Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1830 Nias siulu 
Subjectsiulu / salawa chief
Culture: Ono Niha
Setting: slave raiding, tribal warfare, Nias 19thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Power and gold 1989 p77
"In pre-national times, Nias had an intense, almost superheated culture characterized by warfare, family rivalry, social class tensions, and perfervid artistic activity.  The social order of this small island off the west coast of North Sumatra was divided into an aristocratic class, free commoners, and slaves.  Noble families claimed special ties with the supernatural world of dieties, who like the nobles were associated with height, magnificence, and the central spaces of villages."

* Steel and magic 2020 p53
"The population of Nias had a warlike reputation; headhunting, slave-raiding, and conflicts between various parts of the island were common."

* Newton/Barbier eds. 1988 p37
"The nobility have definite privileges and responsibilities.  They control the wealth of their village and therefore have the finest houses, clothing, ornaments, and monuments as testimonials to their position.  In return they organize the village, control external relations and distribute their wealth in enormous feasts.  These feasts create new titles and privileges for the elite and are the primary means for noblemen and even some commoners to elevate their status.
​    "Throughout Nias the aristocrats are associated with notions of elevation.  In Central Nias they are called salawa which means high while in South Nias they are called si'ulu meaning that which is up."

* Power and gold 1989 p79
"More than village headmen but less than full-fledged kings of state societies, Nias chiefs were locked in perpetual battle with each other for position.  Their main weapon for increasing power was artwork -- stone monuments, wood sculpture, and gold jewelry, all of which demonstrated the chief's piety toward his ancestors and his munificence toward lesser humans."

* Draeger 1972 p161
"The island is divided into about fifty districts, each with a raja ruling with arbitrary authority.  The districts are more or less independent from one another and at times exhibit variances which lead to combative showdowns.  The object of all the wars appears to be the taking of prisoners, who are sold as slaves for a great profit.  Such activities have been encouraged over the years by traders, such as those from Atjeh.  David Sopher reports in his Sea Nomads:
On Simeulüe and Siberut, and particularly Nias,  off the west coast of Sumatra, slaveraiding by Achinese seamen was common in the 1830's and visits from far-ranging pirates from Borneo and the Sulu area were no doubt known and dreaded; the places where they put in along the coast would be recognized and avoided, being referred to thereafter by such names as Labuan Bajau, 'Pirates Landing' [on Simeulüe and Siberut], and Sibajau, 'Pirate Place' [an islet near Siberut]."


* Stone 1934 p598
"TACULA TEFAO.  A helmet used in Nias.  It is of steel, bowl-shaped, with a narrow brim, and sometimes a low comb, and on each side projecting ear guards like the Japanese.  It is usually decorated with a very large iron ornament like branching plumes."

* van Zonneveld 2001 p141
A steel bowl-shaped helmet, usually made of pieces of sheet iron linked together, sometimes by metal wire.  It has a narrow rim and sometimes one or more dentated rows of combs.  It may have ear protectors.  Often the takula tofao is decorated with huge iron ornaments in the shape of branched plumes, in the form of a tree of life, or other fanciful figures or protrusions."

* Taylor/Aragon 1991 p89
"The ... helmet has both floral and deer-antler-shaped projections.  Only Nias noblemen who had sponsored a long series of feasts were permitted to use motifs derived from nature.  Floral and faunal designs undoubtedly represented the power and generative capacity of nature."  [references omitted]


* Ghose ed. 2016 p217-218 (Anne Richter, "From islands of gold and spices: Indonesian jewelry" p208-219)
"The jewelry of the remote island of Nias, off the northwest coast of Sumatra, reflects its isolation from the political and religious currents on the cosmopolitan main island.  There, great houses built of stone and massive timbers with richly carved interiors line magnificent stone plazas.  The island's society was highly stratified.  Only the nobility wore pure gold ornaments.  The metal evoked the celestial realm of the sun, dazzling brightness, prowess in battle, beauty, and elegance.  Respected commoners wore ornaments of pale gold alloy, silver, or bronze; slaves, who were not classified as fully human, wore no jewelry.  Much of the gold on Nias was acquired from visiting slave traders of various nationalities.
    "Male aristocrats worked with gold and conducted the protective rituals necessary to counter the great heat and danger inherent in 'killing' the gold so that it might be reborn in the form of new ornaments.  There are clear conceptual parallels between the conduct of metallurgy and warfare on Nias and in other remote Indonesian societies.  Niha goldsmiths made crowns, diadems, collars, bracelets, and ear ornaments of ribbed or delicately inscribed gold sheets decorated with geometric patterns and stylized plant motifs.  Some ornaments replicate more ancient forms of adornment made of feathers, leaves, plant shoots, seedpods, and seashells."

