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One of the hidden gems in our store is a vibrant small collection of barkcloth, brought to Scotland from Central Sulawesi in 1932 by missionaries Leonard and Maggie Woodward.

Who are Maggie and Leonard Woodward?

Maggie Lowe (1883–1962) was originally from Perth, UK and met Leonard Woodward (1883–1950) through work with the Salvation Army. 

Shortly after their marriage, in 1917 the Woodwards were transferred to work in Indonesia, which at the time was known as the Dutch East Indies. The couple were among some of the earliest Salvation Army missionaries sent to central Sulawesi and stayed in this part of the world for over twenty-five years.

Leonard and Maggie Woodward in Salvation Army uniform, date unknown, Credit: The Salvation Army Heritage Centre. 

Salvation Army missionaries predominantly worked in western Central Sulawesi, and actively traded in Western goods and used gifts, along with medical care and education as the primary methods of gaining converts. They promoted change for both religious and economic reasons, whilst also trying to record local traditions for posterity. 

During 1942–1945 the Woodwards were interned with other Salvation Army officers in a Japanese camp for prisoners of war. They were returned to the United Kingdom in 1949.  

Where is Central Sulawesi?

The island of Sulawesi, which was known as Celebes during the Dutch colonial period (18161949), is the fourth largest island in the Indonesian archipelago and forms part of the Greater Sunda islands along with Sumatra, Java and Borneo. The interior of the island has a rough mountainous topography meaning that many of its highland populations remained partially isolated both from outsiders and each other until the 20th century. Due to European missionary activity these areas have largely become Christian, whereas people living in coastal areas with established long-distance trade networks are predominantly Muslim.

Pink Barkcloth Fact file


Early 20th century

Made from:

Barkcloth, Mica, Thread, Cotton, Rattan, Fibre

On display?

These items are currently in storage at the National Museum Collection Centre. 

Did you know?

The colours, pattern and motifs of the men's head cloths are thought to be linked to social status and prestige gained through head-huntingHowever, when collected by the Woodwards the lives of those in Central Sulawesi was under strain due to the influence of missionary work and the Dutch colonial administration which prohibited ritual activities like head-hunting.

Siga or man's head cloth

Tali or woman's headdress 

A textile with rich pink and orange pattern

Siga or man's head cloth

A textile square with pink circles and abstract patterns

Siga or man's head cloth

How were these used?

The bow-shaped headdress was worn by women and diamond-shaped cloths were worn by men, first folded into a triangle and then wrapped around the head. The vivid pink, orange, blue-violet, and green colours were used in cloths, blouses and betel bags worn for ritual or festive occasions.

This fine barkcloth was made from the bark of a Paper Mulberry tree. Coarser bark clothing in earthy colours, for everyday wear, was made from other tree varieties.

Illustration from ‘Chats with Missionary Officers I: Staff Captain and Mrs. Leonard Woodward, Celebes, Dutch East Indies’ from The Officer, January 1925, pp.39-42, 88, The Salvation Army Heritage Centre

"How do they make that cloth, then?" asked his wife. "It seems to be very strong. I can hardly believe it isn't woven material." "It sounds funny, I know", answered her husband, "but in a sense they grow their own clothes!"
- A conversation between Leonard and Maggie Woodward about the production of barkcloth is documented in Albert Kenyon's biography Leonard Goes East (1952)

Colour in barkcloth

Some significance has been attributed to core colours in barkcloth:

  • Red is linked to blood, therefore life and vitality, but also head hunting, killing, bravery
  • Black is connected to the earth, death, decay
  • White or yellow is linked to the sun and therefore the ancestors, gods, spirits and the upper-world

For this reason, barkcloth is also worn and used by shamans for specific rituals, with rules about who can paint the cloth and under what conditions.

The production and painting of barkcloth was almost exclusively done by women or male shaman's dressed as women. There were certain restrictions or taboos, for example, Adriani and Kruyt (Dutch missionaries who were in Central Sulawesi in the 1890s) record that a woman should not paint when menstruating 'for then the colours would not be bright, but watery', 1968 [1950]: page 464.

The colour pink

Lore Troalen, Analytical Scientist at National Museums Scotland, analysed three pieces of barkcloth from this collection during 2018 to identify the synthetic dyes used. 

