The anthropological enterprise of translating other cultures is explored in the case of the Iban of Borneo. Derek Freeman’s demonstration of authority in his analyses of Iban religion and social organization, his establishment of a lineage of authority, and his development of an evolutionary biological-cultural interactionist paradigm is critically evaluated. Freeman’s legacy of authority, as expressed in Michael Heppell’s detailed interpretation of Iban woven cloths and their motifs and patterns in terms of sexual selection, is then addressed as a case study. It is proposed that in this arena of Iban culture Freeman’s and Heppell’s authority should be questioned; their work raises major issues about Western assumptions that the arts of ‘oral cultures’ contain a language of symbols. Such assumptions about art forms as ‘texts’ to be read are often misplaced and can be traced back to the ethnocentric tendencies of writers from literate cultures in their search for meaning.