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Batik preserves rich heritage, weaves social divides among cultures


July 2011


Last week, on July 12 to 16, an exhibition dedicated to traditional Javanese batik cloth took place at the Embassy of Indonesia at Washington, D.C. The American Batik Design Competition showcased a vast collection of the rich heritage Indonesian batik brought to world history and how it has fused with contemporary western-influenced garments. With its theme titled “The Spirit of America in the Heritage of Batik”, the competition challenged artists to illustrate the American innovation by making original design pieces in the backdrop of traditional Indonesia, highlighting the archipelago’s batik culture.

The Indonesian Embassy at Washington had  “American Batik” in mind, a new design concept that aims to strengthen U.S. and Indonesian ties and foster cultural cooperation between the two nations, says Indonesian ambassador Dino Patti Djahal.

Listed as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in October 2009, UNESCO acknowledged the batik and its cultural implications to preserve the rich Indonesian heritage, alongside the wayang (shadow puppet play) and kris (ceremonial dagger) in previous years and the angklung (bamboo musical instrument) just last year. “Batik is regarded as a cultural icon with its own uniqueness,” said Aburizal Bakrie, coordinating minister for the People’s Welfare. “It contains symbols and a deep philosophy of the human life cycle — and it was submitted by Indonesia as a non-material element of cultural heritage.” For a developing nation like Indonesia, earning such an honor was only the beginning for its economy.

Since its recognition as a world-class cultural preservation, batik gained popularity in the fashion industry, flaunting its artistic beauty as a commodity for global outreach. Indonesian administrators has been encouraging Indonesians to wear batik on Fridays. Workers in the private sectors and government officials alike put on batik on a daily basis. The casual mall rat, the youth generation, and everyone else walking around the streets of Indonesia, is wearing the batik again.

It has, essentially, identified the Indonesians.

A typical Yogajakartan white background motif. Photo from

You can easily find batik (and fabrics with its patterns) all over the archipelago. It first appeared in Java, where dark-colored motifs evolved into a local favorite. Today, every region in Indonesia has a batik signature of its own. Just as we see the white background batiks everywhere in Yogyakarta, we can also spot the vivid colors enlivening the northeastern coasts of Indonesia.

Batik historically uses wax-resist dyeing decoration technique, which is ultimately a painstaking process of dipping linens into wax, then dyeing them. It’s a traditional art form invented when the first civilizations came into existence in the world. Samples of it can be found all across the ancient Orient. However, none has been found as highly developed a fabric was as the batik in Central Java. Patterns and motifs of the traditional batik were woven so intricately that they can only show how those figures have structured a unique civilization richly-ingrained in the traditional Javanese life.

Even though batik’s development was largely influenced by the Hindu culture, Indonesian archaeologist F. A. Sutjipto believes that the Indonesian batik is a native tradition. Original materials found in batik-making are widespread throughout the archipelago, notably the root of morinda tinctoria tree, processed into red dyes. Other ornaments include the skin of soga tree, the damar kucing, the bee wax, and other plants and animals found throughout the Indonesian islands.

Sutjipto’s studies provided numerous evidence that the batik-making tradition formally took shape through local roots. Tracing back to the early 17th century, he found early roots of the modern batik culture during the reign of Islamic Mataram, just after the Hindu-Buddha kingdoms were replaced by Islamic rulers. This era popularized the present notion of batik reserved exclusively for powerful people reckoned with nobility and placed in higher social standing. During traditional Javanese ceremonies, one could tell the royal lineage of a person by the clothe he or she was wearing, as wider stripes or wavy lines of greater width indicated higher rank, or “clothe maketh man,” so they say.

In the early 19th century, batik began rising to international fame. During the colonial era, the Dutch had profound influence in batik-making ever since merchant Van Rijckevorsel stepped foot on the lands of Indonesia. He brought his batik collections back to the Netherlands and this has exposed its beauty to the westerner’s eye. Consequently, batik has impressed art patrons and the general European public alike, as exporters continued reinventing original prints according to the European taste. Through this cultural assimilation, batik evolved into a valuable Indonesian legacy as it quickly gains a new international appeal.

Entering the age of industrialization, these new breeds of batik officially popularized the batik print, which emerged from the invention of automated techniques and machineries. To reduce the cost of the fabric, patterns have been mass-produced repetitively, thus increasing its volume of production, while the old dyeing technique became simply known as batik tulis, or literally, written batik.