* Power and gold 1985 p85
"Jewelry in Nias was varied, plentiful, and included gold and coconut shell necklaces, gold earrings and crowns, shell bracelets, and extraordinary war jewelry for men.  Goldsmithing was similar to stone and wood carving, for like those ritual endeavors the creation of fine metal ornaments was a means of storing up merit, power, and splendor for the family.  Gold, a main emblem of the aristocracy, was tinged with ambiguity; it was both loved and feared (the great dangers of the sacred gold ornaments could only be 'counteracted' through the sacrifice of a slave, whose head was to be buried at the base of the stake upon which the ornaments were hung during the ceremony.  Red was the color of death, while gold was a life hue; the darker colors were associated with serpents and the Lowerworld, while the light colors were linked to birds and life forces."

* Schnitger 1989 p112
"The elevation of a Nias chief into a higher rank was not only a family question, but also served to bless the entire tribe. The ceremony may take place only after the fashioning of golden ornaments and the slaughter of a slave. When enough gold and a sufficient number of pigs have been collected, a variety of jewels are made, first those belonging to a woman. These ornaments are a filet, an ear-ring, a necklace, and a covering for the head. The first three are made simultaneously. If there is enough gold, the fourth ornament may also be made; otherwise, this is done later with a separate feast, during which a gold-embroidered jacket is made for the man. He also has made for him a kris and an ear-ring." ...


* Steel and magic 2020 p53
"When it comes to discussing their material culture it was not only arms and armour that reflected their martial mentalities, but also the kalabubu a torque worn only by those warriors who had taken the head of enemy and were held in high esteem."

* Power and Gold 1989 p80
"Aristocratic men ... wore the kalabubu, or necklace of honor, as a badge of their high status, although theoretically any freeborn man could wear one once he had proven his prowess in headhunting."

* Power and Gold 1989 p319
"A masculine ornament, symbolizing high prestige and war success. In pre-national Nias, headtaking was associated with royalty, creative power, and masculinity. This kalabubu necklace proclaimed that the wearer had taken a human head from an outsider group (sometimes in another region of the island) and had brought it back to the village, at the same time bringing creativity and protective forces to his community. Such an act also signified that the man was now an adult."

* Taylor/Aragon 1991 p89
"Warriors, and all men at ceremonial occasions, wore a black necklace, kalabubu, made of polished disks of coconut shell and brass.  These necklaces represented bravery in warfare, traditionally the successful capture of an enemy head."  [references omitted]

* Borel/Taylor 1994 p197
"A symbol of high prestige, the kalabubu was worn only by men who had killed an enemy and brought his head back to the village, thereby attracting protective forces to his community."


* Newbold 1839 p213
"The inhabitants of Pulo Nias, an island off the western coast of Sumatra, wear for armour a baju made of thick leather, and a cap to match, covered with the ijo, a vegetable substance resembling black horse hair ..."

* Draeger 1972 p163
"Characteristic of the Nias warrior is the alat-alat pakgian pradjurit, or 'warrior's costume.'  Leather 'armor' jackets of various styles are donned by the warrior."

* Taylor/Aragon 1991 p89
"Like the ornamentation of sculptures, houses, and swords, colors on Nias ceremonial clothing and ornaments have specific meanings, according to early reports.  Yellow, which indicated wealth in gold, was reserved for the highest-ranking members of society.  Red signified thorough knowledge of hada, traditional law and custom.  Blue represented victory or success, and white denoted peace and purity.  Black, evincing anger and fierceness, was the warrior's color.
    "Nias warriors dressed almost completely in black as a symbol of their anger and fierceness in battle.  Armor jackets, formerly made of crocodile skin and later of sheet metal, were hung in the house rafters so that smoke from the hearth fire would blacken them.  The armor jacket is made of iron with intricately cut floral-shaped projections inlaid with mirrors.  Each projection is topped with an image of a rooster."  [references omitted]

* Power and Gold 1989 p86
"Nias costumes for warriors and aristocrats were also miniature mythological statements about how the world was structured.  In this, clothing resembled jewelry.  ...  In fact, virtually everything a well-dressed Nias aristocrat wore had mythological implications ...."

