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Art-Pacific (Carolyn Leigh - Ron Perry): Guide to Artifacts

Lombok Island Baskets and Bowls from Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

[Coffee picking basket and a basket purse: 27k]

Lombok is the first island east of Bali, but it is quite different. The climate is drier and the channel between the two islands is deep. This puts Lombok on the east side of the Wallace Line which means that some of the plants and wildlife are related to those in Australia rather than Asia. Many of the native Sasak people practice Wektu Telu which combines aspects of Islam with Hindu-Buddhist beliefs. Other Sasaks practice Wektu Lima which is closer to orthodox Islam.

Figure 1: Utilitarian plaited baskets with wooden bases for coffee picking (left) and a purse (right).

Lombok was colonized, first by the Balinese and then by the Dutch. Many Balinese families still live on the island and they do some of the carving of the beautiful, curvilinear figures that decorate the baskets. Their family compounds are marked by the traditional Balinese Hindu shrines, daily offerings and the complex Balinese ceremonial cycle.

[Oval, rattan basket with carved wooden frog decoration on the lid: 21k]

Figure 2: Coiled rattan basket decorated with a frog.

There were few cupboards or cabinets in typical Lombok village houses, so baskets of all types and sizes were created and are still used for clothing and trinkets. During a wedding, Lontar Boxes are used to transport dowry textiles while ceremonial baskets are used to present cakes. Some baskets are used for everyday utilitarian purposes such as coffee picking. Baskets are very strong, light and portable. The necessary materials are available from the fields and the forest. They can be worked on whenever there is a bit of spare time.

Rattan (rotan), a wild palm vine, is often used for its durability. The tough, inner core of the vine is coiled to form the main superstructure of a basket, while the outer skin is peeled off in fine, flexible strips for weaving the covering coils of the basket together. Other baskets, for example the nested, stacking ones, are constructed of stained split bamboo and bark. Sometimes trade items such as beads and coins or some shell inlay are added.

[Basket with triangular designs of red and blue trade beads and small, split-bark basketry, lidded box: 11k]

Figure 3: Decorative, coiled basket with seed beads and small woven basket/box of split bamboo.

We bought our first Lombok baskets in the big city market at Cakranegara. The baskets there are inexpensive, but the quality is uneven. These baskets often get exported overseas, but they don't do justice to the true skill of Lombok basket makers. As we got to know the island and people better, we found better quality baskets. One of the first baskets I bought was a small, coiled rattan basket with an old Chinese coin attached to the lid. The Chinese and the Indonesians have traded for centuries and there are bits of Chinese culture all over the archipelago.

[Tightly coiled, older basket with Chinese coin attached to the lid: 5k]

Figure 4: Tiny, older basket with Chinese coin attached.

Baskets made for sale in the island markets are usually produced by extended family workshops. One family gathers, prepares and dyes the fibers. Another constructs the baskets. Still another does the carving of the decorative figures in wood. We sometimes sit under the shade of a thatch roof and talk to the men as they cut the end of the rattan to a sharp point, use a small awl to pierce the previous coil of the basket, then push the fiber through and draw it around the coil again and again. This process requires tough fingertips.

[Queen of the South Sea: 24k]

Figure 5: Basket made of split bamboo and bark. The Queen of the South Sea is the central figure in several different stories.

Many of the carved figures are the same as the ones found on the traditional betel nut crushers. There are birds like the rooster which symbolizes new life each dawn. All kinds of animals, fish and reptiles like the lizard which symbolizes agricultural fertility. Some figures are scenes from folktales with ribald humor and sexual connotations and combinations.

The Lombok carvers have a distinctive sinuous style. Often one animal merges into another or contains features from another creature. Some of the human figures crouch like frogs. Monkeys play gongs and drums. We watched one Balinese carver rough out an elephant. He held the raw block of wood with his feet. With his chisel and mallet, he carved a recognizable shape in only half an hour. Lathe-turned and hand-carved wooden bowls are also produced.

[Round wooden bowl with lid and painted red and green floral motifs: 6k]

Figure 6: Covered food serving bowl painted with a floral motif.

These bowls are also used as offering bowls during ceremonies. Some have lids and some don't. The foot is often much higher and the whole effect is more pedestal-like. They may be plain, painted or inlaid with geometric shell designs. Large, flat platters in these same styles are also produced.

[Round, ebony stained, bowl with lid: 6k]

Figure 7: Decorative wooden bowl inlaid with tiny triangles of shell and an old Chinese coin.

This beautiful, but labor intensive, inlaid shell technique is also used on larger pieces such as wooden chests (peti kecils) and even on doors. Each tiny area of the inlay is chipped into the wood surface and then individually filled with a matching piece of shell. The designs are usually geometric or floral, but we have also bought a few chests with large scale motifs of fish and boats.

[Round wooden bowl with lid, decorated with finely painted geometric lizard designs: 6k]

Figure 8: Decorative wooden bowl with painted lizard designs.

The best Lombok baskets are in demand by Indonesian collectors in fine shops in Bali and Jakarta, where their quality is appreciated. Sizes range from single, small rounded baskets with lids to sets of larger, nested ones that can be stacked for display. Some of the workshops and suppliers on Lombok are trying to maintain and improve the quality of this traditional handicraft which can reach the level of fine sculpture in the wood carved figures. Lombok baskets are exceptional examples of an artistic and utilitarian tradition combined in an evolving, dynamic craft.

[Oval, rattan basket with carved wooden rabbit-like decoration on the lid: 15k]

Figure 9: Coiled rattan basket decorated with a rabbit or bush rodent figure.

Baskets and other fiber products such as hats, are made all over Indonesia. Also see the article on Lontar Boxes in our Guide to Artifacts.

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Melanesian art TOC | Map of art areas of Melanesia
Papua New Guinea: Highlands: body art - Bundi tapa - jewelry/dancers | Karawari and Blackwater Rivers: masks - carvings - map | Massim: artifacts- Trobriand Kula - map | Kula canoe | New Britain: Baining - Sulka - Tolai dukduk | New Ireland: Malagan | Ramu River: masks - carvings - map | Sepik River: masks - carvings - villages - map | Papuan Gulf: masks - carvings - map - Gogodala - Kukukuku
other areas: Asmat | Solomon Islands: crafts - jewelry - map
art and craft:
barkcloth (tapa) | body art | cane and fiber figures | canoes and prows | jewelry/dancers | masks - Middle Sepik | phallocrypts | pottery - Chambri | shields | story boards | suspension hooks | weapons | yam masks - fiber | yam masks - wood

Indonesian art TOC | Dyak baby carriers and masks | furniture | Java folk art | Lombok baskets | Lombok lontar boxes | masks from Bali and Java | puppets

China: Bai textiles/art TOC | baby carriers | baby hats | woodblock prints

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Artifacts on this site were collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. Background in Who We Are. Art-Pacific has been on the WWW since 1996. We hope you enjoy our New Guinea tribal art and Indonesian folk art as much as we do. by Carolyn Leigh is licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0