Indonesia, South Sumatra
Late 19th century
A tampan is a small, rectangular cloth used in areas of Southern
Sumatra in Indonesia. For many, these textiles are more commonly known
as ship cloths because of the ship motif typically used in the design.
These cloths were used in transitional ceremonies, such as weddings, births,
and funerals; the ship is said to signify transition and act as security
during these transitory times. Depending on what was called for by the
specific occasion, food or gifts would be wrapped in these cloths. At
the time they were woven tampan were given as gifts. However, because
tampan are no longer being made, they are now returned to their
owner after use in a ceremony. Tampan are now passed down through
families, however, their significance lies not in their inheritance but
rather in the relationships formed and represented as they move throughout
the group during rituals.
Tampan have similar colors and compositions which are dictated by
a bilateral symmetry in both the individual design and the overall layout.
This particular tampan has a stylized tree-of-life motif, with
human figures on the branches, that rests in the ship at the bottom of
The Textile Museum 1986.17.1
In Memory of Louise and Theodore R. Cooley
Gittinger, Mattiebelle Stimson. "A Study of the Ship Cloths of South
Sumatra: Their Design and Usage." Doctoral dissertation, Columbia
© 2004 THE TEXTILE MUSEUM
Each month we will highlight a different textile from
the Museum's collection.