According to professor Michael Hitchcock at the University of Chichester in the UK, batik has “a strong political dimension”. His doctorate research in Eastern Indonesia while attending Oxford University instilled him a keen interest in the batik culture. Recently, he stated that “the batik shirt was invented as a formal non-Western shirt for men in Indonesia in the 1960s, not long after the country’s birth.” He commented on the long-running cultural dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia, saying that batik served as a radical political statement for Indonesians, because the nation was a major member in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a list of 118 developing countries that came together representing the political, economic, and cultural interests of the developing world. Malaysia, however, was a former British colony that did not really fight for its freedom, he said to The Telegraph.

This fashion statement has somewhat revived in the 21st century since it waned in the 1960s. Some called it a renaissance of the old days, but others in the fashion world are reinventing batik from a traditional symbol and revolutionizing its meaning into a much stronger national identity.


A batik fashion show showcasing fashion designer Denny Wirawan. Photo from Asia Society.

Currently, in Indonesia, batik is the new black.

“Since this batik craze began my business has continued to grow,” said Lala Gozali to The Jakarta Globe. The owner of Gianti Creation, an original line known for combining modern designs with traditional motifs, has reportedly earned monthly profits up to Rp. 40 million (USD 4,400) since it first launched in 2003. By collecting batik and making clothes out of them, she has not only earned a luxurious living through her thriving business, but lived her passion for preserving the Indonesian heritage through her priceless collection of traditional woven fabrics. Some traditional colors, originally brought about from natural dyes, are indigo, dark brown, and white, depicting the Indonesian’s religious influences of Hinduism. These colors represent the three Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva respectively.

The trimurti of Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, and Lord Shiva. Image from Krishna Darshan Art Gallery on Stephen Knapp's website.

Over years of its development, the Indonesian treasure and its worldwide cultural expansion welcomes a variety of influences to its motifs, with each region adopting different approaches to their own artistic taste. Pattern designs of batik in indigenous regions are inspired by a wide range of foreign motifs, as we can normally see the fabrics imprinted with Arabic calligraphy, Indian peacocks, Japanese cherry blossoms, Chinese birds, and other embellishments representing a particular ethnic identity.

“Nowadays, batik artists are too lazy to learn and read about local culture, and this will jeopardize the future fate of batik, because Hardjono and Iwan found their ways through reading and learning,” said Soedarmadji Damais, co-author of “Java Style” during recent month-long batik exhbition at the Jakarta Textile Museum.

Damais was referring to two batik maestros, Solo-based Hardjono Go Tik Swan, and Iwan Tirta, ambassador of the Indonesian batik.

From May 31 to June 25, the exhibition displayed 150 batik collections belonged to the museum and some of the most reckoned batik enthusiasts, including Tatiek Fauzi Bowo, wife of the Jakarta governor, Pia Allisyahbana, founder of Femina magazine, and Meutia Hatta Swasono, former minister of the national organization empowering women and children (Menteri Pemberdayaan Perempuan dan Perlindungan Anak Indonesia). The exhibition promoted the role and history of batik as it is ascending the world stage through fashion, but more importantly, it was purported to raise awareness among the youth population on how it played a significant part in Indonesia’s evolutionary identity since the day the nation claimed independence. “People, especially younger generations, need to know the symbolic meaning of batik as well as the important figures from the history,” Tatiek addressed during the exhibition. It’s no wonder Indonesian gained new pride in wearing batik, traditionally worn for special occasions but now a norm in everyday fashion.

Singapore Airlines stewardess uniform. Photo from Wikipedia.

Like Tatiek, fellow batik collector Ann Dunham, better known as the late mother of United States president Barack Obama, participated in the effort to promote Indonesia’s heritage and its significance. In 2009, Dunham’s textile batik art collection went into national tour for the two-week exhibition A Lady Found a Culture in its Cloth: Barack Obama’s Mother and Indonesian Batiks. It toured around six museums in the United States and made a final stop at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., giving a looking window to Americans while taking them back to the richness of traditional Javanese culture, as fabricated in these vibrant textiles.

One popular example of batik’s international appeal is its influence on world-class flight carrier Singapore Airlines – their iconic Singapore Girl uniform in a Sarong Kebaya. Designed by Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain, the goal of 1972 Singapore Airlines (SIA) marketing campaign was to project a cultural reflection of the Asian heritage, symbolizing the Asian grace and hospitality in its cabin service. The Singapore Girl took over passengers hearts and won the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism Award in March 2004 for the 18th Singapore Tourism Board’s annual tourism awards. SIA also took pride after ongoing achievements in their service, now widely knowns as the best airline in the world. To note, they are recently named as the World’s Best Business Class Airline at the 2011 World Wide Airline Awards.

