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Indonesian batik

Batik (Javanese pronunciation: [ˈbateʔ]; Indonesian: [ˈbatɪk]) is a cloth that is traditionally made using a manual wax-resist dyeing technique.

Originating from Java, batik is made by drawing designs on fabric using dots and lines of hot wax, which resists dyes and therefore allows the artisan to color selectively by soaking the cloth in one color, removing the wax with boiling water and repeating if multiple colors are desired. Indigenous patterns often have symbolic meanings which are used in specific ceremonies, while coastal patterns draw inspiration from a variety of cultures; from Arabic calligraphy, European bouquets and Chinese phoenixes to Japanese cherry blossoms and Indian or Persian peacocks.[1]

Batik has been used as everyday clothing since ancient times, and it is still used by many Indonesians today in occasions ranging from formal to casual. On October 2009, UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. As part of the acknowledgment, UNESCO insisted that Indonesia preserve their heritage.[1]


The word batik is Javanese of origin. It may be either come from the Javanese word amba ('to write') and titik ('dot'), or constructed from a hypothetical Proto-Austronesian root *beCík ('to tattoo'). The word is first recorded in English in the Encyclopædia Britannica of 1880, in which it is spelled battik. It is attested in the Indonesian Archipelago during the Dutch colonial period in various forms: mbatek, mbatik, batek and batik.[2][3][4]


The carving details of clothes worn by East Javanese Prajnaparamita statue from circa 13th century CE shows intricate floral pattern similar to today traditional Javanese batik.
The Javanese aristocrat R.A. Kartini in kebaya with her husband. Both wore batik sarongs with parang motif, late 1800s

Wax resist dyeing technique in fabric is an ancient art form. Discoveries show it already existed in Egypt in the 4th century BC, where it was used to wrap mummies; linen was soaked in wax, and scratched using a sharp tool. In Asia, the technique was practiced in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), and in India and Japan during the Nara Period (645-794 AD). In Africa it was originally practiced by the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria, Soninke and Wolof in Senegal.[5]

In Java, Indonesia, batik predates written records. G. P. Rouffaer argues that the technique might have been introduced during the 6th or 7th century from India or Sri Lanka.[5] On the other hand, JLA. Brandes (a Dutch archeologist) and F.A. Sutjipto (an Indonesian archeologist) believe Indonesian batik is a native tradition, regions such as Toraja, Flores, Halmahera, and Papua, which were not directly influenced by Hinduism and have an old age tradition of batik making.[6]

Rouffaer also reported that the gringsing pattern was already known by the 12th century in Kediri, East Java. He concluded that this delicate pattern could only be created by canting, an etching tool that holds a small reservoir of hot wax. He proposed that the canting was invented in Java around that time.[6] The carving details of clothes worn by East Javanese Prajnaparamita statue from circa 13th century CE shows intricate floral pattern within rounded margin, similar to today traditional Javanese ceplok batik motifs. The motif is tought to represent lotus, a sacred flower according to Hindu-Buddhist beliefs. This suggested intricate batik fabric pattern applied by canting has existed in 13th century Java.

In Europe, the technique is described for the first time in the History of Java, published in London in 1817 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles who had been a British governor for the island. In 1873 the Dutch merchant Van Rijckevorsel gave the pieces he collected during a trip to Indonesia to the ethnographic museum in Rotterdam. Today Tropenmuseum houses the biggest collection of Indonesian batik in the Netherlands. The Dutch and Chinese were active in developing batik, particularly coastal batik, in the late colonial era. They introduced new patterns as well cap (copper block stamps) to mass-produce batiks, as opposed to the traditional method of manually drawing the patterns. Exposed to the Exposition Universelle at Paris in 1900, the Indonesian batik impressed the public and the artisans.[5]

At the same time, according to the Museum of Cultural History of Oslo, Indonesian immigrants to Malaysia brought the art with them. As late as the 1920s Javanese batik makers introduced the use of wax and copper blocks on Malaysia's east coast. The production of hand drawn batik in Malaysia is of recent date and is related to the Javanese batik.[7]

In Sub Sahara Africa, Javanese batik was introduced in the 19th century by Dutch and English traders. The local people there adapted the Javanese batik, making larger motifs, thicker lines and more colors. In the 1970s, batik was introduced to the aboriginal community in Australia, the aboriginal community at Erna bella and Utopia now develop it as their own craft.[8]


Batik was traditionally sold in 2.25-metre lengths used for kain panjang or sarong. It is worn by wrapping it around the hip, or made into a hat known as blangkon. Infants are carried in batik slings decorated with symbols designed to bring the child luck. Certain batik designs are reserved for brides and bridegrooms, as well as their families.[1] Other designs are reserved for royalties. Consequently, a person's rank could be determined by the pattern of the batik he or she wore. Depending on the quality and workmanship, batik can be priced between a few dollars to a few thousand dollars.

