The Pua Kumbu
To the Iban of Sarawak, the pua kumbu is not just a blanket. It is a sacred ceremonial and ritual textile. The word pua in Iban means 'blanket', kumbu means 'to wrap'. Together, the two words mean a 'grand blanket'. However, the pua kumbu is very seldom used as a sleeping blanket. It is reserved for the times when men and women seek an encounter with the spiritual.
Commentators often miss the point that the weaving of an Iban textile, especially the pua kumbu, represents a deeply spiritual and socio-religious undertaking. It is a sacred activity that is incumbent upon every Iban woman, so as to establish her womanhood and worth in a socitey where gender roles are specific, and where spirituality is intrinsically linked to every aspect of daily life. As a weaver, she takes her place in the spiritual regeneration of the traditional values and religious norms of her people.
Iban oral history, mythology and cosmology reverberate with the use of textiles as sacred cloths. Iban adat or law, preserved and embodied withim Iban oral literature, prescribes the use of textiles as sacred accoutrements at rituals and ceremonies. The earliest mention of the use of textiles as sacred objects appears in Iban creation myths, the first man and woman who were brought to life by the shouts of Raja Entala Keri Raja Petara, the Ancient God, were created under a pua kumbu . According to this account, the pua kumbu is believed to have already existed at the beginning of time, even before man was created, and its use as a sacred ritual object throughout Iban history preordained.