Weaving (Nabholz, 1989)

Below article consists of (a summary of) selected parts of the article by Marie-Louise Nabholz-Kartaschoff – A Sacred Cloth of Rangda, Kamben Cepuk of Bali and Nusa Penida, in: To Speak with Cloth, Studies in Indonesian Textiles, Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles, 1989, p.181-179.

A Sacred Cloth of Rangda, Kamben Cepuk of Bali and Nusa Penida

Additional information in square brackets is by the author GD.

nabholz coverweaving nabholz penida01
Image above, right: Figure 14. Nusa Penida. Museum für Völkerkunde, Basel, Iic 13956, 206-4, and 14630; Nabholz:1989-188

In Balinese dramatic rituals, Rangda is the embodiment of black magic and the opponent of the mighty and protective Barong. An essential part of Rangda's traditional costume is the textile known as kamben cepuk, made of cotton or, less commonly, of silk. It has a background of deep red, brick-red or brownish red, against which geometric and floral weft ikat designs are set within a strict framing structure of monochrome stripes and bands and ikat section. The generic term kamben cepuk is composed of two elements: kamben (Indonesian, kain panjang) designates a long unsewn cloth, worn in Bali as a wraparound skirt over a second inner cloth, tapih; cepuk carries the meaning of "being brought face to face with someone" (passive form, cepukang), particularly with a divine power." Linguist Herman Neubronner Van der Tuuk (1824-1894), in his Kawi-Balinees-Nederlands Dictionary said about the word cepuk: "fabric with four colors". "It is interesting to note here that the Balinese conceive of the small demons (omang) from Nusa Penida as being red, yellow, blue and white."


Nabholz gives a description of the use of the kamben cepuk. "The great protective and exorcistic power of cepuk cloths becomes evident through their role in nearly all forms of Balinese ritual - for the gods and for the living, for the deceased and for the demons who trouble the order of the world."

  • Rites of passage concerning birth and the celebrations of the 210th day after birth
  • Puberty rites like tooth filing, weddings and first menstruation rituals
  • Balinese death ceremonies: the embalmed body is wrapped in cepuk, and the effigy of the deceased is dressed in one. The kamben cepuk is then used to protect the deceased person whom, it is feared, "has fallen into the power of the netherworld"; purification rituals for those deceased "who may have been ritually forgotten".
  • Rantasan ceremony: sacrificial offerings to divine powers (traditionally in Krambitan, nowadays [i.e. 1989, GD], still used in Klungkung and Nusa Penida; during other temple ceremonies and consecrations
  • Trance dances: as soon as a dancer reaches a state of trance, "he is immediately dressed in kamben cepuk as so to be protected from the mighty and dangerous powers that have entered him."


weaving nabholz pattern

"Sabuk cepuk, a cepuk sash, appears in East Javanese literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It is mentioned in the Malat, the romances of the East Javanese hero Banji (in Balinese, Panji), where a tapih cepuk is explained as a "fabric with foul colors" (Van der Tuuk 1897:650-51; Museum voor Land- en Volkenkunde 1922/33:11)." "Common opinion holds that all kamben cepuk originate from the small island of Nusa Penida, south of Bali. To the contrary, in actuality it turns out that many of the cotton and all the silk specimens have been produced in Bali. Only certain types can be definitively assigned to Nusa Penida at the present time. But the frequent assertion by Balinese informants and dealers that all these textiles come from there might be rooted in traditional Balinese ideology, which orders the world In two antipodes: kaja, associated with the interior of the island of Bali, the mountains, the divine powers; and kelod, associated with the sea, the netherworld, and its demonic forces. For the whole southern and southwestern half of Bali, kelod is also synonymous with the island of Nusa Penida, the lair of evil, illness, and trouble. These are personified in Jero Gedé Mecaling, the fanged giant who comes to the south Balinese coast to release his evil forces, spreading disease. He is attended by many small demons, omang, which are, in the Balinese conception, of every color: red, yellow, blue and white. Kelod is also the sphere of black magic, and Rangda's black witchcraft is highly kelod, while Barong has traits of kaja (Covarrubias 1937:10, 335, 336; Swellengrebel 1960:38, 40; De Zoete and Spies 1938:99). Thus it becomes understandable why, for a Balinese, Rangda's magical cepuk has to come from Nusa Penida and nowhere else."


"Up to the 1950s, handspun cotton yarn from Nusa Penida or Bali was used in weaving the cepuk. Industrially spun yarn started to appear in the 1920s, at first being used only for the warp and the plain weft sections (Gertis 1925: 104; Korn 1944:99; Petras 1962: 235). The traditional dyes include red from the roots of Morinda citrifolia (sunti), yellow from curcuma (kunyit), blue from indigo (taum), and black from kemiri nuts (Aleurites moluccana) or from indigo mixed with kitchen soot. Red-dyeing with sunti involves complicated processes of mordanting and oiling. Green, purple, and brownish black shades were achieved by applying different dyes sequentially."

Basic structure

nabholz penida02"All kamben cepuk manifest the same structural principle: they have vertical side borders and horizontal end panels, each arranged in a succession of bands and stripes. These frame centerfield with a dominant overall weft ikat design. The structure is basically similar to the pattern arrangements of Indian patola. The vertical side borders, horizontal end panels, and centerfield are made up of a number of smaller elements, each of which has a Balinese name" (e.g. "bibih" = border/seam/lip, "batis balang" - legs of a grasshopper = three fine stripes; "tembing manis" = two fine blue lines, etc.). "Particular ikat patterns cannot be attributed to specific places of origin at this time. However, further investigation of the proportions of the basic format may establish regional variations. A comparison of kamben cepuk cloths from North Bali, West Bali and Nusa Penida reveals obvious differences. Examples from North Bali are slightly shorter with a narrower centerfield framed by prominent gigin Barong", the dominant and ubiquitous triangle design of the side border's innermost band; "their end panels are simpler, with narrow ikat bands. Those from West Bali are longer with a broader centerfield and finer gigin Barong triangles; the ikat bands within their end panels are more elaborate. Kamben cepuk from Nusa Penida are shorter, and frequently two or more smaller specimens are not cut, but rather left in one piece."

nabholz penida04"In most short kamben cepuk from Nusa Penida, the basic pattern is one in which four lozenges are joined to form a cross-like shape, repeated in rows (see Fig.32). Half of the dark central cross rows are reiterated on both sides of the centerfield along the white gigin Barong, resulting in a vertical row of dark triangle forms that are typical for Nusa Penida even nowadays."

"The Nusa Penida design shown in figure 46 is the only side border pattern whose specific regional provenience is certain. It consists of a vertical row of elongated lozenges built up by alternating small blocks, bigger forms and smaller forms. A name for this pattern is not known at present."


  • Nabholz-Kartaschoff, Marie-Louise – A Sacred Cloth of Rangda, Kamben Cepuk of Bali and Nusa Penida, in: To Speak with Cloth, Studies in Indonesian Textiles, Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles, 1989, p.181-179

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