The exact place where Batik originated is unknown. One of the earliest artifacts was found around 4 B.C. in Egypt, where archeologists found wax soaked linens, a Batik-making technique, used to wrap mummies. Leaves with beautiful patterns of animals and plants were then found in the Orient. The practice of artistic painting and fashion then permeated when people started writing and painting these patterns on white clothes using wax, which later was known as Batik. Batik technique might have been introduced to Indonesia by India or Sri Lanka in the 6th or 7th century. The word “Batik” itself comes from “amba” – meaning “to write” in Javanese and “titik” – meaning “dot” in Indonesian. Today most people wear Batik from Java, the central island of Indonesia. Batik, along with music and dance, was once one of the high arts skills required for priyayis (aristocrats in traditional Javanese society). It was believed to be a way to develop and nurture one’s spiritual discipline, especially for women.
Batik is a dyeing technique used on textile which utilizes wax to resist the dye to penetrate certain areas of the fabric. Melted wax is applied to the cloth before being dipped in dye. Wherever the wax seeps through the fabric, the dye will not penetrate. Sometimes several colors are used, with a series of dyeing, drying and waxing steps to create exquisite batik patterns. A combination of bees wax and paraffin wax is the commonly used mixture to create adherence and decorative crackling effects.
Batik Tulis is a hand-drawn batik painting technique. One would repeat a pattern using canting (wooden pen fitted with reservoir for hot, liquid wax) to fill a pre-sized mori cloth (cotton fabric for batik painting). The main elements of the patterns (usually animals, flowers, circles, or curves) are penciled onto fabrics before the details (like lines and dots) are added freehand by each artisan. As a result, no two batik tulis patterns are identical. This technique was traditionally practiced as a form of meditation by the female courtiers of Kraton, or Javanese court, in Central Java. It takes a great deal of expertise, patience, concentration, and deep feeling to produce the finest Batik Tulis, and it may take days, weeks and even months to make a single piece of fabric.
Batik Cap is a technique using copper stamps, or caps, to create repetitive pre-made patterns. The coppers are shaped to make up the desired batik designs. Each cap is used to apply a design to the entire piece of cloth, saving a great deal of painting time. Batik Cap allows batik artists to make high quality designs and more homogenous patterns much faster than one could possibly do by hand-painting. Invented in the 19th century in Java, this technique revolutionized batik production and saved the batik industry from the less expensive printed European cloth competition. This enabled men to be part of batik making also.
Indonesia, a south-east archipelago consisting of over 17,000 islands, has several unique patterns and ornamentations of batik that reflect the culture, geography, philosophy and belief held in each island. The most famous patterns are from Java. Javanese Kraton Batik is the oldest batik known in Indonesia.
Originated in Central Java, Batik Pedalaman, or Inland Batik, was once worn only by aristocrats in Javanese courts. It is also famously known as Batik Kraton. One of the most popular patterns of Batik Pedalaman is Parang (Blade), curve-shaped motifs, symbolizing Kings’ inner wave and power. Kawung (Fruit) are circle-shaped motifs, that have been suggested to represent Sugar Palm. These two patterns, along with others, were reserved only for royal family members of Kraton. Earthy tones, especially brown, dominated the colors in this type of batik. Natural coloring were used and made from natural fruits, such as mangrove, indigo fruit, turmeric, and guava leaf.
However, slowly Batik became more available to people outside the wall of Kraton as the batik artists brought their skills and teach them to common people.
Chinese culture also influenced Javanese batik in the northern area of the Island, where settlers from China landed in around the 17th Century. Original patterns from China, such as phoenixes, dragons, lotus, and floral patterns, then integrated with Javanese local patterns as a result of maritime trading, and Batik Pesisir, or Coastal Batik, was born. This batik was produced mainly in coastal areas such as Cirebon, Pekalongan, Lasem, Rembang, Tuban, Pacitan, and all the way to Madura. One of the most famous Coastal Batiks come from Lasem, a place in northern Java where Chinese influence is still apparent in its local architectures. New motives with bright maroon color is what distinguish batik from this place. These innovative patterns, like Watu Pecah and Tiga Negeri, were born to portray the current local social-economic condition. For example, people’s struggles to shatter big stones for road constructions during Dutch’s colony led Batik artisans to create Watu Pecah (Broken Stones) pattern.
Tiga Negeri (Three Origins) pattern was inspired after people’s great effort to assimilate three cultures of China, Dutch, and Java. However, it has also been suggested that Batik Tiga Negeri was completed in three places where each area had contributed a color: blue from Pekalongan, red from Lasem, and brown from Surakarta. Dutch also influenced Coastal Batik with their beautiful European-style flower arrangements, resulting the birth of Buketan motive, or bouquet. Other new motives are Kendoro-Kendiri, Gunung Ringgit, Latohan, etc. Coastal Batik typically has vivid colors. Synthetic coloring, or colors made from imported chemicals, started to gain its popularity also. In its journey, later this batik was also known as Market Batik as its production was also meant for public retails without social stratum.
Javanese Coastal Batik made its way up to Sumatera during mid 20th Century. However, Sunda strait that connects the two islands, was blocked during Japan’s short occupation in 1942-1945. This temporarily cut off the batik supplies from Java, forcing them to produce their own batik and clothes. Batik in Sumatra, infused with strong influence from Java, was born in addition to their traditional Songket. It started from the south, called Batik Palembang. The first batik industries in the island were established in Padang Pariaman, West Sumatra after the World War II. Batik production in the island have been growing significantly ever since. Like the initial batik process in Java, people also colored their batik naturally. Here batik sarongs have been made much more frequently than batik clothes and fabrics in Java. In Riau, local batik with a mixture of Javanese and Chinese patterns has also developed. In contrast to Javanese batik, batik in Riau are made on Chinese silks.
The late 20th Century was an unpleasant time for Batik industry. Mass-produced and exported clothing were much more in demand than the traditional Batik. With its old-fashioned image, Batik was less preferred compared to the simpler, more modern-looking outfits. However, when some Indonesian designers started to incorporate batik patterns into their designs in the beginning of the 21st Century, Indonesian fashion started to favor the old Batik. Younger generations start to see the beauty of batik; and the pride that comes with wearing it grows gradually. Many people now “think outside the wardrobe” by applying batik pattern in bags, shoes, hair accessories, table clothes, and even cell phone and laptop covers.
Today batik pattern is more popular than ever. Currently, Batik Print is the one that really sets in Indonesian market. It is simply clothes with batik motives. Batik Print requires lots less time and money to produce. However, some are reluctant to name, or even consider it as Batik, since the making method does not include manual drawing and dye-resisting process. Obviously, its low price is the appeal to many people.
To preserve the Batik industry, Indonesian government made several efforts to increase national’s awareness of this art form. One of them was to propose Batik as one of the world’s heritages from Indonesia to UNESCO. Indonesian Batik was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on September 30th, 2009. The acclamation from the United Nations has brought a great pride to Indonesia as well as the public’s consciousness that the preservation of Batik is crucial since it is part of the national identity. It is expected that this international appreciation helps to revive the Batik industry and to perceive Batik more than merely outfits, but to regard the art form as a creative, valuable culture.
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