General: The warp ikat Hinggi from East Sumba, Lesser Sunda Islands, are some of the most beautiful and striking of tribal cloths. Worn principally by Sumba Island men from the elite and nobility as hip or more commonly shoulder cloths, they strongly reflect the male islanders concern for nature, ritual and the spirit world. Woven in combinations of natural red (hinggi kombu) and blue dyes on white or ecru, they carry a wide range of geometric, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic motifs arranged in horizontal bands, commonly three to eleven in number. The motifs are generally outlined in white or ecru. They are also woven with the upper part of the cloth being the mirror image of the lower so that when the cloth is hung over the shoulder the motifs appear the correct way up on both the front and rear. More unusually, they can also carry iconography taken from other sources such as old Chinese porcelain and Dutch coins. Woven in two vertical sections and stitched together, the central horizontal band generally carries motifs reflecting modification of the patola motif. Another major band is the hai (second above the fringe) which is often the widest and carries some of the most significant motifs of a particular cloth.
Criteria for identifying high quality hinggi include, firmly woven, use of hand spun cotton, precision of the images, complexity of pattern, saturated colour tones and tan over staining, Z stitching joining of the two panels, elaborate corded and ikat patterned fringes. The number and quality of cloths owned reflects wealth and status. They are given as gifts at weddings and worn on ritual and ceremonial ocaissions. They also serve as shrouds and grave goods.
Specific: This example is a complex and ornate form of the East Sumba Hinggi in red, dark rust red, indigo and ecru (unbleached natural cotton). Main design elements are lobsters, tree of life, cockrels, and opposed rampant lions (a design probably taken from old Dutch coins). Other elements include birds and snakes. The central area shows a fine patola. Each end carries a tightly woven banded selvedge (supplementary weft) with the warp fringes strongly twisted.
The subdued colours of this cloth suggest an early age. Brighter colours became more fashionable from the mid 20th century onwards. The rich and ornate patterning and symbolism also suggest that this cloth was worn by an individual of high rank.