This year we are going to run a series of stories focused on the best things you can buy in Indonesia, but they have to have one vital factor – they have to be made in Indonesia, and preferably designed and all materials sourced in Indonesia, as well! We will not restrict this series to cultural artefacts or crafts but will extend to include local fashion designers, household products, food and drink, herbal and natural medicines, and just about every product that you might be interested in!
We are going to start with an area which Indonesia is a real world leader and has an absolute riches in these marvellous items, these are textiles and cloths, which range from the everyday fun to wear and use to the rare and expensive. Here we just give you a short introduction to two of the most famous types.
Indonesia textiles come in a dazzling variety of fabrics, materials, techniques, colours and motifs. There are three major textiles groupings: ikat, songket and batik. The Indonesian word ikat, which means to tie or bind, is the name for intricately patterned cloth whose threads are tie-dyed by a very painstaking and skillful process before they are woven together. Songket is silk cloth with gold or silver threads woven into it, although these days imitation silver or gold is often used. Lastly, Batik which is the best known, is a method of producing designs by using waxing and dying techniques.
Textiles play an important role in many traditional events and ceremonies and the symbolism of Indonesia’s many ethnic groups is evident in the huge variety of textiles with the colours, shapes and their arrangements all having special meaning. Some designs can only be worn by women or men, or only by the members of the royal family or nobility. Special textiles are worn or exchanged in Right of Passage ceremonies celebrating birth, circumcision, puberty, marriage, childbearing and death. The importance of textiles in the social and religious lives of Indonesians is well documented and continues to this day. The highly distinctive traditional dress, or pakaian adat, best shows the diversity of uses of textiles throughout the archipelago.
Textiles from Different Regions of Indonesia
The variety of Indonesian textiles is amazing and is yet another representation of its rich cultural heritage. These include hand drawn and stamped batik, the design of which takes months to create; double weave ikat from the islands of Nusa Tenggara, ship cloth from Lampung, silk Bugis sarongs from Sulawesi, gold-painted Balinese prada fabric; shimmering kain songket from Palembang utilizing silver and gold metallic threads weft in woven cotton or silk ikat; and tapis weavings from Lampung.
Ikat is a method of type-dying patterns onto thread before they are woven together. It is associated most with the people of Nusa Tenggara, who still wear ikat in their ceremonial clothes and their everyday wear. The most well-known forms—“selendang” (shawls), “selimut” (blankets), sarongs, burial clothes for the dead—comes from Sumba and Flores. Ikat is an Indonesian word that means “to bind.”
Ikat has traditionally been made by women with handspun cotton coloured with dyes made from local plants and minerals, often featuring brown and indigo hues. These days more manufactured dyes and threads are being used but traditional methods are still prized. Styles and motifs vary from village to village and depend on the purpose of the item. In some places valuable pieces are given to brides as part of their dowry and valued pieces can only worn by people of high status.
Batik is a method of producing designs by using waxing and dying techniques. Batik is used in making shirts, sarongs, skirts, dresses and almost any other item of clothing in many parts of the world. Central Java is famous for its batik. Mystic-influenced Indonesia batik features stylized images of animals and people. Some designs are still only allowed to be worn by members of the royal families of Yogyakarta and Solo.
Batik is an old Javanese word that means “to dot” or “to stipple”. The word batik is thought to be derived from the word ‘ambatik’ which translated means ‘a cloth with little dots’. The suffix ‘tik’ means little dot, drop, point or to make dots. Batik may also originate from the Javanese word ‘tritik’ which describes a resist process for dying where the patterns are reserved on the textiles by tying and sewing areas prior to dying, similar to tie dye techniques.
Java, especially the court cities of Yogyakarta and Solo, are famous for batik. Each member of the royal families and often each court employee has a batik pattern specific to them, often made with brown, yellow and indigo designs. Batik produced in northern Java, particularly around Pekalongan, is known for its bolder colours and more innovative designs. Batik is also produced in some other areas as in Bali where local designs are incorporated.
Batik textiles were made in royal courts and cottages, but also became a major commercial industry in Java and Bali, an industry that has experienced economic vicissitudes over the decades. Batik cloth varies enormously in artistry, elaboration, quality, and cost. Formal occasions require that Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese women wear whole cloths wrapped ornately to form a skirt. Men nowadays do so only at their marriage (or if they are in royal courts or are performers in gamelan, dance, or theatre. Long-sleeved batik shirts are now accepted formal social wear for men of all ethnic backgrounds, though formal wear for men also includes civil service uniforms, shirts and ties, or Western suits. Batik is also the most widely used, from farmers in rice paddy fields to ceremonies to royals, businessman, student and nation leaders.
Depending on the quality of art work, craftsmanship and fabric, batik may cost from several dollars to several thousand dollars apiece. The same is certainly true of the Ikat textiles too. The latter are definitely collectors’ items and well worth searching for good examples, while the former are fun to wear around the house or for going to the beach! Anyway have a look around the shops in Jakarta and you will find many items which will catch your eye and if you get hooked there is a whole world out there to explore. Then you can go and see where they are made around the 13,000 islands !