Dutch times the current airport was a straight horse racing track, while the current horse racing track near the village was a polo field. Horses were also a major export item from at least 1700.

Dragon – Mandu

Dragons in this form are found on ceramic plates of Chinese or Korean origin. There are records of Chinese traders going to Kupang as early as the 12th Century, where they sought sandalwood in particular. Sumba has a dark history where trade is concern, as late as the 1850’s the main exports from Sumba were horses and slaves.

 P1040777 (800x600) Lions – Singga (Wilhelmina)

The lions are the Netherlands emblem, found on the old coins that were currency during the Dutch colonisation of Indonesia. Sumbanese is not a written language, cloth is used to record experiences and stories for the future.

Deer – Ruha

The deer symbol represents proud people. Deer are also highly sought after game when hunting in the forest.

 P1040783 (800x600) Cockatoo – Kaka

The cockatoo is a symbol of democracy, much like the ceremonial discussions where everyone is given the opportunity to speak, a flock of cockatoos is rarely quiet always calling out to each other.

“Of the 4 places I stayed at in Sumba, this gives you the most authentic experience of living in a real village. The sunset is amazing from the terrace of the bungalow, meals are very nourishing, the village is known for it’s ikat (traditional weaving), has some impressive megalithic tombstones and is great to wander around. The room is simple but has everything you need, including a fridge, and coffee maker. The bathroom is a simple ‘mandi’ but clean.” Nathalie from Jakarta

Nathalie from Jakarta


“I visited Prailiu as a solo traveler interested in learning more about Sumba cloth and ikat weaving, and I got to experience all of that plus more. The hospitality and kindness of the the people is really beyond. As a weaver it was also fascinating to see how the ikats are made, right outside all of the houses. As you walk around, you’ll see women weaving at their doorsteps and children playing. It was also fun to learn about the traditional architecture, the history of the traditional villages like Praliu, and spiritual beliefs and rituals. I ended up spending an entire week there, and took some day trips from Waingapu/Prailiu. 

This is definitely a bit off the regular international tourist path, so those who are interested in that will love it. Nearby beaches were also spectacular, and nobody else was even around. I hope to be able to visit Sumba again!” – Sheena on TripAdvisor 

Sheena from New York