Oct 022017
 

Today is Batik Day (Hari Batik Nasional) in Indonesia, a holiday for celebrating batik — the traditional cloth of Indonesia. It is celebrated on this date to mark the anniversary of when UNESCO recognized batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2009. The Indonesian government strongly encourages Indonesian people (especially government officials, employees of state-owned enterprises, and students) to wear batik on the day. There is also a custom of Batik Friday (similar to Casual Friday) in many businesses and offices.

The word “batik” is Javanese in origin. It may either come from the Javanese word amba (‘to write’) and titik (‘dot’), or may derive 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.

Wax resist dyeing of fabric is an ancient art form. It existed in Egypt in the 4th century BCE, where it was used to wrap mummies; linen was soaked in wax, and scratched using a stylus. In Asia, the technique was practiced in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), and in India and Japan during the Nara Period (645-794 CE). In Africa it was originally practiced by the Yoruba in Nigeria, and Soninke and Wolof in Senegal. These African versions, however, use cassava starch or rice paste, or mud as a resist instead of beeswax.

The art of batik is most highly developed on the island of Java. In Java, all the materials for the process are readily available — cotton, beeswax, and plants from which different vegetable dyes are made. Javanese batik predates written records. Some have argued that it was introduced from India or Sri Lanka while others believe it is a native tradition. There is no telling at this point. Resist dyeing methods have been independently invented several times and have also diffused. G. P. Rouffaer reports that the gringsing pattern was already known by the 12th century in Kediri, East Java. He concluded that this delicate pattern could be created only by using the canting, an etching tool that holds a small reservoir of hot wax, and proposed that the canting was invented in Java around that time.

The carving details of clothes worn by East Javanese Prajnaparamita statues from around the 13th century show intricate floral patterns within rounded margins, similar to today’s traditional Javanese jlamprang or ceplok batik motif. The motif is thought to represent the lotus, a sacred flower in Hindu-Buddhist beliefs and must have been drawn using a canting.

In Europe, the technique was described for the first time in the History of Java, published in London in 1817 by Stamford Raffles, who had been a British governor for Bengkulu in Sumatra. In 1873 the Dutch merchant Van Rijckevorsel gave the pieces he collected during a trip to Indonesia to the ethnographic museum in Rotterdam. Today the Tropenmuseum houses the biggest collection of Indonesian batik in the Netherlands. The Dutch and Chinese colonists were active in developing batik, particularly coastal batik, in the late colonial era. They introduced new patterns as well as the use of the cap (copper block stamps) to mass-produce batiks.

  

To make batik, first a cloth is washed, soaked and beaten with a large mallet. Patterns are drawn with pencil and later redrawn using hot wax, usually made from a mixture of paraffin or beeswax, sometimes mixed with plant resins, which functions as a dye-resist. The wax can be applied with a variety of tools, but a canting (pronounced /tʃantiŋ/, sometimes spelled with old Dutch orthography tjanting) is the most common. A canting is made from a small copper reservoir with a spout on a wooden handle. The reservoir holds the resist which flows through the spout, creating dots and lines as it moves. For larger patterns, a stiff brush may be used. Alternatively, a copper block stamp called a cap (pronounced /tʃap/; old spelling tjap) is used to cover large areas more efficiently.

After the cloth is dry, the resist is removed by boiling or scraping the cloth. The areas treated with resist keep their original color; when the resist is removed the contrast between the dyed and undyed areas forms the pattern. This process is repeated as many times as the number of colors desired.

The most traditional type of batik, called batik tulis (written batik), is drawn using only the canting. The cloth needs to be drawn on both sides, and dipped in a dye bath three to four times. The whole process may take up to a year; it yields considerably finer patterns than stamped batik.

Many Indonesian batik patterns are symbolic. Infants are carried in batik slings decorated with symbols designed to bring the child luck, and certain batik designs are reserved for brides and bridegrooms, as well as their families. Some designs are reserved for royalties, and even banned to be worn by commoners. Consequently, a person’s rank could be determined by the pattern of the batik he or she wore.

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.

The popularity of batik in Indonesia has varied. Historically, it was essential for ceremonial costumes and it was worn as part of a kebaya dress, commonly worn every day. Batik fell into disfavor in the early 20th century under pressures of acculturation but has since made a strong comeback, with Batik Day and Batik Friday adding to the popularity. A small gallery of designs:

My favorite Javanese dish by a country mile is soto ayam, a spicy chicken soup with noodles and various toppings. But I’ve already given my personal recipe here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/world-water-day/  Not to worry. Javanese cuisine is flooded with great recipes which are as regionally diverse as batik. Gudeg, jackfruit stew, is equally traditional. You have to use fresh, unripe jackfruit. Canned or ripe won’t cut it.  The boiled eggs are optional but when I make gudeg I hard boil them first, then crack the shells into crazy patterns, without breaking them, before adding them.  That way the food colors in the liquid penetrate the egg shells so that when they are opened the eggs have a sort of batik look to them. This version of gudeg is from Yogyakarta. A Javanese claypot is traditional for this dish, but any soup pot will do.

Gudeg Jogja

Ingredients

500 gm young jackfruit, cut into bite size pieces
6 bay leaves
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 inch galangal, bruised
2 lemongrass stalks, bruised and knotted
75 gm palm sugar
salt
1 liter coconut milk
4 hard boiled eggs

Spice paste

50 gm shallots
4 cloves garlic
8 candlenuts (Indonesian: kemiri)
1 tsp coriander seeds (Indonesian: biji ketumbar)

Instructions

Grind the ingredients for the spice paste into a smooth and well-mixed paste using a mortar and pestle (or food processor if you are lazy).

Place the bay leaves, lime leaves, galangal, lemongrass, salt to taste, palm sugar, and spice paste in the base of a soup pot. Add the jackfruit on top. Pour the coconut milk over the ingredients, making sure that everything is submerged.

Bring the pot to a boil, and add the hard boiled eggs. Turn the heat down to the lowest simmer and let the pot cook covered until all the liquid is fully absorbed by the jackfruit and eggs. Stir every 30 minutes or so. This process will take about 4 to 5 hours.

Turn off heat. Adjust seasoning as needed. Some Javanese like the dish rather sweet. Remove all the leaves. Transfer to a serving plate and serve warm or at room temperature.

Gudeg can be eaten by itself, but it is usually served with chicken and rice.