Thursday, October 1, 2009

Indonesia and Malaysia Battle Over Batik

Along-standing dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia over the origins of batik seems to flare up every few years.

This year there have also been arguments over the ownership of the islands Sipidan and Ligitan, the song “Rasa Sayange,” the treatment of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia and Bali’s pendet dance, which was featured in a Discovery Channel promotion for a TV show about Malaysia.

During each spat, diplomatic relations between the countries become tense, nationalism rises and nicknames are invented. This year, incensed Indonesians have started calling their neighbor “Maling-sia,” a play on the Indonesian word meaning thief, and an offensive parody of Indonesia’s national anthem was uploaded to a Malaysian Web site. A vigilante group has also formed in Jakarta, claiming that it would invade Malaysia on Thursday and wage war.

But Indonesia can at least claim victory in the batik wars when Unesco today adds Indonesia’s batik to a global list of Intangible Cultural Heritage items.

To celebrate that validation, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has asked all Indonesians to wear batik on Friday.

Asmoro Damais, an expert on batik who has consulted with various cultural institutions on the craft and collects historic batik fabric, specifically the Pekalongan style, since 1970, said Indonesians should be proud of the achievement.

“Thank God for this achievement,” said Indra Tjahjani, a batik expert and lecturer on the textile, who has been involved in research on the craft for nine years.

“But, it’s only a start.

As a part-time lecturer at universities, Indra Tjahjani has also been encouraging her students to take note of their culture and assigns them projects that are related to Indonesia’s culture.

“I find my strategy works. My students become aware of their cultural heritage and gain an interest in learning more about it,” she said.

“Many people claim they know batik, but they actually don’t know the philosophy of each pattern,” she said.

“Did you know that in the old times, all batik makers had to fast from eating and drinking before creating a batik pattern.

“Making batik was that sacred,” she said.

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