* van Zonneveld 2001 p152
"[E]specially on Nias a coat of mail or cuirass is a fixed part of the combat dress and is known there under various terms.  Usually they are made of hard leather, but also of metal, woven ijuk fibre, bark cloth covered with aren palm fibre or cloth covered with 'scales' of bark."

* van Zonneveld 2001 p31
"BARU LEMA'A [BAROE LEMA'A] NIAS A sleeveless war jacket made of woven ijuk fibre. The back part ends at the top with a decoration: two round ornaments meant to protect the neck." [references omitted]

* van Zonneveld 2001 p31
"BARU SINALI  [BAROE SINALI] NORTH NIAS A sleeveless war jacket, woven with plant fibres. The edges may be hemmed with textile." [references omitted]

* van Zonneveld 2001 p31
"BARU OROBA NIAS  A leather cuirass with broad shoulder parts and large vertical folds. The back part ends at the top with a decoration of two round ornaments meant to protect the neck. This type of cuirass is sometimes made of iron." ... [references omitted]

* van Zonneveld 2001 p49
"G-OROBANA'A NIAS  A cuirass made of hard, broad, vertical pieces of buffalo leather widening in the lower part and with an open front. The shoulders are also wide. The seams where the pieces are sewn together form ridges." ... [references omitted]


* van Zonneveld 2001 p146
"TOHO  NIAS  A collective term for a variety of spears.  The point varies from small to large, with near the base two more or less protruding points, or a barb on one side.  The shaft's upper side usually has a conical ring of brass or iron and may be decorated with pig's or goat's hair."  [references omitted]

* Draeger 1972 p163
"The (tombuk) spear is their chief weapon.  A seven-foot length appears to be most popular.  Points are either of metal or hardwood shaped in straight-blade fashion.  The point of the spear is held pointing downward just before combat."

* Taylor/Aragon 1991 p89
"Spears with leaf-shaped blades were used only for headhunting warfare, whereas those with hooks at the neck of the blade were used for hunting wild animals."  [references omitted]

* Severin 1982 p190-191
"The men carry enormous iron cutlasses which once served equally to clear and to defend themselves, and if one encounters another hunting party setting off after wild boar, the natives make a ferocious sight, armed with 7-foot-long pig-sticking spears, each weapon with its efficient-looking iron spear head honed to razor-edge sharpness.  The men courageously fight the wild boar on foot, and wear necklaces of boars' tusks as tokens of their prowess."  

Shields (Baluse, Dange)

* Draeger 1972 p163
"The Nias warrior makes extensive use of the hand shield, a simply decorated and elongated design which can also be used as a battering ram at close quarters."

Benitez/Barbier 2000 p144
"[T]wo types of shield existed; the baluse ... and the simpler dange ....  The former type is employed both in the south and the centre for war dances (known as fatale in the south and faluaya in the centre).  According to Modigliani, its shape is based on the banana leaf, although E. E. Schroder maintains that it represents a crocodile's head viewed from above."

* Newbold 1839 p213
"[T]hey carry also a long wooden shield; their weapons of offence are a spear and short sword."

* Taylor/Aragon 1991 p89
"The ridged segments of the carved wooden shield may represent a crocodile, an animal associated with the lower world and ancestral punishments in many areas of Indonesia."  [references omitted]