Samples of the pink were found to be Rhodamine B which when used as a dye results in a vibrant pink colour. It is listed in a dye book of samples on wool and silk made by chemist Dr Adolf Lehne in Germany 1893, which includes instructions and recipes for use.  

Perth Museum and Art Gallery also have barkcloth in their collection from the Woodwards, one body cloth with a vibrant circular pattern has a handwritten label attached to it stating 'aniline dye used' and they were acquired from Chinese traders.

Pink barkcloth with label, PMAG.1978.66, Perth Museum and Art Gallery 


Dye book made by chemist Dr Adolf Lehne, Germany 1893

Dyes used in Barkcloth from Central Sulawesi

Although the collectors and contemporary sources mention the use of synthetic dyes, interest in natural dyes prevailed at the time these pieces of barkcloth were collected.
Later 20th-century studies are reliant on the work of Dutch missionaries Adriani and Kruyt, who were in Central Sulawesi in the 1890s. Most devote more attention to the type of trees used, the process of beating, curing, and dyeing the bark using mud or fruit resins. The four main colours from natural dyes were: yellow (turmeric), red (morinda or piper betel), purple (flowers from a papilionacea variety) and green (leave from homalomena alba).

The introduction and use of aniline dyes in the late 19th to early 20th century, even in remote highland areas of Central Sulawesi, is acknowledged in some of these sources, but not discussed in any detail.

Now that aniline dyes have been made available by the Chinese traders, people no longer make the colours themselves, but generally make use of imported colours. They are indicated by the general name kasumba.
- Adriani and Kruyt, 1968 [1950], page 465

Looking beyond just the literature on Indonesian barkcloth, there are other sources which link kasumba with red, pink and crimson. An 'Account of the Dying Drug, Called Kasumba, A Production of Siam' in The Oriental Herald and Colonial Review (1828) says the Malay word kasumba is applied to safflower (carthamus tinctorius) and a dye called 'annotta' [also known as achiote (Bixa Orellana)].

In William Marsden's 'Dictionary Of The Malayan Language' (1812) the entries for kasumba define it as dye that produces a pink or crimson colour, again both safflower (kasumba jawa) and 'arnotto' (kasumba kling). Both of these early 19th century sources demonstrate the use of crimson pinks and oranges in this region before the introduction of synthetic dyes.

Western influences

Most synthetic dyes were imported into Indonesia from Germany via Holland, as part of the Dutch East Indies. The first World War had an impact on this trade, which led to a temporary decline in the use of synthetic dyes and the resurgence of natural dyes. This overlaps with the period that the Woodward's formed their collection barkcloth.

By the mid-1920s this decline had recovered and the Dutch East Indies were importing huge quantities of alizarin and aniline dyes, and synthetic indigo.

Although barkcloth was made across the Indonesian islands, brightly coloured pieces from Central Sulawesi:

particularly appealed to the Western sense of beauty. Bark cloth was at the same time sufficiently exotic yet in accord with Western aesthetics'
- Kotilainen, 1992, 30.

However, colonial officials criticised the gaudy, bright colours resulting from the introduction of synthetic dyes, and some saw it as a corruption of traditional textiles. But synthetic dyes were cheaper and easier to use, and their introduction coincided with wider social, political and religious changes in the region in the early 20th century.

This goes some way to explaining the focus on natural dyes in the literature.

Contemporary Indonesian barkcloth

Once again natural dyes are being used to decorate barkcloth, with reds and pinks still very prominent colours.

Cinta Bumi Artisans based in Bali, Indonesia, work with barkcloth producers in Central Sulawesi today, reviving and documenting the traditions and processes. 

References and further reading

A Dictionary Of The Malayan Language, William Marsden 1812


Account of the Dying Drug, Called Kasumba, A Production of Siam in The Oriental Herald and Colonial Review, Volume 17, pp 265-271, April-June 1828


The East Toradja of Central Celebes, J K Moulton's  1968 translation of Adriani and Kruyt De Bare'e-Sprekende Toradja's van Midden-Celebes, 1950 [first published 1912], Vol. 3 New Haven Conn.: Human Relations Area Files


'Morinda', Asian Textile Studies, David and Sue Richardson, webpage was first published on 24th January 2016 


When the bones are left: A study of the material culture of central Sulawesi. Kotilainen, Eija-Maija. 1992, Transactions / Finnish Anthropological Society 

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