National Batik Day on October 2, the date in 2009 on which UNESCO designated batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, raised the awareness and love for batik both in Indonesia and around the world. As undeniably Indonesian heritage, batik has a very long history that predates written records, with arguments saying the technique is either a native tradition or brought from India or Sri Lanka. The word batik might derive from Javanese words amba, which means to write, and titik, or dot.
Most batik developments occur in Java with diverse meaning and direction of usage assigned to each motif drawn and colour used. However, islands outside have had batik—with different patterns and colours influenced by local cultures—due to trade relations, among other factors. The acculturation of batik all around Indonesia is still happening along modern or traditional influences.
Based on the general pattern and colours, batik in Java is usually divided into pedalaman, or inland, and pesisir, or coastal. Here we describe these two types, with an example, along with another example from outside Java.
Inland batik, especially that from Yogyakarta and Surakarta, is regarded as the oldest form in Java and dates back to the Mataram Kingdom—the ancestor to the kratons in both Yogyakarta and Surakarta. Less influenced by other cultures or religions, the inland batik colours are usually earthy, such as black, indigo, brown and sogan—or brown-yellow from a native tree dye. The patterns derive from Javanese traditions with strict written rules on how specific patterns should be drawn, coloured, worn and so on.
The parang rusak motif here and its variations is one example that can be worn by anyone anytime outside the kraton, but only the royal family can wear it inside—plus, certain types are saved only for the king or crown prince, such as the parang rusak barong. The parang motif has different measurements in each variation for specific occasions. One example is a royal occasion in which the king wears a certain parang motif, then the queen must wear a different parang—or the same pattern but in smaller size.
On the pesisir side in northern areas of Java and Madura, acculturation happened due to trade from inside and outside. Cirebon, for example, saw a mixture of Sundanese and Javanese cultures due to its position at the border and histories involving kingdoms from both influencers. The resulting four sultanante remnants are reflected in the city's kraton-style batik, which is also called classic Cirebon style. Cirebon's pesisir-style batik, however, reflects outside influences in foreign patterns and brighter colours due to the city's role as a port.
Through trading and marital ties, China left impressions in patterns—the phoenix bird and dragon—and colours such as red and bright yellows mixed into Javanese traditions. The mega mendung motif is a blend between kraton and pesisir styles, showing a different cloud shape than its Chinese origin and combined with the traditional use of blue and red representing masculinity. Today, other patterns are incorporated with the batik coloured in green, yellow, brown, and so on.
In Sumatra, Bali and Kalimantan, batik is present through introduction from Java or by localised development. Batik benang bintik from central Kalimantan, though rarely heard due to use only in weddings or traditional ceremonies, is now starting to pop up in local designers' works. The motif follows the Dayak people's cultures, including their Kaharingan belief. One important pattern from this religion is pohon batang garing, or the tree of life.
Here is the modern rendition of a traditional benang bintik batik that still follows the Dayak colours of maroon, yellow, blue, green, red, black and brown. The pattern used here resembles the carving work Dayak is known for. Other regions in Indonesia that originally did not have a batik tradition are now starting to follow suit by creating locally infused batik with the same hand-drawn technique. Jimmy Affar from West Papua, for example, includes the cendrawasih bird, tifa drum, nutmeg and other Papuan flavours in the batik creation that was worn during President Jokowi's visit.
Photo courtesy of: Petra Christian University