Batik garments play a central role in certain Javanese rituals, such as the ceremonial casting of royal batik into a volcano. In the Javanese naloni mitoni ceremony, the mother-to-be is wrapped in seven layers of batik, wishing her good things. Batik is also prominent in the tedak siten ceremony when a child touches the earth for the first time.[9]


Contemporary men's batik shirt in typical Solo style, sogan color with lereng motif.

Batik popularity has had its ebbs and flows. Historically, it was essential for ceremonial costumes and it was worn as part of a kebaya dress, which was commonly worn every day. The existence and use of batik was already recorded in the 12th century and the textile has since become a strong source of identity for Indonesians,[10] Batik patterns developed following historical development from era to era.

Examples of Cultural influences on Batik Patterns and Motifs[11]
Cultural Influence Batik Pattern Geographic Location
Native Indonesian kawung, ceplok, gringsing, parang, lereng, truntum, sekar jagad (combination of various motifs) and other decorative motifs of Java, Dayak, Batak, Papua, Riau, etc. Respective areas
Hindu-Buddhist gurda (garuda), banji, cuwiri, kalpataru (tree of life), meru (gunungan), semen rama, pringgondani, sidha asih, sidha mukti, sidha luhur Java
Islamic Arabic calligraphy, bouraq Cirebon, Bengkulu, Jambi
Chinese fenghuang (Chinese phoenix), wadasan, megamendung, liong/naga (Chinese dragon), lok tjan Lasem, Cirebon, Tasikmalaya, Ciamis
Indian, Persian jlamprang, tree of life, peacock, elephant Cirebon, Pekalongan, Madura
Indo-European (colonial era) buketan (floral bouquet), fairytale Java
Japanese cherry blossom, hokokai, chrysanthemum, butterfly Java
An elderly Sundanese woman wearing batik sarong and headdress.

The batik industry of Java flourished in the late 1800s to early 1900s, but declined during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia.[12] It further declined after the Indonesian independence, because more and more people chose western clothes as fashionable, decimating the batik industry. However, batik has somewhat revived in the turn of 21st century, due to the effort of Indonesian fashion designers to innovate batik by incorporating new colors, fabrics, and patterns. Batik becomes a fashion item for many Indonesian, such as a shirt, dress, or scarf for casual wear and also preferred as a replacement for jacket-and-tie at certain receptions. Batik is more commonly found today in the form of a shirt for men and dress for women, but batik sarongs are still used in many occasions.

After the UNESCO recognition for Indonesian batik as intangible world heritage on October 2, 2009, Indonesian administration has asked Indonesians to wear batik on Friday, and wearing batik every Friday is encouraged in all government offices and private companies ever since.[13] The date is also celebrated as National Batik Day in Indonesia. Batik had helped improve the small business local economy, batik sales in Indonesia had reached Rp 3.9 trillion (US$436.8 million) in 2010, an increase from Rp 2.5 trillion in 2006. The value of batik exports, meanwhile, increased from $14.3 million in 2006 to $22.3 million in 2010.[14]

Batik is also popular in the neighboring country of Singapore and Malaysia. It is produced in Malaysia with similar, but not identical, method as used in Indonesia. Prior to UNESCO's recognition, Indonesia and Malaysia were once in a dispute over the ownership of batik culture, following the 2009 Pendet controversy. However, Dr Fiona Kerlogue, deputy keeper of anthropology at the Horniman museum in London, said that "What they make in Malaysia actually uses quite a different technique to what they use in Indonesia ... Indonesia produces a very fine batik which they have been producing for centuries. Malaysia produces a printed wax-based version that they have been using for maybe a century. They are making something that is different and I think the problem is that both countries are using the same word for it."[15]