What we can look forward now is the biennial batik exhibition attracting batik aficionados from all over the world.

Indonesia will hold the World Batik Summit 2011 at the Jakarta Convention Center (JCC) on September 28 to October 2. “The event is expected to attract international’s interest towards batik,” says founder of Batik Indonesia Dipo Alam to ANTARA news. The summit aimed to establish a strong networking community between batik makers and its lovers around the world. Through such treasured artistic and cultural legacy, the Indonesian Batik Committee is set to establish the nation as the “Global Home of Batik” within the world community. This summit is a gateway for foreigners to enjoy immersing oneself into the deepest roots of Indonesian culture. Event attendees are sure to experience batik’s enduring charms like no other place in the world can give.

To find out more about the World Batik Summit 2011, visit

Works Cited:

Batik, the Traditional Fabric of Indonesia“.  Living in Indonesia, A Site for Expatriates. Expat Web Site Association Jakarta, Indonesia.

Profile: Non-Aligned Movement“. BBC News. Last Updated: 07 Aug, 2009.

Collins, Nick. “Indonesia tells Malaysians ‘Hands Off Our Batik‘ “. The Telegraph. 05 Oct, 2009.

Krismantari, Ika. “Continuing Indonesian Batik’s Legacy“. The Jakarta Post. 04 Jun, 2011

Krismantari, Ika. “Batik Frenzy Not Strictly Traditional“. The Jakarta Globe. 07 Feb, 2010

Stover, Adrian. “Batik for Americans and Indonesians Alike“. Asia Society.  08 Apr, 2011.





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Accept it.



I was reading a really interesting article that I find is most relevant to me right now. The November 2006 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine article, “Life in 20s: Cosmo’s Guide” spoke the worries going on in my mind a lot, especially under the section What Guys In Their 20s Worry About.

You must be wondering how I came to such conclusion.


– Image courtesy of Sheena Benavente via Pinterest 


I have no other answer except that it’s a fact I’m born this way; I embody androgyny.

I know, I feel funny too feeling more inclined towards the guy’s section than being seated comfortably as the intended audience of the whole Fun Fearless Female article.


“My life won’t be extraordinary.”

Sure, I fantasize about being a professional athlete, or an actress, or something else that makes me feel like a heroine in this girl-power era. But at this point my life, I know I have to accept the fact that these big dreams won’t probably be mine and I can only hope for anything else that are close to making me feel accomplished. In the end, being just a regular person who will have a normal career can do, I guess.


“I’m too tied down.”

I have to ‘fess up here: I do fear commitment. That’s why I want to double-check everything else just to be sure that I have made the best decision. That’s why juggling different careers in my field of industry has been written down all over my resume. “Men at this age value freedom more than anything,” says George Weinberg, Ph.D. and author of Why Men Won’t Commit.


“I’m closed off.”

I pride myself on handling problems on my own. I pride myself for being independent. Yet without support, I must admit that I fear I keep too much inside that I won’t find someone to comfortably share my worries with.

Thankfully, I’ve found one.


Although, I have not been accustomed to having someone else to share with, a comfortable place to run to.

Over the years I have been alone, living single, and accepting the odds that I might forever turn into one, I’ve been dealing with insecurities everyday. It’s also my responsibility to prevent making others feel uncomfortable, I don’t know how to reward myself for doing a good job.

Or seek pleasure in general. All I know now is how to deal with pain.

In terms of career, I’ve found my calling about a year ago from today. I know I’m supposed to be in the media industry even before I went into college.

“You sure you don’t want to be a journalist?” said Sir Peter Thomas, one of my dedicated English teacher back in high school. I was so determined about becoming an adult, something which my parents never consider me as one, that I turned myself into the wrong direction.

Thank God I was young, and now it’s perfectly the right time to think about my career, like, seriously thinking about it. “Your 20s are a time to explore different options. Each one will lead you to a new opportunity you weren’t aware of,” explains Karen Gail Lewis, Ed.D, author of With or Without a Man.

Reading this section, I began to think about my usual pattern of thinking.

I used to think that if work is a must, then so be it. I must love it, dedicate myself to it, and put my heart and soul on it in order to make a living. Otherwise, I can’t do the job.

In other words, I’m really sacrificing my life for it. I took the man out of the equation and surrender it all to the working life, although I’ve always secretly hoped for a knight in shining armor to surrender myself to.

