Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Sacred and Ceremonial Textiles: Proceedings of the Fifth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Chicago, Illinois, 1996. (Minneapolis, 1997).


Copyright 1996 by the author.


In conjunction with the exhibition of Iban ritual textiles I curated at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History in Los Angeles in 1996, I gave a number of lectures based on my field research. The present paper will address some of the questions that were raised by the audience in Los Angeles. All these question are characteristic of the manner in which members of a Western, literate society tend to approach Iban cloth patterns.

This paper is divided into several parts. I begin with a brief background on the Iban people and on the ritual and social function of Iban textiles. This is followed by a condensed account of the two main categories of pattern names used by Iban weavers. The last part is devoted to common Western preconceptions regarding Iban cloth patterns; why we have them, and why we are so reluctant to let them go.