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Woven Power: Ritual Textiles of Sarawak and West Kalimantan.

John G. Kreifeldt, 2016, Woven Power: Ritual Textiles of Sarawak and West Kalimantan. Worcester, Massachusetts: College of the Holy Cross. 160 pp., maps, over 60 colour plates, ISBN 978-0-9616183-6-0.

Just three years after the publication in 2013 of Heribert Amann's Textiles from Borneo, this exhibition catalogue is another, ostensibly very similar, book-both are large size (Super Royal 4to--or roughly 34 x 26 cm), glossy, coffee table editions and they both are by authors show-casing their private collections, accumulated over a number of years. This, however, is where the similarities end. (1)

In 2013 I referred to Amann's "stunningly beautiful book," and accorded the "highest praise" for its "minimalist" and "elegant" overall concept and layout. (2) One cannot fault Kreifeldt's concept as such, but, compared to Amann's, it seems pedestrian, dull and uninspired. This is apparent at first glance when comparing the striking graphics of Amann's dust jacket with the visually puny stick figures of Kreifeldt's cover.

Comparing the quality of the collections yields a similar result. I judged Amann's to be an "eclectic" collection, including a good half dozen of exceptional textiles: the Mualang skirt cloth featured on the cover is a marvel of aesthetic elegance and restraint and, to give just one more example, the magnificent "mythical tiger" pua cloth which was featured in the Fowler museum exhibition of 1996 (both these textiles are now in the Yale University Art Gallery collection). (3) Nor does Amann shy away from including examples that are of mainly ethnographic interest, such as his groupings of jackets, loincloths, pua belantan and kain buri, all of which make an important visual contribution to Iban textile history. Kreifeldt's collection, by contrast, is of good, neat and tidy quality pieces, but lacking highlights that leave one breathless.

And what of the collectors? Amann gives a heart-felt account of travelling upriver by longboat and staying in Iban longhouses on remote Katibas tributaries, which evidently made a deep impression on him and informed his passion for Iban textiles. Kreifeldt has no such tales to tell. When I met him for lunch at the Hilton hotel in Kuching in 2005, it emerged he had not visited any Iban areas and had not even been to Kapit (easily accessible by express boat), and that he had no intention of doing so in the future.

The most important difference between these two books, however, concerns the information provided about the textiles on view. Amann's chosen style, again, is minimalist. Captions to each textile are placed unobtrusively, providing only basic data to each cloth, and letting the textiles speak for themselves. For additional information Amann gives way to the textile curator and the conservator at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Cologne.

Not so Kreifeldt. Each textile is accompanied by a full page of text that indiscriminately refers to the full gamut of source material: academic papers, popular accounts and online blogs--all are given a voice, with a distinct preference for the exotic. But the most dominant voice by far is that of Kreifeldt, himself, who adds reams of his own interpretations, presumably derived from his "conversations with each piece," as stated in the Preface (p. 10).

Given Kreifeldt's complete lack of field experience, this is unmitigated armchair theorizing. And this almost a hundred years after Malinowski did away with earlier "armchair anthropologists" and stipulated the absolute necessity of fieldwork, or "participant observation," which means actually living with the people under study, learning their language, and taking part in their everyday life for an extended period of a year or more. I see no point in engaging critically with Kreifeldt's text except to dismiss it as just a little sense mixed with a lot of nonsense, which is a dangerous combination especially for the uninformed reader who is in no position to distinguish between ethnographic fact and fanciful musings. Instead I want to point out factual inaccuracies, which show Kreifeldt's inability to comprehend, process and work with source material in a responsible manner.

