Although woven as flat rectangles, lamba (woven textiles) are anything but stiff fabric or static form. As a communicator of identity, the lamba conveys Malagasy notions of social rank, wealth, age, region and ethnicity. The "vocabulary" of a cloth is read in its design, size, color, decoration, fiber and the way it is arranged on the body. Pulled over the head, it protects against cold weather or hides the timid person; wrapped tightly around the body, it projects action and determination. Draped over the shoulder, it conveys messages to an admirer or illustrates a flair for fashion. Given its performative potential, cloth in Madagascar is not just worn--it is displayed.
For Madagascar's Merina women born before 1945, a white shoulder wrap is an indispensable part of formal dress and feminine attire. In the 1960s, most young urban women refused to take up the shoulder wrap, seeing it as old-fashioned and contrary to their active, career-oriented lifestyle. In the mid-1990s, many of these same women--now journalists, politicians and professors--began adopting the shoulder wrap for the first time. Wearing the lamba now allows them to celebrate and assert their Malagasy identity. Most wear it only on formal occasions or for international events, but others have made it part of their daily dress. Nearly all younger women prefer brightly colored shoulder wraps of more contemporary design, but as with this example, the white silk wrap accented with white weft-float floral designs remains popular with older women. The most popular style in recent years has been the MariMar, a light, loose-weave wrap that was named for the heroine of a Mexican soap opera who captivated television audiences throughout Madagascar in 1999 with her rags-to-riches story.
Shoulder wraps are woven of silk, cotton, synthetic materials or a combination of these fibers. They may be undyed or brightly colored, depending on the style and current fashion.
Hand-woven silk and synthetic fiber textile with long knotted fringe at either end and embellished with weft-float floral patterns running lengthwise along one end of the textile. 2001-8-1.1 has an overall yellow color scheme enhanced with a single register of white weft-float floral patterns bordered on either side by narrow white bands laid into the warp. 2001-8-1.2 is a more classic white shoulder wrap ornamented with two registers of weft-float floral designs. Both textiles were placed into a raffia woven bag bearing the label "Manjakalandy," the name of Suzanne Ramananantoandro's fashionable boutique in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo.
Purchased from Suzanne Ramananantoandro, Madagascar, 2001