But everybody knows that’s fiction. My imaginations are stronger than I am.

“These mirror your real desires, so taking on work that reflects them can help you identify your calling,” explains Richard Chang, Ph.D. and author of The Passion Plan.

So, the past couple of years, I’ve been dedicating myself to build a character within me, this strong wall protecting me from all the dangers that I can’t help but surrender myself to the fictional knight in his white horse, some dude who does nothing but be there in my imaginations. Take this into consideration, and what do you get?

A girl, not yet a woman (quoting Britney), not really a lady, but more of an ideal man.

Androgyny, as psychologists would define, is the ability to display both male and female characteristics. Some typical masculine traits would be ambitious, competitive, independent, and a willingness to take risks. In contrast, that of a female characteristic would be cheerful, affectionate, compassionate, and tolerance.

Researchers have shown that psychologically androgynous people tend to be mentally healthy, successful, have high self-esteem, and show much flexibility. But I know even though I exhibit certain personality traits that are more masculine, though I’m born a female, I am still mentally unrest at heart. My parents, coming from a culture that values monetary gain more than fostering good relationships, is really successful on the outside.

“You don’t realize that just as you’re doing now, they became adults in small baby steps: first tackling their careers, for example, before working on romance or owning a home,” says Dr. Catherine Birndorf, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Although I do realize that, not everybody arrives at the same point the same way.

The inevitable open-ended question mark facing you each day you wake up in the morning is hampering my self-esteem and my resilience to stay calm in all situations. My mind is a constant flux of reminders, telling me what I should be aware about, especially numbers, damned numbers.

With my mother keep telling me: “You know, at your age, I’m already pregnant twice.”

I do feel bad about not graduating earlier and moving to different schools to delay the day I shall receive a Bachelor’s degree, but I don’t regret in holding back and learning what I really value over these years. But it’s not something to be proud of in the Eastern cultures in general. A woman’s role is not supposed to be that hard; you just bear in labor and raise children with a provider.

I ask myself this question everyday while going through my adolescence: Is that really all there is?

Which is why I chose to move to America to further my studies.

Which is a big difference from my mom and dad’s lives. “Rather than measuring how adult you are against some artificial marker, consider this the true indicator of whether you’re a full-fledged adult:


‘I accept that being twentysomething doesn’t entitle me to feeling secure and in control of my life.’ “


That’s the affirmation clinical psychologist Michael Jolvoski suggested to Cosmopolitan readers.

I guess, no matter how old you get, you’ll never feel absolutely secure, or absolutely in control of your life anyway. Might as well lean on to the comfortable place I know I now have. I know it’s time for me to shine as a woman, no longer a man, not as much a girl.

In the back of my mind, Britney is singing, all I need is time, a moment that is mine, while I’m in-between… Because, really, there is no one moment when you go from a carefree college student to a got-it-all-under-control adult.




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Drive your feelings, it’s a do or die.

…because knowing the end is the surefire way to move forward right.

I AM screaming.





Screaming in my head. I want to yell. I want to shout out loud. I want to kick some ass and box some nose. But I can’t.

I’M SUPPOSED TO BE A GIRL. I’m born one. Just sometimes quite unlucky enough to have a naturally higher testosterone levels than most girls.

You can tell by the length proportion of my fingers. They’re long, lean, and my index and ring fingers are relatively similar in length compared to most women I have observed in real life. “The links with sports are the strongest I’ve found,” explains British psychologist John Manning to USA Today. “They’re particularly strong with endurance running.”

No wonder I’m physically more resilient than most women I know. But that’s not my point here.

To the world, I am just one tiny little dot. And I’m still shutting up and listening.

BUT, I DO WRITE. I hope to write down other things besides my anger. These emotions in my head I know I cannot control. There are so many things beyond your locus of control in life, but there are just some things that makes you more emotionally vulnerable. 

Why does everybody keep telling what not to do? What not to do? What not to do? What NOT to do?

As a matter of fact, I almost wrote a sentence from the last paragraph as “I hope NOT to write down …” Here’s my problem: Even though I’m physically resilient, my emotions run wild and free whenever I run, I am less emotionally resilient. For the solution, I keep this diary of mine as another way to move on from my negative feelings, because it’s just a bad idea to dwell on negative feelings, and I don’t feel comfortable either. Really.

Although I know that the world loves to scream at you back that you’re not supposed to do this, or you’re not supposed to be that, or you’re not this or you’re not that. You’re a nobody.

