Traders in Jakarta are unfamiliar with famous Betawi batik print as most of these forms of batik print were purchased from coastal strips of Java such as Cirebon, West Java and Pekalongan, Central Java.
Confirming the same, a seller from Jakarta informed that, stores in Jakarta don’t trade in Betawi batik cloth. It is a colourful cloth with floral panels and tumpal motifs.
But this may not be the exact definition for Betawi batik, as it comprises of varied traits such as motifs and colours, which are quite different from North Coastal areas, domestically know as Pesisir batik, wherein pesisir means ‘coast’.
Traders opine that Jakarta and batik are two side of the same coin. As, just like the city reflects a free-flowing nature, a pesisir piece of fabric too takes under its wings, various types of influences, entering the country by foreign traders.
According to a member of the collection and preservation department, Textile Museum, Jakarta, Betawi batik makes use of traditional colours, which can catch people’s eye, most depicting a continuous tumpal motif, vertical row of isosceles triangles, set on a rectangular base. More so, the tumpal motif is generally set against the batik’s body at either ends of the cloth, and sometimes even at the centre of the fabric.
As per experts, tumpal motifs symbolize magnificence and fertility and it is also used as a metaphor for Mount Semeru, which is the highest sacred volcano in Java.
But many-a-times, the tumpal also take shape of a tree of life, an expression of the Javanese used to depict, the link between humans and nature goddess. More so, sometimes in the main areas of the fabric, banji (swastika) motifs are seen arranged in a proportioned manner, placed side by side with floral designs.
However, banji is taken from Chinese characters, wan zi, which in literal form means 10,000. But it is strongly linked with the thought of bringing prosperity to the individual or family or otherwise.
Earlier, Betawi batik was considered as an exclusive piece of fashion for the Dutch, wherein, the Dutch men wore batik pants and women dressed in batik sarongs. In these times, the aggressive use of butterfly, floral motifs and Hong bird motifs influenced batik, which is a depiction of European and mainland Chinese cultures.
But Betawi batik gained importance during the colonial era and managed to live through only till the 1990s. As per an anthropologist, batik in Jakarta commenced in 1930s, when the peranakan traders started purchasing fabrics, of motifs made with wax, but not dyed. The whole process of dyeing the fabrics, would then take place at the backyard of the trader’s home.
However, batik workshops in West Jakarta, which used to be the centre of batik factories, were out of business in 1972. This is because; firm owners started manufacturing screen-printed textiles with batik designs. But these were considered harmful tothe environment, as officials were unable to provide any waste management solutions, thereby, resulting in huge amounts of untreated chemical waste.
As per a batik maestro, shops that trade in roots and bark, which are vital in making vegetable colour, were endemic and Batavia batik was sent to Sumatra, Southern Borneo, Singapore, Malay Peninsula and even to Thailand.