Batik – an Ancient Indonesian Tradition
Batik, Indonesia’s national fabric, is synonymous with the culture of Java itself. Batik making in Java is an ancient tradition that has been passed down through the generations.
Traditional batik making is characterized by the wax-resist dying technique in which melted wax is applied to the fabric using a canting, a utensil that has a metal cup to hold the melted wax with a tiny spout at the far side to drip the hot wax.
The canting is held like a stylus and used to drip hot wax over the pre-drawn pattern lines. This allows the fabric to be dyed without coloring the pattern. The process requires painstaking precision as batik patterns are sometimes extremely complex.
This method done by hand with a canting is called batik tulis. The word tulis literally means to write and refers to the canting tool which is held like a writing tool.
The varieties of batik patterns are also rich in meaning and philosophy. Some patterns symbolize prosperity and happiness and are worn during weddings. Some batik patterns are used to signify social status and hierarchy such as the Parang pattern which used to be exclusive for nobility.
Nowadays, the traditional method of batik done by hand is threatened by conventional mass printed batik which is done by machine.
In 2009, UNESCO, the UN agency dedicated to world cultures, designated Indonesian Batik as a ‘Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.’ The declaration is, of course, aimed at helping to save the traditional method of making batik.
Batik is so much a part of Indonesian life that a batik shirt is considered formal dress for a man and is commonly used as the fabric for women’s dresses.