Women’s Social Status As Revealed In West Papua’s Traditional Clothes

West Papua’s Traditional Clothes
Sumber : Orami

The simplest Indonesian traditional clothes belong to West Papua. This is because they wear minimal clothing. Unlike most traditional clothes, West Papua’s traditional clothes are not made of cloth or fabric, but fibres. Both men and women are bare-chested, meaning they do not cover their upper body with anything. The men would wear loincloths or koteka (penis sheath) to cover their genitals while the women would wear grass skirts. They make traditional clothes using materials found in nature. For women, the grass skirts are made of plant fibre.

West Papua’s Traditional Clothes
Sumber : Bukalapak

The grass skirts made for women are called liku. It is made from plant fibres such as dried palm leaves or root fibres. The length of the skirts can tell women’s social status. The skirts tell some important Papuan’s stage of life such as the transition to adulthood, marital, the birth of their first child, and mourning.

  •  Shorter skirts dyed in bright colours for the unmarried

Women would wear shorter skirts if they have not gotten married. The ones who wear this skirt are usually girls who have not reached puberty. They have not shown signs of physical maturity such as developed breasts, menstruation, etc.

  •  Undyed long skirts for married women

Married women in West Papua would wear undyed long skirts. Marriage is an important step for the community. It does not only involve couples, but also the parents or relatives. In fact, parents or relatives mostly make the decision and arrangement without the consent of the couples. The marriage is not based on mutual love, but on the community’s interests such as prestige, wealth, etc.

Monogamy is the most common type of marriage. However, polygamy is still practiced in West Papua sometimes. Polygamy is considered as prestigious in the community because it signifies higher social status for the male. Having multiple wives symbolizes wealth, so people in the community would give more respect to the male. While it is considered bad for women who do polyandry, having more than one husband. The community would not give respect to those women. 

  •  A long cloak made of banana fibres after the birth of their first child

The birth of the first child is very important among Papuans. The marriage could end just because the first child is not born, especially a son. It is important because the son will be prepared to be a warrior. This is shown by the rituals once the son reaches maturation. 

The parents would usually arrange a big meal to celebrate the pregnancy. The soon-to-be-father will also step into new stages of life because he is no longer a young man. The male would need to stop doing several activities such as making knots. Papuans believe this will cause harm to the baby. The woman would give birth in a place that can’t be seen by male, such as near a forest. The mother or relatives of the woman will help the delivery of the baby. After the delivery, the young mother would wear a new type of skirt (a long cloak made of banana fibres), and a bark cape worn on her head.

  •  Skirts extending to the ankles for the widows or those in mourning

Mourning is part of West Papua’s people life, especially if a loved one in the family has gone away forever. They will experience sorrow and grief. It is shown by the skirts worn by women, they would wear skirts extending to the ankles to express their grief.

The mourning can even extend to doing practice such as finger cutting. This practice called Iki Palek has been passed through generations to symbolize grief. The ones who receive this treatment are usually old women. The family or relatives cut the women’s fingers by placing a tie tightly around their fingers to make the finger numb, then they would cauterize the already cutting fingers. The removed finger will be buried in a special place in the tribe. 


West Papua’s traditional clothes are known as the simplest Indonesian traditional clothes. The men would only wear koteka and the women would wear grass skirts. However, their traditional clothes can reveal one’s social status, especially for women who wear different type of skirts. The length of women’s skirts can reveal Papuan’s stages of life such as marital, the birth of the first child, and mourning.