The quintessential art form in Madagascar is the silk lamba, a hand-woven textile that functions as a shoulder wrap, a cloak, a hip wrap, a baby sling and a shroud. Malagasy's textile arts include plain white weaves and boldly striped cloths, some a rich reddish-brown, others ornamented with colorful and intricately woven geometric and floral weft- float patterns. For centuries, the lamba served as the critical element of clothing for Malagasy men and women, particularly those living in the highlands region and the area around the capital, Antananarivo. The fiber of choice was and remains silk, valued for its durability and warmth. Silk is also the appropriate fiber for individuals of high rank as well as the ancestors, and it is often plays an important role in Malagasy ceremonial life.
Women are the predominant weavers in Madagascar, though nowadays men are also trying their hand at the craft. Traditionally, two types of silk were used: an indigenous variety (landibe) and mulberry silk (landikely) which was introduced from China in the early nineteenth century. Today, imported silk threads may be purchased. Lengths of cloth woven on a ground loom are usually cut into panels and sewn together as two- to four-panel wrappers. The tailored fabric may be folded lengthwise to serve as a shoulder wrap; wide textiles are especially suitable for shrouds. This textile, acquired in 1945 in the capital city Antananarivo, is devoid of any decorative supplemental weft float designs, suggesting that its intended use may have been as a funerary cloth.
Single panel textile, white in color and with fringe at either end, woven of spun mulberry silk. The texture of the wrapper is a bit rough, due to the particular way in which the silk fibers were prepared.
John M. Kauffmann, Yarmouth, Maine, purchased Antananarivo, Madagascar, 1945 to 2003