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  • Fiadhira Rasyah

Understanding the Cultural Legacy of Sintang's Dayak Ikat

It is truly fascinating to delve into the world of the forgotten Ikat weaving fabric and its profound significance in the cultural and economic lives of the Dayak people in Sintang District, West Kalimantan. The woven fabric has undergone a remarkable transition—from being perceived as a mark of underdevelopment to becoming a crucial element in local branding and cultural pride for the Dayak community. The revival of traditional practices, such as ikat weaving, is often a result of a combination of factors, including community efforts, local government support, and a changing societal perspective. In Sintang, Dayak ikat weaving has not only regained importance in the cultural and social fabric but has also become a valuable asset in promoting the region's identity and attracting tourists.


This integral cultural artifact, originating from the Sintang regency, served as a historical conduit for ancestral communication, wisdom, and a medium that was traditionally used by the Dayak people to convey messages, advice, and the culture of the Dayak tribe to their descendants. The intricate motifs and narratives interwoven within the fabric played a pivotal role in this communicative function. Beyond its communicative purpose, Tenun Ikat Dayak also played a crucial role as attire during significant rituals and ceremonial practices, including bathing a child in the river, weddings, funerals, headhunting, and year-end celebrations like the harvesting festival.


The manufacturing process is, in fact, quite lengthy, beginning with planting cotton, spinning the threads, dyeing through an immersion process, preparing motifs, and finally, weaving. All these processes are done organically and manually. The weaving itself utilizes a loom made of wood and bamboo called "gedokan." To produce a piece of ikat-woven fabric, it generally takes about a month. The motifs draw inspiration from the surrounding environment of Sintang society, as will be elaborated on later. The classification of Dayak Sintang motifs demonstrates a categorical dichotomy, predominantly incorporating sacred motifs and archaic designs (tuai motif). The former encompasses symbolism such as the Rabing motif, which represents reptiles. In contrast, the latter category, represented by motifs like Merinjam and Ruit, denotes designs that have been practiced since antiquity and handed down through the Dayak ancestral lineages.


The Merinjam motif on the Tenun Ikat serves as a representative of the main three staple foods, each possessing power within their respective categories on Earth. Tebelian represents the king of all wood types; Uwi Segak symbolises all rattan plants; and Tengang roots stand for all root plants. On the other hand, the rust (spear) motif carries a profound message that embodies the symbol of strength and the bond between men and women, emphasising the interconnectedness of the genders. Additionally, the rust motif imparts a message of responsibility to men, urging them to work diligently outside the home to provide for their families. This intricate interplay of motifs in Dayak Sintang's ikat weaving reflects the rich cultural tapestry and the deep significance embedded in their traditional artistry.


Recently, economic commodities, tourism, and investment opportunities have been identified in this sector, alongside the responsibilities of the government and the private sector in crafting this new meaning and revival of Tenun Ikat Dayak. These functions accelerate the production and spread of meaning within our larger society, making it easier to adopt Tenun Ikat Dayak Sintang as a new way of life, particularly in terms of self-actualization and appreciation for Indonesian cultural heritage. Tenun Ikat Dayak Sintang is considered a cultural legacy of our diverse Nusantara that needs to be investigated and understood more thoroughly.


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