Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



de Jong, Willemijn. “Cloth as Marriage Gifts: Change in Exchange among the Lio of Flores.” Contact, Crossover, Continuity: Proceedings of the Fourth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 22–24, 1994 (Los Angeles, CA: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1995), pp. 169–180.


Copyright © 1994 Willemijn de Jong


The exchange of gifts at life cycle ceremonies is one of the most important institutions in Lio society, as in many other societies in Oceania. The life cycle event of marriage and its exchange of gifts is often significant, because important sociopolitical alliances between kin groups are initiated or renewed. In these exchanges, cloth wealth may play a crucial role, especially in ranked societies. Weiner contends that in Samoa "each distribution [of fine mats] is an example of the negotiation and validation of rank and power." Gittinger has pointed out the economic and symbolic value of cloth gifts at marriage in Indonesia: "The most important use of textiles is as gifts. This importance comes both from their real value and from their symbolic value as the product of women." I shall investigate the points made by these authors concerning cloth gifts as well as the participation of cloth producers in the exchange of gifts at marriage in Lio society.

In the course of this century, the exchange of gifts at marriage has undergone amazing changes in Lio weaving villages in Central Flores. At the beginning of the more intensive Dutch colonial administration in Flores in about 1910, the highest ranking families in the weaving village of Nggela exchanged up to twenty pairs of traditional golden ear-drops (wea se kati) against three pieces of cloth at bridewealth ceremonies. About 1950, shortly after independence, a maximum of five pairs of ear-drops were bestowed against six pieces of cloth. Today a maximum of three pairs of golden ear-drops (ome mbulu se tenga and ome mbulu rua se tenga) are bestowed as bridewealth prestation, but about fifty, in exceptional cases up to one hundred, pieces of cloth as counterprestation. Gold jewelry and cloth are the most outstanding prestige goods in this society. Whereas gold jewelry as a so-called male gift, given by the family of the bridegroom, has obviously forfeited its former importance, at least quantitatively, cloth as a female gift, given by the family of the bride, has become more prominent. At the end of the 1930s, new rituals were even being created for the public display of cloth wealth, one at the bridewealth ceremony (tolo nata) and one at the wedding (tole towa). The questions I wish to tackle in this paper are: How does gift exchange at marriage work? Why has cloth wealth as marriage prestation increased, whereas gold jewelry has decreased? And what consequences does it have for women as cloth producers? Before embarking on these questions I shall outline the main characteristics of Lio society and the significance of cloth wealth.