Kalambi Bard's Long Jacket

Iban Dayak, Borneo

Cotton, trade cloth; ikat, appliqué

19th/very early 20th Century

49 x 53.5 inches/124 x 314 cm

The vast majority of Iban jackets are waist length. Only the bard/shaman could traditionally wear a longer jacket like this, which was a sign of his or her high status. Among other designs, this kalambi displays what is known in art historical circles as the "radiating core motif" composed of what appears to be a pair of horned Cyclops meeting head on. Though often called a patola motif, it is more likely an example of pre-Hindu iconography, which no doubt served as a talismanic device.

Robyn Maxwell informs us the word kalambi is first known from ancient Hindu texts from Java, a people who live more than a thousand miles away from the Iban and were separated by a great sea, yet they share the same word for jacket. Early trade is the probable vehicle for that commonality. Speaking of which, the colorful British trade cloth used on this jacket’s borders was a way of showing off the wearers wealth by having this exotic foreign material used as a prestige decoration.