Indonesia consisting of more than 17,000 islands. Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelagic country in the world, lies across the equator. It is situated southeast off the Asian mainland and northwest of Australia with a population of approximately 245 million people with 300 ethnic groups living on different islands.
In addition to its multiethnic background, Indonesia’s unique culture is rooted in the country’s history as an outpost of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Arab and Dutch explorers, colonists and traders.
Indonesia has been known for its batik since the 4th or 5th century, and it has been said that Indonesian batik dye techniques and designs are as numerous as its islands.The designs and colors vary in accordance with the villages and ethnic groups that have spread out in different islands. Several Javanese villages have maintained their heritage of Batik craftsmanship for hundreds of years.
Batik has been both an art and craft for centuries and is part of an ancient tradition. The word batik is derived from the Javanese word ‘amba’, means ‘to write’, the suffix ‘titik’means little dot or to make dots. In a manuscript on a lontar leaf originating from around 1520 AD which was found in Galuh, Southern Cirebon (west Java), it is written that batik also means ‘seratan’ which in Javanese means ‘writing’. As a matter of fact, batik is ‘wax writing’, a way of decorating cloth by covering a part of it with a coat of wax and then dyeing the cloth. It is a technique of covering parts of fabric which will not receive color. The waxed areas keep their original color and when the wax is removed the contrast between the dyed and undyed areas forms the pattern.
The emergence of batik art in Java is still in discussion until today. Each expert has his own opinion. G.P. Rouffaer (1900), Jasper and also Pringadi (1912) said that batik art came from India together with the arrival of Indian merchants in Indonesia in the 4th or 5th century. Along with the trading activities, Hindu culture brought by the Indians, including batik art, began to enter and develop in the Isle of Java. The relief that decorates the walls of the famous Borobudur temple, Prambanan, and some temples in Bali, show that the apparel worn by the Kings resembles Batik motifs.
While other archeologists believe that batik art, which has become inseparable from the Javanese culture, has taken a very long process of cultural transformation. It emerged from local culture and in the course of its development it was strongly influenced by Hindu, China and European culture. Batik had emerged from local culture long before the foreign influence came to Indonesia.
No other country has developed batik to its present art form as the highly developed elaborately patterned batik found on the island of Java in Indonesia, although they also use the technique of dye resisting decoration. Some experts think that batik was originally reserved as an art form for Javanese royalty, as some particular patterns
like the parang design were reserved to be worn only by royalty from the Sultan’s palace. Princesses and noble women may have provided the inspiration for the highly refined designs in traditional patterns. In those times, the women of the Sultan’s Keraton
occupied themselves by painting delicate Batik designs. This fine art form became a sign of cultivation and refinement.For the Javanese, batik is not only a popular decorated textile, but it has a deeper philosophy of importance which takes each Javanese from the cradle to the grave. When a baby is born, batik is used to wrap the new born baby in and later to carry it around. When people get married it is an integral part of the wedding attire of the bride and the groom as well as their parents. And finally at the end of their life, Batik is used to cover their bodies during the funeral. Batik has continued to exist over the years and has shown signs of becoming even more widespread boosted by the dynamic development in the technological, esthetical, functional and economical aspects. In spite of the many ups and downs and challenges occurring in the Indonesian economy, batik arts have continued to flourish up to this decade.
If in the ancient time only noble families were allowed to wear certain batik designs, nowadays almost everybody from all economic levels wear various kinds of batik for everyday use as well as for special events. Batik arts have become important product of Indonesia. In many big cities batik industries are found, which produce either ‘batik cap’ (stamped batik), or ‘batik-tulis’ (hand-drawn batik). The batik factories are mainly found in Solo, Yogyakarta, Cirebon, Banyumas, Pekalongan, Jakarta, Tuban, Madura, Bali, Sumatera, and Kalimantan. Batik spread to the USA, Europe and other Western countries as it was introduced by the Dutch who travelled to and from Indonesia, which was a former Dutch colony.
The old Batik cloth was brought to Europe by Governor General Raffles when he returned to England in 1816. The oldest Indonesian batik is now on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.