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.


The most sacred ceremonial cloth of the Lio on the island of Flores in eastern Indonesia is an heirloom called lawo butu, a tubular skirt or sarong traditionally worn by high-ranking women at the most important fertility ceremony. This beaded sarong is only found in one of the main cultural centres of the Lio, the weaving village of Nggela on the south coast of Central Flores, a village of almost 1300 inhabitants. Until Indonesian independence in 1945 this village was more stratified by a rank system of nobles (ata ria), commoners (anafai walu) and slaves (ata ko'o) than other Lio villages (Prior 1988: 62). Of the more than thirty types of the local cloth system only the lawo butu cloth belongs to the category of heirloom or inalienable possessions in the sense of the anthropologist Annette Weiner (1992)1 - cloths that should be kept and cherished. The other cloth types belong to the category of alienable possessions. They may be given in ritual exchange or sold (see de Jong 1994, 1995, n.d.).

There exist a few other types of beaded cloths on Flores, all heirloom property (see Maxwell 1983: fig. 1,2, Maxwell 1990: fig. 200-203, Khan Majlis 1991: fig. 163, Orinbao 1992: 129, 181-183, Hamilton 1994: fig. 2-16, 4-4, 5-14). The motifs of the Lio lawo butu have some resemblance to those on the beaded sarongs of the Sikka and the Ngada people, but the context of its production and its ceremonial function seem to have been different, at least as far as the Ngada lawo butu is concerned (see Hamilton 1994: 108-109). While the lawo butu of the Lio has figuratively been represented in publications on Indonesian and Southeast Asian textiles, there has been little information on the social significance and the ritual use of this cloth (see for example Khan Majlis 1991: 191).