In East Sumba’s gender-associated system of gift exchange, metal weapons and jewelry are considered male and textiles female. When a gift includes more than one textile, the complementary requirement is fulfilled by pairing the hinggi, the man’s hip cloth or mantle, with the lau, the woman’s tubular skirt or sarong. These two textiles—untailored garments made by seaming together rectangular cloths woven on a simple body-tension loom—are the standard forms of dress on Sumba, as they are (with different names) on many other islands.
Hinggi are woven and worn in pairs, one wrapped around the hips and the other draped across a shoulder. The primary means of patterning these textiles is the tedious process called ikat, which involves tying and dyeing the lengthwise (warp) yarns before weaving begins. Older examples such as this one are characterized by a broad center field with wide flanking borders. The schematic floral design of the center field was inspired by silk textiles woven in Gujarat, India, whose double ikat patterns required the tying and dyeing of both the warp and the weft yarns. Called patola, these cloths were traded throughout Indonesia, where they were treasured as sacred heirlooms.