* Taylor/Aragon 1991 p87-89
"Traditional weapons, such as bush knives and ceremonial swords (tolögu), are crafted by specialists. Some blacksmiths only forge the blades, but others also carve the wooden sword handles and sheaths. ...
  "South Nias sword scabbards owned by leaders and warriors were traditionally guarded with amulet balls, ragö, which were decorated with a cluster of miniature adu ancestor figures or a collection of talismans, including animal and human teeth and stones.  Tiger teeth were distinctive symbols of chiefly status and were specifically imported from Sumatra, as tigers are not native to Nias, for attaching to nobles' swords as protective charms.  The creation of a charm ball was always an individual creative endeavor so that the talisman's power remained secret from all others.  Men would seek their own personal charm objects, often receiving advice about their choice in dreams.  Because nobles were considered mediators between the upper and lower worlds, some charm balls owned by nobles included figurines of hornbill birds, which possibly represent the upper world, and crocodiles, which represent the lower world.
    "Sword hilts, coffins, and house beams of noble families in south Nias and stone monuments of noble families in central Nias were characteristically decorated with a mythical protective creature called lasara.  The lasara figure, sometimes said to have tiger teeth, a crocodile neck, a hornbill casque, and deer antlers, can be seen clearly on the sword hilt.  The inlaid metal stripes on the scabbard represent tigers, traditional symbols of Nias village chiefs.  Images of tigers, which represented the strength and intelligence of the south Nias chief, were formerly thrown ceremonially into the Gomo River as ransom to guarantee future prosperity of the community.  Occasionally monkey figures were carved on the forehead of the lasara figure.  Monkeys were believed to be able to predict and warn the sword's owner of impending danger.
    "Swords decorated with a lasara figure on the hilt, balatu nio lasara, were formerly signs of great wealth because they could only be owned by a village chief who had taken a human head.  Because swords confirm the owner's status as an adult male member of the community, to this day, the lasara handle is not carved for commoners -- although swords with such handles may be sold to foreigners as souvenirs."  [references omitted]

* Hersey 1991 p39
"Swords frequently have elaborately carved wooden hilts which end in ornate lasara [half-hornbill, half-dragon animal] heads.  Sometimes small amulet figures in the style of the adu [ancestor figure] are fastened to the sheath.  Other swords have a globular rattan basket attached to the top of the sheath.  Boar's tusks are sometimes attached to the basket, which is usually filled with magic materials."

* Indonesian primitive art p40
"Large sword (balatu sebua) with the hilt in the form of the head of the lasara monster.  This half dragon, half serpent creature is believed to be related to the god of death and the shadows.  This motif is used for all swords, whether they have hilts of wood or brass.  Note the little simian figure crouched on the neck of the lasara, representing an evil spirit. ...  Modigliani reported that Nias warriors willingly sold him their swords but never sold the talisman figures on the scabbards."

* van Zonneveld 2001 p29
"The hilts are very varied, but all can be reduced to an animal's head or mouth, often the lasara, executed in a plain stylised way or in a complex, richly decorated form.  These hilts are mainly made of wood, but brass ones also occur.  Wooden hilts have a broad metal (usually brass) ring broadening towards the blade.
​    "The wooden scabbard's parts are often held together by numerous strips of metal or plaited rattan.  Its narrow back and edge may be decorated with brass strips.  A round plaited rattan basket is sometimes attached to the scabbard.  This basket is decorated with large animal teeth and contains amulets serving as magical objects.  Carved wooden amulet figures (adu) may be directly attached to the scabbard." ...

* Steel and magic 2020 p53
"Amulet baskets are a characteristic feature of scabbards from South Nias; they are found on surviving pieces and are also well documented in photographic material.  They served as a protective charm for the owner of the weapon.  Specific amulets ('powerful' stones, animal bones, etc.) were chosen individually by a ritual specialist, then integrated into the basket during the process of weaving.  While animal fangs such as those from tigers, boars, or crocodiles were common, cowrie shells could be carved into the shape of fangs and used instead."


* van Zonneveld 2001 p123
"SI EULI  NIAS  A dagger with a narrow, straight blade carried diagonally in the centre of the belt.  The hilt is separated from the blade by a cylindrical brass ring and is curved at the end or makes a slight curve at about halfway.  In the latter case the top of the hilt is flattened.  The scabbard is straight and has a cross-piece at the mouth protruding toward the blade's edge or towards both sides.  To the rear it may have a small protrusion, but also a prominent protrusion the point of which curves somewhat upwards.  The scabbard may be wound with a brass wire and may have a small angled foot.  Sometimes it has small chains with bells."  [references omitted]


* van Zonneveld 2001 p120
A small knife." [references omitted]