Shoulder cloths fall roughly into two different categories: salendang and salempang. The shoulder cloths in this collection are all salendang, which are flat rectangular textiles that are worn folded and draped over the shoulder. Salempang are used the same way, but are tubular instead of flat. textiles are sometimes used interchangeably as shoulder or head cloths and simply folded differently depending on how they’re going to be worn. Creases left on some of the older cloths illustrate this kind of multipurpose use.

The way a person wore their should cloth used to be a way others could identify which village the wearer was from, but these regional distinctions are less stark than they once were. Other major changes in the way shoulder cloths are made or worn also occurred after World War II. Minangkabau weavers began making lighter shoulder cloths at this time that were narrower and had less gold decoration.

These changes have made the new salendang easier to wear for a protracted time during ceremonies in Sumatra’s tropical climate. Not every salendang with minimal gold decoration is a result of that post-War change in fashion, of course. Some regions, like Limo Puluah Koto, were known for using less gold decoration in their salendang before World War II. It’s worthwhile to note that individual families could afford more or less elaborately decorated shoulder cloths, and so variation is introduced for that reason as well.

More evidence of the way weavers have changed the way they design shoulder cloths over time is evident in several of the examples in Sarajo’s collection. The gold lace fringe on several of these shoulder cloths is indicative of the Minangkabau’s cross-cultural exchange with Europe, and the way textile makers incorporated the European craft of bobbin lace into Minangkabau clothing. Minangkabau lace-makers usually made the lace separately and added it onto textiles after they were woven, but would sometimes create the lace or crocheted border directly onto the garment.