Written by Lotte Troost – AIYA National Blog Editor
Translated by Thomas Shears – AIYA National Translator. Indonesian version click here.
In addition to being the first Saturday of the month, the 2nd of October 2021 marks the 11th annual celebration of batik, an ancient tradition from Indonesia.
Twelve years ago, on the 2nd of October 2009, UNESCO designated batik as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Since then, the 2nd of October has been declared as Hari Batik Nasional (National Batik Day) to commemorate this enactment and to pay extra attention to one of Indonesia’s most renowned brand marks.
Batik is often used as a generic term to refer to the wax-resist dyeing technique that is applied to cotton and silk or to refer to the craftwork created using this technique. The word batik is derived from the Javanese words mbat (throwing) and tik (dot), and thus denotes both a verb and a noun.
Batik is a time-consuming and labour intensive technique that might take up to a year to complete, especially for written batik (batik tulis). Furthermore, batik has a deep philosophical significance, with different motifs and colours carrying various religious and cultural symbolism.
Craftwork that is so rich in symbolism, historical value, and beautiful patterns and colours doesn’t go unnoticed outside Indonesia. Batik is one of the most popular souvenirs to bring home to keep the memory of Indonesia. If there’s one Indonesian word that you’ll remember from your visit to cities like Yogyakarta, Solo and Cirebon, it’ll be ‘batik’.
In terms of economics, batik also plays an important role. According to the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, batik exports even increased during the pandemic, with Japan, the United States and Europe being the top importers. In line with the Indonesian government’s aim to increase worldwide recognition of batik, the Foreign Ministry has endeavoured to strengthen Indonesian batik diplomacy abroad. Besides, during his speech on Batik Day 2019, President Jokowi encouraged Indonesians to commit to the preservation and development of batik as an element of the country’s culture.
Focusing on the Indonesians who live outside their country, how well-known is batik in their area? And what role does batik play in their lives abroad? Let’s take a look around the world!
The United States
Anggi Auliyani Suharja is a Fulbright Indonesian Instructor at Columbia University, New York. Anggi is not an unfamiliar face: she served as AIYA Jawa Barat’s vice president external until November 2020.
Despite the fact that Anggi has only recently moved to New York, her agenda is already packed with lectures and extracurricular activities. Therefore, she hasn’t found the time yet to explore the city and look for some batik stores. But finding local batik stores may not be urgent, since Anggi brought many batik items with her on her journey to the United States.
“I brought the clothes for my students, so they can try it and become familiar with an aspect of the Indonesian culture. In the week of National Batik Day, I’ll encourage them to wear batik,” Anggi said.
Anggi wearing a batik blouse that she bought in her hometown Bandung. Picture was taken before meeting her students on the campus of Columbia University, New York.
Anggi not only enjoys introducing her students to batik, she often wears it herself too – both on special occasions and regular days. “I’m proud to be Indonesian, and I’m even more proud of my country since I moved abroad. At this university, I feel I’m a representative of the Indonesian culture, and batik is an integral part of that,” she added.
Anggi’s favourite batik item is a pink crop top with a colourful leaf pattern. She also brought it with her to New York. “That batik shirt holds sentimental value. When I first started teaching in Australia, it was a dress. But it was torn during a traditional games workshop, so I recreated it as a shirt so it can continue to be part of my journey,” she explained.
Salmadita, AIYA Jabar’s treasurer and interim president, lives a little closer to Indonesia. In 2020, amid the pandemic, she moved to Melbourne with her parents.
Due to the pandemic and being unable to visit her campus in Indonesia, Salmadita’s graduation ceremony was online. But a laptop screen did not withhold her from dressing up in a kebaya (traditional upper garment) and her favourite batik skirt, which she has worn since high school.
Salmadita striking a pose with her favourite batik skirt to virtually celebrate her graduation, Melbourne 2020.
“Before moving to Australia, I only wore batik once in a while. If I’d worn it every day, people would have assumed I was attending a formal event, or celebrating a special day,” Salmadita explained. But this changed after Salma moved to Melbourne. “Here in Melbourne, I wear my batik more often and with even more pride. Although I check the weather before selecting my batik: the fabric is thin and soft, so the weather should be good to avoid masuk angin (Indonesian term for feeling unwell). I wore batik during Indonesian independence day, and I felt the energy from Indonesia!” Salmadita explained.
It depends on the pandemic situation if there will be any events in Melbourne linked to Batik Day 2021, according to Salmadita. But events or not, on the 2nd of October, she will enter her workplace wearing her batik mask and the batik skirt from her graduation to “express her identity as an Indonesian.”
Afrizal Maarif is a master’s student at Wageningen University, majoring in Spatial Planning. In 2019, he left his hometown Surabaya to pursue his studies in the Netherlands.
During springtime in the Netherlands, Rizal likes to wear his long-sleeved batik shirt from Kalimantan. “However, my favourite item is the Batik Parang, the sword pattern, which has a simple yet aesthetic design,” he said.
Because Wageningen is one of the most popular universities in the Netherlands among Indonesian students, Rizal frequently sees other Indonesian students wearing batik on campus. “But sometimes I also see Dutch students wearing batik or carrying a batik-patterned bag, which makes me proud: such a historical and cultural legacy exists until now and has even gone global!” Rizal explained.
In contrast to previous years, Rizal won’t be able to attend any special events dedicated to this year’s National Batik Day since he’ll be in mandatory quarantine upon his return to Indonesia. Despite this, he hopes that batik becomes increasingly well-known across the world, including in research and among academia. “And that the production of batik will become more sustainable, both for the craftspeople and for the environment,” Rizal said.
This batik blouse from Pontianak, West Kalimantan, is one of the items that Rizal brought with him to the Netherlands.