Batik is featured in the national airlines uniform of the three countries. The flight attendants of Singapore Airlines, Garuda Indonesia and Malaysian Airline has batik prints in their uniform. The female uniform of Garuda Indonesia flight attendants is a modern interpretations of the more authentic Kartini style kebaya with parang gondosuli patterned batik, which also incorporate garuda's wings and small dots representing jasmine.[16][17]


As each region has their own traditional pattern, batiks are commonly distinguished by the region they originated in, such as batik Solo, batik Pekalongan, batik Madura, etc. Batiks produced in Java can also be distinguished by their general pattern and colors into batik pedalaman (inland batik) or batik pesisir (coastal batik). Batiks which does not fall into the two categories are only referred to by their region.

Javanese Batik[edit]

Inland Batik[edit]

A typical inland batik has deep earth colors with various indigenous patterns (contemporary kain panjang with sidha pattern from Solo).

Inland batik or batik kraton (Javanese court batik) is the oldest form of batik tradition known in Java. Inland batik has earthy color[18] such as black, indigo, brown, and sogan (brown-yellow), sometimes against a white background, with symbolic patterns that are mostly independent from outside influence. Certain patterns are reserved only for royalties, while other are worn in specific occasions. In a Javanese wedding for example, the bride wear specific patterns in each stage of the ceremony.[19] Noted inland batiks are produced in Solo and Jogjakarta, cities which are traditionally regarded as the center of Javanese culture. Batik solo typically has sogan background and is preserved by the Susuhunan and Mangkunegaran Court. Batik Jogja typically has white background and is preserved by the Yogyakarta Sultanate and Pakualaman Court.

Coastal Batik[edit]

In contrast, a typical coastal batik has vibrant colors with patterns drawn from numerous cultures (kain panjang with lotus motifs from Semarang, 1880).

Coastal batik is produced in several areas of northern Java and Madura. In contrast to inland batik, coastal batik have vibrant colors and patterns inspired from a wide range of cultures as a consequence of maritime trading.[18] Recurring motifs include European flower bouquets, Chinese phoenix, and Persian peacocks.[1] Noted coastal batiks are produced in Pekalongan, Cirebon, Lasem, Tuban, and Madura. Compared to others, Pekalongan has the most thriving batik industry.

A notable sub-type of coastal batik called Jawa Hokokai is not attributed to a particular region. During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia in early 1940, the batik industry greatly declined due to material shortage. Few workshops funded by the Japanese however, were able to produced extremely fine batiks called Jawa Hokokai.[12] Common motifs of Hokokai includes Japanese cherry blossoms, butterflies, and chrysanthemums.

Another coastal batik called batik tiga negeri (batik of three lands) is attributed to three regions: Lasem, Pekalongan, and Solo, where the batik would be dipped in red, blue, and sogan dyes respectively. As of 1980, batik tiga negeri is only produced in one city.[12]

Sundanese Batik[edit]

Sundanese or Priangan Batik is the term proposed to identify various batik cloths produced in the Priangan region, a cultural region of West Java and Banten.[20] Although Priangan batik are known to be familiar with the wide range of colors, the preference of the color indigo is prevalent in some of its variants. Natural indigo dye made from Indigofera is among the oldest known dye in Java, and its local name tarum has become the origin for the name of Citarum river and Tarumanagara kingdom, which suggests that ancient West Java was once a major producer of natural indigo dye. Noted Priangan batik is produced in Ciamis, Garut, and Tasikmalaya. There also batik Kuningan which is influenced by batik Cirebon, batik Banten that developed quite independently, and older tradition of batik Baduy.

Batik Banten employs bright pastel colors and represents a revival of a lost art from the Sultanate of Banten, rediscovered through archaeological work during 2002–2004. Twelve motifs from locations such as Surosowan and several other places have been identified.[21]

Batik Baduy only employs indigo color in shades ranged from bluish black to deep blue. It is traditionally worn as iket, a type of Sundanese headress similar to Balinese udeng, by Outer Baduy people of Lebak Regency, Banten.[22]

Sumatran Batik[edit]

Trade relations between the Melayu Kingdom in Jambi and Javanese coastal cities have thrived since the 13th century. Therefore, coastal batik from northern Java probably influenced Jambi. In 1875, Haji Mahibat from Central Java revived the declining batik industry in Jambi. The village of Mudung Laut in Pelayangan district is known for producing batik Jambi. Batik Jambi, as well as Javanese batik, influenced the Malaysian batik.[23]

The Minangkabau people also produce batik called batiak tanah liek (clay batik), which use clay as dye for the fabric. The fabric is immersed in clay for more than 1 day and later designed with motifs of animal and flora.[24]


Batik craftswomen in Java drawing intricate patterns using canting and wax that are kept hot and liquid in a heated small pan.