For example, in his Introduction (p. 16), Kreifeldt writes that the descriptor, Iban, "derives from the Kayan word 'hivan' meaning 'wanderer'" apparently unaware that this derivation has since been queried and largely dismissed in the literature. (4) Secondly, he writes, "The Iban and the Ibanics are among the many different Dayak peoples of Borneo," apparently unaware of the opposition Hudson's linguistic term "Ibanic" has engendered among Borneo scholars. (5) In addition, Kreifeldt misunderstands Hudson's intended meaning of "Ibanic," which includes the Iban, (6) but instead uses the term to refer exclusively to Iban-related groups in Kalimantan. He further compounds his error by turning the adjective, "Ibanic," into a noun, referring to "the Ibanics" throughout. One wonders what the variously named. Iban-related minority groups in Kalimantan-who have great pride in their linguistic and historical differences-would make of being referred to by such an ostensibly derogatory term, which positions them as a kind of derivative of the numerically dominant Iban across the border in Sarawak. All of these issues were discussed in detail in my paper (Gavin 2012), which is cited by Kreifeldt (p. 19).

There also are problems with Kreifeldt's map (p. 14). The map symbol for towns is the usual solid circle, here used for the capital Kuching, and the market towns of Kanowit and Kapit in Sarawak, and for Sintang in Kalimantan. The same symbol, however, is used for Mualang, Kantu [sic] and Desa, which are not towns, but the names of ethnic groups. These groups live in small hamlets and villages dispersed over a wide area. The Kantu' in particular are scattered in the general Ketungau river catchment area, and along the Kapuas all the way to Puttussibau, a distance of some 160 miles. Finally, "Ketungau" also appears as a town symbol, but is the name of a river. (7)

To conclude, this is a lavishly presented but, over-all, unexciting private collection of Borneo textiles, especially when compared to Heribert Amann's 2013 publication. My main criticism is that Kreifeldt's text spreads misinformation and, with regard to Iban textiles, we have plenty of that already. The book will only become available after its sister publication, authored by Susan Rodgers of The College of the Holy Cross, is print-ready, forecast for early 2019. I look forward to comparing the two.


Amann, Heribert

2013 Textiles from Borneo: Iban Kantu Ketungau and Mualang Peoples: Collected by Heribert Amann. Milan: 5 Continents Editions.

Dove, Michael R.

1988 The Ecology of Intoxication among the Kantu' of West Kalimantan. In: Dove, Michael, ed., The Real and Imagined Role of Culture in Development: Case Studies from Indonesia, pp 139-182. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Gavin, Traude

2012 Iban, Ibanic, and Ketungau. Borneo Research Bulletin 43: 98-113.

2013 Review of Textiles from Borneo: Iban Kantu Ketungau and Mualang Peoples: Collected by Heribert Amann by Heribert Amann (2013). Milan: 5 Continents Editions. Borneo Research Bulletin 44: 325-329.

Hudson, A.B.

1970 A Note on Selako: Malayic Dayak and Land Dayak Languages in Western Borneo. Sarawak Museum Journal 18(36-37): 301-318.

King, Victor T.

1979 Ethnic Classification and Ethnic Relations: A Borneo Case Study. Occasional Paper No. 2. University of Hull: Centre for South-East Asian Studies.

1976 The Peoples of the Middle and Upper Kapuas: Possible Research Projects in West Kalimantan. Borneo Research Bulletin 8: 87-105.

1989 What's in a Name? Ethnicity and the Problem it poses for Anthropologists. Sarawak Museum Journal 40: 235-45.

Maxwell, Allen R.

2001 "Sea Dayak" and "Iban": The History of two Ethnonyms. Sarawak Museum Journal 77: 213-234.

Sather, Clifford

2004 Iban. In: Ooi Keat Gin (ed.) Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia from Angkor Wat to East Timor, Vol II, pp 623-6. 3 Vols. Santa Barbara/Oxford: ABC-Clio.

Wadley, Reed

2000 Reconsidering an Ethnic Label in Borneo: The Maloh of West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land-en Volkenkunde 156: 83-101.

(Traude Gavin, Independent Researcher, U.K.)
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Author:Gavin, Traude
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Date:Jan 1, 2018
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