“Rambu” is a title for a woman of aristocratic standing in eastern Sumba. Rambu Pakki and Rambu Tokung are cousins, nieces of the late raja (ruler) of the village of Pau. Neither woman has ever married. This in itself is not so uncommon in Sumba, where aristocratic women often had difficulty finding husbands of suitable status, but what is highly unusual is that the two cousins share a home—inherited from Rambu Pakki’s father—without any male relatives on the premises. Bold and quick-humored, the cousins cherish their relative freedom from family constraints and especially the liberty it gives them to pursue their textile arts.
In the attic the women keep their collection of pahudu, devices made of sticks and string, which preserve complex textile patterns. Across the alley behind their house are the smaller dwellings of the “children of the house,” the descendants of a former class of slaves that once attended the Sumbanese aristocracy. Rambu Pakki and Rambu Tokung have seen to it that the women of these households can also weave, but they retain their finest patterns for their own use. Inside the cousins’ home, the primary space is given over to their two deceased fathers, wrapped in multiple layers of handwoven textiles while they await the lavish funeral that is one of the hallmarks of Sumbanese society.