IBAN TRADITIONAL CLOTHING AND ATTIRE
SIRAT : THE FORGOTTEN IBAN ATTIRE
The loincloths was once of the most basic markers of cultural identity, is now distinctively ignored among modern Ibans. Even the so called expert such as the anthropologists give a word or two regarding it, then pass on to other matters. The writers on customs seems to forgot the topics altogether. For as the Dutchman Karl Martin said of the Sulawesi loincloth a hundred years ago, “once it’s on it’s hard to figure out how it got that way.” Some may thinks, a paper on the loincloth ought to be brief and cover only the essentials. Yet just as we wear clothes for more reasons than mere utility, and dress decorates as much as it hides, the subject of the loincloth furnishes an occasion for remarks on history, culture, and psychology. The reasons why it did not attracts any attention of the scholar, though the purpose of the loincloth is to cover the male genitals, it leaves the buttocks bare. Most peoples feel shame about all or part of the genitals; but it seems to be a peculiarly western trait to feel equal shame about the buttocks, probably from a fear of homosexuality, an anxiety which also seems to grow with civilization. Hence, westerners have always considered the loincloth an immodest garment. The loincloth is a garment of great antiquity, the original men’s clothing of most of the world, and particularly of the Malayo-Polynesian area, which includes the islands of the Pacific Ocean as far east as Hawaii and as far south as New Zealand, the Malay Archipelago and the Philippines, the Malay peninsula, the island of Madagascar to the west, and mainland places inhabited by such Dayak-like peoples as the Mnongs of Vietnam, the Mru of Bangladesh and the Nagas of Assam. On the continent west of India the loincloth is unknown. In Malaya, Java, Bali, and elsewhere, the loincloth was replaced by the skirtlike kain because of Hindu influence,while the sarong (a sewn tube of cloth) is an Islamic import. It is worth noting that in the Balinese wayang kulit, the most venerable character, Twalen, wears a loincloth and not a skirt. Twalen is both a funny rustic servant and one of the highest of gods, and it has been suggested that his character represents the pre-Hindu and animist “native” nature of the Balinese. How to use a ‘sirat’
Fig.1 How to tying a ‘sirat’
Take a strip of material about 10 inches wide and 10 to 12 feet long. Hold up one end in front with your left hand or chin. The distance it falls determines the length of the apron. Pass the rest of the material between your legs to the back and bring it up from back to front, from right to left around your waist (the other way if lefthanded). Wind it around your waist, and then, when you reach again to the back, double the material over and pass it under the cloth that comes between your legs, and pull on the loop thus formed until belt and pouch are sufficiently tight. There should be a little “tail” [iko sirat in Iban] in the back. The loincloth wound this way is quite secure and will not fall off even on a hard trek through the jungle. Simple enough. But as dress is an important medium for individuals as well as whole peoples to express their individual styles, the loincloth too has many variants which we must consider. The standard Borneo loincloth goes at least twice around the waist, and usually more, and the apron and tail will hang at least two thirds of the way down the thighs. The Borneo fashion is to cover a broad band of waist, including the navel, although in the past, men often liked to squeeze the cloth of the pouch and apron very narrow. While in the midst of some chore in which the apron and tail might be dirtied or caught, a man can tuck them into the waistband. Although Dayaks have been trading with other countries for thousands of years, barkcloth was certainly the original material for loincloths, as it was in Hawaii. Barkcloth was worn quite often in later times, even in the...
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