Firstly, the cloth must be washed, soaked and beaten with a large mallet. A pattern is then drawn with hot wax called malam using a pen-like instrument called canting. Alternatively there is the process of applying the hot wax to the cloth using cooper block stamps called cap. Batik made by canting is called batik tulis (written batik). Compared to stamped batiks, batik tulis needs longer time to finish, but with considerably finer patterns. The wax functions as a dye-resist. After this, the cloth is dipped in a dye bath containing the first colour. After the cloth is dry, the wax is removed by scraping or boiling the cloth. This process is repeated as many times as the number of colours desired. For larger areas of cloth which need to be covered, the wax is applied using a tool called tonyok nemboki/mopoki.[25]

Related techniques[edit]

Wax-resist dyeing is also found in countries such as Malaysia, Japan, China, India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and Senegal.[26] Methods that are unrelated but similar to the Javanese batik are sometimes termed batik as well.


A batik craftsman making batik. Malaysian batik are usually patterned with floral motifs with light colouring.

Batik was mentioned in the 17th century Malay Annals. The legend goes when Laksamana Hang Nadim was ordered by Malacca King, Sultan Mahmud, to sail to India to buy 140 pieces of serasah cloth (batik) with 40 types of flowers depicted on each. Unable to find any that fulfilled the requirements explained to him, he made up his own. On his return unfortunately, his ship sank and he only managed to bring four pieces, earning displeasure from the Sultan.[27][28] Today, Malaysian batik can be found on the east coast of Malaysia such as Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang, while batik in Johor clearly shows Javanese and Sumatran influences since there are a large number of Javanese and Sumatran immigrants in southern Malaysia.

The method of Malaysian batik making is different from those of Indonesian Javanese batik, the pattern being larger and simpler with seldom use of canting to create intricate patterns. It relies heavily on the brush painting method to apply colors to fabrics. The colors also tend to be lighter and more vibrant than deep colored Javanese batik. The most popular motifs are leaves and flowers. Malaysian batik often displays plants and flowers to avoid the interpretation of human and animal images as idolatry, in accordance with local Islamic doctrine.[29] However, the butterfly theme is a common exception. The Malaysian batik is also famous for its geometrical designs, such as spirals.

Sri Lanka[edit]

A batik craftswoman brush painting with wax in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Batik was brought to Sri Lanka from Java by the Dutch, and over the past century, batik making in Sri Lanka has become firmly established. The Sri Lankan batik indusry is a small scale industry which can employ individual design talent and mainly deals with foreign customers for profit. It is now the most visible of the island's crafts with galleries and factories, large and small, having sprung up in many tourist areas. Rows of small stalls selling batiks can be found all along Hikkaduwa's Galle Road strip. Mahawewa, on the other hand, is famous for its batik factories.


Batik is done by the ethnic people in Guizhou Province, in the South-West of China. The Miao, Bouyei and Gejia people use a dye resist method for their traditional costumes. The traditional costumes are made up of decorative fabrics, which they achieve by pattern weaving and wax resist. Almost all the Miao decorate hemp and cotton by applying hot wax then dipping the cloth in an indigo dye. The cloth is then used for skirts, panels on jackets, aprons and baby carriers. Like the Javanese, their traditional patterns also contain symbolism, the patterns include the dragon, phoenix, and flowers.[30]


Inland Batik[edit]

Coastal batik[edit]

Batik processing[edit]

People wearing batik[edit]

