Indonesia is proud of its batik tradition – the art of painting the cloth and world cultural heritage from Indonesia – and almost every province and the island have its unique motives. On the island of Sumatra, the most known batik is from the province of Jambi. Right in the heart of the city of Jambi, beyond the Batang Hari River, a few craftsmen and women have resurrected as one of the great sources of pride from the ancient era of Jambi’s Melayu Empire – because of their production of batik.
Unlike Javanese batik, which uses long pieces of cloth, Jambi batik usually comes in the form of a loose robe called a sarong or as a shawl or scarf. The distinctive Jambi color scheme is red, blue and yellow. The time it takes to work on it, though, is not different than working on a long cloth. Sarong or shawl takes between 15 days to a month to finish, depending on the complexity of the motif. It is a long process which takes a lot of effort from the artist because the batiks are all unique.
Most colorings are made with natural ingredients which are mixed with the various kinds of wood mentioned above and substances from other plants, like palm leaves, all of which are available locally. Also, there are mixtures using ingredients not available in Jambi, such as seeds from the Tinggi tree and indigo leaves, which are usually obtained from Yogyakarta.
Jambi’s handmade batik has an abundance of motifs with bright colors that symbolize the brilliant and cheerful community of Jambi. There are 31 recorded handmade batik motifs to be found such as Candi Muaro Jambi, Kaca Piring, Puncung Rebung, Angso Duo Bersayap Mahkota, Bulan Sabit, Pauh (mangga), Antlas (tanaman), Awan Berarak, Riang-Riang…
One of Jambi’s cultural assets is the local women’s habit of wearing a kind of headdress known as kuluk or tengkuluk. Each part of Jambi has its own unique style of headdress. Although the tide of modernisation cannot be resisted, you can still find tengkuluk both as a daily fashion choice and worn during special events. To prevent tengkuluk from being wiped out by modern fashions, the Provincial Government of Jambi is currently encouraging women to wear tengkuluk on Wednesdays. In the past, Jambi batik was a kind of handicraft that could not be owned by just anyone.
It was exclusively for members of the community with social standing such as aristocrats and royalty. With the end of the Jambi Sultanate came the dramatic decline in batik production.
During the era of Dutch colonial rule, the buzz surrounding Jambi’s batik was revived thanks to various articles written by Dutch. But since the era of sultans in Jambi, through the colonial period, the Japanese occupation, and even the war of independence, the craft of batik was never one of mass production. Truly unique and precious.■