Brebes batik - a tale of inland beauty from java`s northern coast

11 January, 2016 | Source: Antara News

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - "It must be somewhere around here. Give me some time (to find it)...," Tuti Wirjadigjaja, a 59-year-old housewife, said as she opened the door of a two-meter tall cabinet in her room.

Inside the cabinet were all her precious batiks -- the Indonesian traditional clothes painted by using wax-resistant dyeing technique, including two pieces of Brebes Batik that she had bought a few years ago.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in October 2009, inscribed Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Most people associate Brebes, a district in the northwestern part of Central Java Province, with many things, from salted duck egg, shallot, blengong satay to peuyeum ketan, but not batik. Not many people know that Brebes has its own batik-design.

"I bought these from a boutique in Pekalongan which has a corner specially selling batiks from Brebes and other districts in Central Java," she explained.

Finally, after rummaging extensively for almost half an hour, she found one of them.

"They call it Salem Batik instead of Brebes Batik. This is gringsing design, a very old Javanese pattern on black and white palette that is not common for coastal batik," she said while showing her black and white Brebes Batik.

Black and white palette is a traditional color scheme for Jogja Batik. The coastal batik artisans usually tend to use more vibrant colors in their works.

"I expected yellow, blue and pink for coastal batik but when I had spoken to the artist back then, she had said this was the conservative Salem-design," she explained.

She refuses to be called a batik collector but keeps more than 150 batiks in the form of "kain panjang" (literally means "long fabric") in her closet. Traditionally, batik is sold in 2 1/4 meter lengths used for "kain panjang" which is part of Indonesian traditional dress.

In her own words, she is an accidental-batik collector. "I am not a collector. Although it looks like it, it is not intentional," she explained.

Batik is a part of "kebaya" dress, a traditional gown for Indonesian women. And as a Javanese wife, Tuti should wear kebaya to many formal events as she accompanies her husband, a retired government officer.

"A collector should know the story about each design. The only reason I buy batiks is because they look pretty, not because of their history, price or uniqueness," she said with a smile.

Tuti got her first batik around 40 years ago from her mother in-law. "It was a wedding gift. It was a set of old Javanese-Batik."

If Tuti refused to be called a collector, C. Kusumanintya, 30, an online batik reseller, said she wants to be someone who helps in the preservation of the old batik-designs.

"It would be nice to have every piece of Indonesian batik-design but there are thousands. So I mostly collect all those old-designs that catch my attention," she said.

Having some 50 pieces of batik, she said she had never heard of Brebes Batik before. "However, batik is very popular currently. Almost every region in this country has its own batik now. I even have a batik from Papua and Flores although these are relatively new. So I am not surprised if Brebes also has its own batik. Most regions in Java did follow the old tradition in batik-making."

Kusumanintya is right. Although it is not as well known as the batik from Jogja, Solo, Pekalongan or Cirebon, the batik from Brebes actually has a long history dating back to the 19th century.

Brebes Batik is made in Bentar and Bertarsari villages in Salem District, so these are also known as Salem Batik. Nobody is sure of when exactly the Brebes Batik was created but the batik-making skills have developed particularly well over tens of years in Bentar and Bentarsari villages.

Various sources, including the local governments website, mentioned at least three oral tales about the Bentar and Bentarsari villagers skills in batik-making.

Most local artisans believe that a daughter of a high ranking officer in Pekalongan, who had traveled to Bentar village, brought along the batik-making tradition when she married a local man in the 19th century.

As a result, the traditional Brebes Batik has indigenous patterns that are similar to Pekalongans patterns, such as "kopi pecah", "manggar", "merak", "gringsing" and "ukel kangkung."

According to the Brebes Industrial and Trade Office, those villages have more than 200 batik artisans now.

There is another story as per which the traders had brought batik to Brebes. The traders from Pekalongan had migrated to Salem District during a revolution back in the 19th century, and settled there since.

Many also believe that the journey of Brebes District Head Raden Arya Tjandranegara in November 1882 had led to the development and promotion of the batik-making skills among the local community.



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