External links[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Indonesian Batik Inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary: Batik
  3. ^ Batik
  4. ^ Robert Blust, 'Austronesian Etymologies: IV' in Oceanic Linguistics, Vol. 28, No. 2. (Winter, 1989)
  5. ^ a b c Nadia Nava, Il batik - Ulissedizioni - 1991 ISBN 88-414-1016-7
  6. ^ a b Iwan Tirta, Gareth L. Steen, Deborah M. Urso, Mario Alisjahbana, 'Batik: a play of lights and shades, Volume 1', By Gaya Favorit Press, 1996, ISBN 979-515-313-7, ISBN 978-979-515-313-9
  7. ^ Malaysia - Batikktradisjoner i bevegelse
  8. ^ Antropolog Australia Beri Ceramah Soal Batik
  9. ^ "Batik Days", The Jakarta Post, 2 October 2009 
  10. ^ Indonesialogue Book Review – Batik: Creating an Identity
  11. ^ "Nomination for inscription on the Representative List in 2009 (Reference No. 00170)". UNESCO. 2 October 2009. Retrieved April 15, 2014. 
  12. ^ a b c Sumarsono, Hartono; Ishwara, Helen; Yahya, L.R. Supriyapto; Moeis, Xenia (2013). Benang Raja: Menyimpul Keelokan Batik Pesisir. Jakarta: Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia. ISBN 978-979-9106-01-8. Page 118.
  13. ^ Administration calls for all-in batik day this Friday
  14. ^ Let's use batik as diplomatic tool: SBY
  15. ^ Indonesians tell Malaysians 'Hands off our batik', accessed 8 October 2009
  16. ^ Indriasari, Lusiana; Yulia Sapthiani (26 September 2010). "Terbang Bersama Kebaya" (in Indonesian). Female Retrieved 2011-10-24. 
  17. ^ Pujobroto, PT. Garuda Indonesia VP.Corporate Communications (2 June 2010). "Garuda Indonesia Launches New Uniform". Garuda Retrieved 2011-10-24. 
  18. ^ a b Reichle, Natasha (2012). "Batik: Spectacular Textiles of Java" The Newsletter. International Institute for Asian Studies
  19. ^ Nunuk Pulandari (13 April 2011). "Arti dan Cerita di balik Motif Batik Klasik Jawa". Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  20. ^ Pradito, Didit; Jusuf, Herman; Atik, Saftyaningsih Ken (2010). The Dancing Peacock: Colours and Motifs of Priangan Batik. Jakarta: Gramedia Pustaka Utama. ISBN 978-979-22-5825-7. Page 5
  21. ^ Uke Kurniawan, Memopulerkan Batik Banten,, accessed 4 October 2009
  22. ^ "Batik Baduy diminati pengunjung Jakarta Fair" (in Indonesian). Antara 15 June 2012. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  23. ^ National Geographic Traveller Indonesia, Vol 1, No 6, 2009, Jakarta, Indonesia, page 54
  24. ^ Padang Ekspres (16 November 2008). "Pesona Batik Jambi" (in Indonesian). West Retrieved 2011-10-24. 
  25. ^ Batik Nomination for inscription on the Representative List in 2009 (Reference No. 00170)
  26. ^ Niken Prathivi (8 March 2014). "Decoding Batik". Jakarta Post. Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  27. ^ (Malay) Dewan sastera, Volume 31, Issues 1-6 By Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka
  28. ^ Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume 25 By Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Malaysian Branch, Singapore, Project Muse
  29. ^ Figural Representation in Islamic Art.
  30. ^ Batik in China The Batik Guild, 1999


  • Doellah, H.Santosa. (2003). Batik : The Impact of Time and Environment, Solo : Danar Hadi. ISBN 979-97173-1-0
  • Elliott, Inger McCabe. (1984) Batik : fabled cloth of Java photographs, Brian Brake ; contributions, Paramita Abdurachman, Susan Blum, Iwan Tirta ; design, Kiyoshi Kanai. New York : Clarkson N. Potter Inc., ISBN 0-517-55155-1
  • Fraser-Lu, Sylvia.(1986) Indonesian batik : processes, patterns, and places Singapore : Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-582661-2
  • QuaChee & eM.K. (2005) Batik Inspirations: Featuring Top Batik Designers. ISBN 981-05-4447-2
  • Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1817) "History of Java", London
  • Iwan Tirta, Gareth L. Steen, Deborah M. Urso, Mario Alisjahbana, (1996) "Batik: a play of lights and shades, Volume 1", Indonesia : Gaya Favorit Press, ISBN 979-515-313-7, ISBN 978-979-515-313-9
  • Nadia Nava, Il batik - Ulissedizioni - 1991 ISBN 88-414-1016-7
  • - Samui Batik (2010)