But I guess that’s just a test of what real endurance means.

As a fellow practitioner of positive psychology, Martin Seligman reinforced me to think about the positive things out of every situation, then reinforce the positive people who have made the situation happen. Sure, Reed is now my boyfriend, although for some reason, Sean keeps coming back into the picture. But instead of thinking about the love of my life, or the life that depends upon someone else, I’d like to think that everything I do is ultimately a self-fulfilling prophecy, because I believe in it.

I BELIEVE IN CREATING A LIFE enriched by my active voice, my valuable voice. I guess it’s the sum of money I actively value-add through the act of writing, while I’m thinking about killing myself.


Should I actively kill myself, or should I let it bow down to me with a passive voice? I guess that’s the closest way I can get in order to think positively right now.

In every bad feelings I emote just because somebody tells me what to NOT to do, after being the youngest one in every situation and not just in my own family, I am aware that I’ve been taken preventive care, because the world is indeed full of shit. Yes, I’m aware of that. My whole life I’ve been told what NOT to do. NOT to move, NOT to get into an art school, NOT to date anybody, NOT to do things until you understand. Ironically, it’s by DOING SOMETHING that you come to understand. You have to be young and stupid to be old and wise.

JUST A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, I’ve just learned how to drive a car properly. Now not afraid to drive alone, even at night. 

Yesterday, however, due how much fragile these bottled up feelings are, which is the case for most women, I was driving at a high speed with my brother by my side. He disappointed me yet again, this is not the first time. My blood was pumping high when he didn’t show some responsibility in alarming situations. When he disappointed me for how he reacted when he found out I have a boyfriend, I think it was just me trying to expect something that I know I won’t get. But yesterday, he overtook his emotions and throw it against me, saying that he just didn’t feel like going. Just didn’t feel like it. Just did NOT feel like it.

Last night, I drove at the highest speed and rammed the car on its highest. I exhausted the car’s fumes as if I’m releasing my rage while keeping my mouth shut. The traffic was unbearable but the motorcycles and cars taking over me and all did NOT matter. What matters is the question of my emotional resilience: How can I get over feeling this bad?

So I just go along and take risky turns from left to right but still going really fast. I have to be on time and that’s the most important thing. What matters is not taking somebody else’s life.

Including the person sitting right beside me.

NO MATTER HOW MUCH ANGER I FEEL because of certain people, or certain situations, I know I hold the responsibility for their lives to a certain degree, no matter how big or small. Saying things to people you are related to physically or emotionally, negative things like “I want to kill myself” or “I wish I was never born” is completely unhealthy. The Bible also said that it’s not right to kill. I figured, not even yourself.

Sometimes it’s a pain, really, to deal with shit. My momma even told me: “You see all the motorcycles on the street? The angkot? The public bus? They can prevent you from moving forward anytime they want, however they want, so just let them go. Once you’ve lost sight of them, you’ll move forward even better. If not, always find a way out.

True, they always say when there’s a will, there’s a way.

“Just think of them as shit. Ignore them and they’ll pass you by.”

I was awe-strucked. She never really said the word ‘shit’ before in my entire life, not at least in front of me. After nagging me things I should NOT do my entire life, she learned that the right way to teach me is to encourage me, not to prevent me, and that shows care.

She has really changed over the years. She deals with her feelings so well. And I know I must too.

And my will is to die, honorably.

My pen is a torchlight. I am invisible.

My soul is no-thing. Yet, of me the fire inside burns forever.

And before my soul is buried under the deathbed I shall do whatever it takes to withstand the tests of time and thrust through the linear successions we are all innately capable of moving called LIFE. That was my oath to death.

AFTER WRITING THIS ENTRY, I finally realized the problem: I learn better through reinforcement rather than punishment, or anything closer to punishment. When my mother seated beside me while I was driving, I always feel strong. She privately prayed for my safety in the temple, but in front of me, she has my best interest at heart. 

“You have to keep pushing yourself so that you have no fear. Take control of the car. You control the car. It leads you to where you want to be. There is no right or wrong way to drive, but you have to drive safely because you are dealing with life and death.”

Instead of a constant negative reinforcement whispering behind my back, I do better at occasional positive reinforcements about my strength.

So I guess that’s why I get so angry. And after some thinking, I’m now calmer. Thus the saying writing is thinking.

 Phew. (Note: Emotional resilience is not a trait. It’s a process. It’s a way people cope with life’s most annoying obstacles).

SALUNA is signing off.

Saluna and her stories: View all / Diary entries