Madagascar, ca. 1900
Lamba akotifahana, the Malagasy term for this rich type of silk textile ornamented with its distinctive supplementary weft patterning, embody the prestige of cloth in Malagasy society. In the course of their history, lambahave been used to clothe the living and to wrap the dead. The use of bright colors and the combination of vertical striped bands with geometric design elements reflect the status of the cloth’s owner, referring possibly to one’s political rank and position in society. Working from a repertoire of designs, weavers of lamba carefully selected both colors and patterns. Motifs represent traditional forms as well as those borrowed in the nineteenth century from European sources. The stylized leaves seen here appear frequently in known examples. In 1886, Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar presented United States President Grover Cleveland with diplomatic gifts including lamba akotifahana. The overall design of this example relates to one of the cloths given to President Cleveland and now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution (E165.580). Only a few examples of historic lambaexist in European and American museums and, in 1995, a fire at the National Museum of the Queen’s Palace in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, destroyed the country’s most important collection of these extremely rare cloths.
88” H x 52” W