Sacred textile (mawa') with fish pond and leafy plants

possibly early 20th century

Dallas Museum of Art

Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas, United States

The word mawa’ (or maa’) designates a category of textiles that the Sa’dan Toraja consider sacred. Usually wide and rectangular in shape, a mawa’ may be imported patterned cloth from India or the stamped and painted style that was once locally made. Regardless of the type, mawa’ were thought to have extraordinary powers, such as the ability to bless people and their animals and plants. The sacred textiles, which were often given personal names, were stored in baskets or wooden chests in the southwestern part of the traditional house, an area associated with the ancestors.

The triangular brown leaves on this mawa’ represent the dongka dongka plant. Uncultivated and inedible, this plant grows only on well-watered land and is a sign of an extremely fertile rice field. Metaphorically, the plant can be interpreted as a cosmic tree, whose roots spread protectively above a tiny version of the traditional Toraja house at the lower edge. Crosses, a symbol of abundance, suggest the fins of the kiru kiru fish, which hides among the leaves and underwater tendrils of the plant. At the center is a fish pond, a traditional feature of irrigated rice fields. A small human figure holds a bamboo rap in one hand and a fish in the other. Ducks circle the pond ready to glean the last grains of rice.


  • Title: Sacred textile (mawa') with fish pond and leafy plants
  • Date Created: possibly early 20th century
  • Physical Dimensions: Overall: 133 x 29 5/8 in. (3 m 37.821 x 75.26 cm)
  • Type: Textiles
  • External Link: https://www.dma.org/object/artwork/3261364/
  • Medium: Commercial cotton, stamped and painted
  • culture: Sa'dan Toraja people
  • Credit Line: Dallas Museum of Art, the Steven G. Alpert Collection of Indonesian Textiles, gift of The Eugene McDermott Foundation

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