Men’s selimut

Priest Rue chanting while beating the drum

Fig. 1. Priest Rue of Mesara in a hip-cloth wohèpi, Lesser Blossom (hubi iki).

A long fringed rectangular cloth wrapped around the hips called hi´i (or hig’i ,hij’i, in Savunese) or selimut (Indonesian), is (or was) the obligatory attire for a man. Today, however, only the followers of the ancestral religion Jingi tiu wear the locally produced hi’i in ceremonies and rituals and sometimes also in everyday life. The large majority of Savunese men have opted either for the thin cool cotton of Javanese or Buginese sarongs or they wear trousers. A small weaving wrapped around the neck is their sole remaining ethnic marker. In this, women are more conservative than men, since many still wear sarongs of their own production, even in everyday life.

Characteristics of the hi’ i

On the other islands of NTT motifs on men’s cloths identify their wearer with a male clan, such as on nearby Sumba. On Savu, however, the composition and patterning of a woven cloth identify its wearer with the female moieties: the Greater Blossom and the Lesser Blossom groups (hubi ae and hubi iki). This social identification following the maternal line is very ancient. It predates the arrival of the Portuguese in the area (16th Century) and is anterior to the time when male clans (udu) were formed. Since women traditionally wove only the patterns of their own maternal group, a wife wove a selimut for her husband only if both were descendants of the same founding ancestress (i.e. if belonging to the same hubi or to one of its subgroups, wini). Otherwise a man has (had) his cloths woven by his mother, his sister(s) or sister’s daughters.

The primary pattern, wohèpi, and basic composition of the hi’i

The women sarongs (èi) have strict rules regarding composition and patterns and each hubi owns specific motifs. The same is true for the hi’i: each hubi has a basic motif for its men’s textiles. Originally, both motifs were based on a lozenge called wohèpi, reminding us of the diamond motif wokelaku of the female sarong.

Selimut hubi iki

Fig. 2. Hi’i wohèpi, hubi iki (Lesser Blossom). ↑ warp direction

 For members of the Lesser Blossom (hubi iki) the sides of the lozenge were closed, and the motif was labelled ‘round’ (Figs 1 & 2). For members of the Greater Blossom (hubi ae) the lozenge was more elongated and the branches divided by a line of plain weaving (Fig. 3). In the course of time a new motif derived from the basic wohèpi was created for hubi ae men, that was given the name boda, although in the districts of Liae and Dimu the wohèpi is still commonly seen on hubi ae men’s cloths. In West Savu, in the district of Seba, and especially in Mesara, men of hubi ae wear the new boda motif, often combined with other decorative patterns (Figs. 4-7).

Composition selimut

Fig. 3. Hi’i wohèpi, hubi ae; 17 bands (huri) of main motif wohèpi; symbolic seam in red. ↑ warp direction"





A hi’i showing the wohèpi motif combined with a cluster of white triangles (wopudi; Figs. 2 & 3), is the compulsory man’s shroud in East Savu, while in West Savu wohèpi funeral cloth is restricted to members of the hubi iki moiety. The wohèpi hegai motif is derived from the same pattern whose ends form a hook (hegai). It was restricted to nobility. New patterns were created for rulers, distinguishing themselves from the commoners. The same has been mentioned regarding the sarong (èi raja) of noble women. The belt, wai wake, of a noble man can as well show raja stripes.

The traditional hi’i is made of two unequal pieces of cloth (d’ue kene) and shows an odd number of ikatted bands of motifs or huri, odd numbers being a male characteristic in the Savunese system of thoughts. Depending on the size of the motif, the cloth may have from five to nineteen or even twenty-one bands of main motifs. The greater the number of huri, the higher the value of the cloth and the wealth or social status of its wearer. A large cloth, reaching to below the knees was also an additional prerogative of a nobleman. Nowadays hi’i may be woven as one piece. Thus they consist of one kene, the result of a single weaving process. They often show a symbolic seam in white or red (Fig. 3) so that they still can be used for funeral ceremonies and are generally smaller than the two-piece (d’ue kene) hi’i. The hi’i d’ue kene emphasises the weaver’s skill, since the halves are woven separately but must be of exactly the same length when completed.

The ‘black’ hi’i womèdi

The most traditional hi’i showing the wohèpi motif has only two colours in the ikatted bands of motifs, indigo-blue and white, so that it is also known as hi’i womèdi, or ‘black hip-cloth’ (Figs. 2 & 3). The indigo colour may vary from light blue to dark almost black depending on the area. Weavers are able to localise the origin of a cloth according to its shade of indigo-blue. The motifs are obtained through a single ikatting process.

On each side of the cloth two groups of small black and white dots, kelutu mèdi, combined with stripes of plain-woven stripes form the dini, while two dini bordering a band of main motif form the wurumada, the ‘delicate eyes’ of the piece. The dini shows two colours: indigo-blue and white or red and indigo-blue. It has three or six rows of kelutu in Seba, four or eight in Mesara, and five, six or even seven in Liae and Dimu. The black band along the wurumada is called mèdi ae. It is much larger than the ro’a in Seba, Liae and Dimu, but is of almost the same size in Mesara. These details allow identification of the origin of an hi’i. A certain number of hi’i combine red, white and indigo in the dini and may also have red stripes in the main motif. Nonetheless, they still belong to the hi’i womèdi category since the ikatted bands of motifs consist of indigo-blue and white only. Such cloths are commonly named after the main motif: hi’i wohèpi (Figs 2 & 3).

