Kampung Laweyan in the southern part of Solo (Suarakarta), Central Java, is special not only because of its antiquity and exotic architecture, but also due to its long batik history having been a center of indigenous batik merchants in its early 20th century heyday.
In the same area, the first trading association, Syarekat Dagang Islam, was founded by national hero Haji Samanhudi along with local batik wholesalers in 1912. During the period from 1900 to 1970 natives of Laweyan continued to hold sway in the batik trade.
“In the golden period, batik tycoons emerged. Female bosses were called Mbok Mase and their male peers Mas Nganten,” said the chairman of Kampoeng Batik Laweyan Development Forum (FPKBL), Alpha Fabela Priyatmono.
The book Mbok Mase, Pengusaha Batik di Laweyan Solo Awal Abad 20 (Mbok Mase, Early 20th Century Batik Entrepreneurs in Laweyan Solo), written by Soedarmono, a historian at Sebelas Maret University (UNS) Surakarta, describes Laweyan’s batik golden age as being marked by the wide variety of batik motifs on the market, later well known as Solo batik designs.
However, Laweyan’s batik industry began to slide from its peak with the entry of printed batiks from China around 1970. Unlike stamped and handmade batiks, printed products are oriented to mass manufacturing. Using printing technology, thousands of batik sheets can be produced daily. By contrast, stamped batiks register only a few hundred daily and with hand-painted batiks a single piece can take 2-4 months.
“As capitalism entered through the batik printing industry, Laweyan batiks were overwhelmed. The batik business boom in Kampung Laweyan was ruined and Mbok Mase, the batik businesswomen in the area, disappeared into history,” said Soedarmono.
The printed batik invasion, according to Alpha, rendered Laweyan a virtual ghost village for nearly 30 years, with almost no batik-making activity in the old subdistrict from 1970 to 2000. “No children carried on their parents’ batik businesses. If any, the income earned was only for survival. Many residents left to work as employees or civil servants,” said Alpha, a lecturer of architecture at Muhammadiyah University of Surakarta.
During the 30-year dormant period, Kampung Laweyan only evoked pleasant memories of its old-time mercantile grandeur, with its narrow alleys and tall, dull buildings in Java’s traditional style as well as European, Chinese and Islamic architecture. Uniquely, many old houses in Laweyan are interconnected by bunkers.
“In these bunkers, merchants in former times stored their treasure. The bunkers were also frequently used as emergency exits to flee when the house owners were chased by Dutch colonial soldiers,” added Alpha.
As they were walking down memory lane, some members of Laweyan’s younger generation in the early 2000s initiated a revival of its golden period through their concept of tourism. By this concept, Kampung Laweyan would later not only offer its batik but also heritage tourism.
The conservation of 30 old buildings of historic significance in Laweyan’s batik industrial growth was conducted to support heritage-tourism development in the area. The Office of the State Minister of People’s Housing disbursed about Rp 600 million (US$66,000) for this purpose and the city government contributed Rp 200 billion for environmental restructuring.
“We’ve designed Kampung Laweyan to become one of the icons that promote Solo as a city of shopping and heritage tourism. We’re only reviving what already existed,” said Surakarta Mayor Joko Widodo.
To complement Laweyan’s heritage image, Krisnina Akbar Tandjung through Warna Warni Foundation initiated the building of Haji Samanhudi Museum. It displays several fragments of the early 20th century batik industry, pictures of Kampung Laweyan and photos of young Haji Samanhudi when he was engaged in batik trading.
In 2004, the Surakarta city government declared Laweyan a batik village and gave legal protection to batik creations. Today 215 batik motifs from Laweyan have been patented.
The present atmosphere of Kampung Laweyan is very different from that of eight years ago. With only eight batik entrepreneurs left in 2004, now 90 of the 110 families in the village are batik businessmen, with the 20 others working as hand-painted, stamped and sablon (silk screened) batik makers.
Kampung Laweyan has thus been reinvigorated and travel bureaus are cooperating with the Kampoeng Batik Laweyan Development Forum. Local and foreign tourists visit Kampung Laweyan not only for batik shopping but also to observe batik making. “They have home-stay facilities in Laweyan for heritage sightseeing,” said Alpha.
Batik home industries are again thriving, with batik showrooms appearing along Laweyan roads and apart from batik sheets, clothes and T-shirts, they also offer batik handicrafts and souvenirs. Alpha noted these industries had absorbed over 1,000 workers with daily wages ranging from Rp 40,000 to Rp 60,000.
“Batik businessmen now record an average monthly turnover of Rp 50-75 million. Eight years back, their turnover was less than Rp 3 million per month,” revealed Alpha.
Previously closed and unwelcoming, the big houses in Laweyan are now open daily with batik shops in front and busy people in rear rooms: Women painting batik designs manually and men stamping batik patterns on fine fabrics.
Source: Jakarta Post