Textile of the Month

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.

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 design.

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 University, 1972.


Each month we will highlight a different textile from the Museum's collection.