Hi’i with tri-coloured primary motif

Two selimut, worapi and womedi

Fig. 4. Two hip-cloths of the worapi type; motifs boda and kekama hab'a

Further developments in the ikat technique allowing three colours in one ikatted band led to the creation of ceremonial loin cloths of the worapi type (see left). This reminds of the female sarong (èi worapi) in which the same technique is used to achieve three colours. The dini of the hi’i worapi is colourful and contains plain threads of red, light blue, white and yellow pinstrips. Hi’i made for the nobility show a so-called ‘complete’ diniwith six to seven colours: one or two shades of blue, two shades of red, yellow and green besides the natural white shade of the cotton threads. In a number of societies of Indonesia the colours yellow and green were restricted to nobility.

Motif boda on hi'i worapi

Fig. 5. Motif boda on hi'i worapi

Nowadays pre-dyed commercial thread is used, whereas past practice was to use natural dyestuffs: yellow from turmeric, green from the leaves of the areca catechu and of the dedap tree (Indonesian; aj’u kare, Savunese), light blue from indigo and the two shades of red from mengkudu (Indonesian).

In Mesara district (Sabu Mehara), two subgroups or wini of the Lesser Blossom group (hubi iki) have as their identity marker a specific curving motif that is always depicted on their hi’i worapi.  For the wini Putenga, the motif is called huri kejanga or ‘branching motif’ while for the wini Jawu, the curving motif is called keware Hawu, ‘Savunese curves’. These motifs were the source for the modern motif kètu pedi which is not restricted to any group (Fig. 6).

Motif Kowa Makaha, 'Makassar boat'

Fig. 7. Motif kowa Makaha, 'Makassar boat', not restricted to any group

Motif ketu pedi

Fig. 6. Motif kètu pedi on hi'i worapi

The white hip-cloth, hi’i wopudi

There is a white rectangular weaving with fringe called hi’i wopudi or white hip-cloth, that men wear on different occasions. The use of the cloth varies from place to place on Savu and opinions differ on this matter. The colour white is generally associated with peaceful times. Photographs from Savunese noblemen and rulers taken during Dutch colonial times repeatedly show men wearing a white hip-cloth instead of the ikatted weaving of their moiety. Following the same association of ideas, it has to be noticed that a bridegroom may wear a white hip-cloth. The first hip-cloth a woman weaves for her husband is also white. Some men wear always a white hip-cloth for climbing the lontar palm tree and gathering its sap.

 In the district of Seba, there is a legend about a white hip-cloth which played a decisive role at the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th C. Bola Rohi, the elder brother of Kore Rohi, asked the latter about the attire he should wear to greet the Portuguese. Kore Rohi recommended that he wears hi’i wopudi, and Bola Rohi followed his advice. The path from his house in Namata to the beach was bordered with high grasses. Many people had already gone to the beach and the high grasses were stained with the spit of betel chewing. When Bola Rohi arrived at the beach his white hip-cloth had red stains so that the Portuguese did not identify him as the ruler and instead greeted his younger brother who wore a dark indigo hip-cloth. Kore Rohi became the first raja of Seba in Portuguese times.

Men wearing white hip-cloths and performing the ledo dance

Fig. 8. Men in white hip-cloths performing the ledo dance

This story justifies the saying that rulers wore white hip-cloths during official gathering at peaceful times. It also explains how Bola Rohi was supplanted by his younger brother.  The reality might be different since the Portuguese arrived first in Dimu. According to sources in Dimu, two local leaders, Lado Aga and Tenaga, were sent to Seba in order to bring a potential candidate to become the raja of Seba. Kore Rohi was related to the ruler of Dimu through marriage. Thus it is easy to understand why he was chosen instead of his stepbrother Bola Rohi. The choice was politically motivated by the will to maintain a close tie between the rulers of Seba and Dimu.

The fringe

Ordinary people wearing a hi’i worapi once had to cut away the white and yellow warp threads before twisting the rest of the warp end into a fringe; this is no longer the case. For a noble man or for a priest of the traditional religion, all warp ends were twisted in the fringe.

Twisting the fringe is a man’s work. After twisting two groups of warp ends, the ends are flattened with a knife. The two extremities are then put facing each other and with another twist of the fingers, a fringe is formed. The finished fringe is rubbed with wax to confer stiffness and strength. Skilled, patient men can produce a very fine fringe which increases the value of the piece. When produced solely for funerals, the fringe is not twisted for the simple reason that the cloth has never been worn during a man’s life time.

The man’s hip-cloth or hi’i possess specific features throughout Savu as to composition and motifs. The main division of the society into two female moieties is reflected in the woven cloths and remains the primary rule for identifying Savunese hi’i. While the main motif refer to the female moiety, tiny details like the number of rows of dotted motifs and their size as well as the shades of colours allow categorization of the area of origin of a selimut and thus the geographical identification of the man wearing it, and consequently of his clan. Identification’s markers of each group are more obvious on women’s sarongs than on men’s hip-cloths. In the former case, the main patterns can be recognised from a distance while in the latter case, the distinctions may consist of tiny blue and red lines dividing a motif and can be detected only on a closer look, or can be spotted by the trained eyes of a weaver.

Motifs boda and d'ula

Fig. 9. Motifs boda and d'ula