The Lampung Wedding Dress of Sumatra

Tulangbawang, in the present day Lmapung province on the southern extremity of Sumatra, was recorded by the Chinese as being a dependency of the Sumatran kingdom of Sriwijaya in the 7th century. Sriwijaya --the leading maritime power of Southeast Asia from the 6th to 12th centuries-- was noted around Asia as a center of Buddhist learning. It seems that the Buddhist 'lotus' merged with the 'ship' motif to form an important part of Lampung iconography, one that persists till today.

The wedding ceremony is the single most important event in Lampung traditional life. It not only acts to forge new ties and strengthen old bonds between families and villages; it is also the means by which 'creation' is effected, manifested most directly in the birth of a child.

During the core rituals of the Tulangbawang wedding ceremony, the bride sits on a pile of ship-decorated cloths, in front of a huge ship-decorated wall covering, wearing a massive gold headdress that resembles a ship filled with lotus flowers, as she symbolically moves from one stage in the life cycle to another. The outline of the ship is replicated in the white lace collar that covers her shoulders.

The bride's long hair is drawn into a knot on the nape of her neck and covered in a veil of sweet-scented, white jasmine. Her dress consists of locally woven sarong covered in gold-thread couched embroidery, a fringe of gold coins on the bottom edge. Wrapped from armpits to ankles, the sarong is secured above the breasts with a plain gold belt. Over this the bride wears a sleeveless blouse of white silk belted at the waist with a wide red and gold belt.

Lampung couple in ceremonial dress
Thick white socks and gold wedge-heeled sandals cover her feet. Jewellery is important and always of gold: several finger rings, two or three pairs of wrist bracelets, another pair just below the elbows, armbands terminating in birds about to take flight, several necklaces, earpendants and a small gold or silver box filled with cloves attached to a handkerchief.

The Tulangbawang bridegroom wears a less spectacular gold crown that is also decorated with lotus motifs. He is clothed in white trousers and shirt, a knee-length sarong, and perhaps an heirloom hipcloth of East Indian print, a shoulder scarf, a gold belt, necklaces, bracelets and armbands that match his bride's. His feet are shod in black socks and shoes.

text and photo by Judi Achjadi

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