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  • Syiva Zahra

Cultural Diversity in Batik Lasem


(Image credits: goodnewsfromindonesia.com)


Being our nation’s identity, batik is highly valued among Indonesians. The cloth was used daily during the colonization era until the influence of western culture changed Indonesian fashion. Lasem, located in Central Java, is one of the regions which is famous for their batik. It is said that old Lasem (1350–1375) used to be a small kingdom under Majapahit’s reign.


Batik Lasem, also known as Batik Laseman, is a historic batik fabric with an abundance of patterns and hues, that represents the acculturation of China and Java. The cloth is very well known for being a coastal batik that has a bold variety of colors, especially red. The motifs of Batik Lasem exhibit a multicultural nuance. Chinese, Javanese, Lasem, Dutch, Champa, Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic motifs and colors combined with Batik Lasem colors all seem to blend together in a beautiful and harmonious way. According to the book Badrasanti (written in 1478 AD), the emergence of Batik Lasem is thought to have arose when Na Lui Ni, a daughter from the Champa (Vietnam) kingdom, taught batik techniques to young people in the Kemendung (Lasem) region for about a year in 1420 AD.


The unique quality of Batik Lasem that is absent from all other batiks is the use of Pithik or Abang Getih Pithik, which is known to produce a vibrant red color. Despite the dye being called chicken blood red, the color is actually extracted from noni and jiruk roots. This shade of red is difficult to replicate, especially synthetically.


Another unique characteristic of the Lasem batik is its color emerging more and more, as it is washed. It is acknowledged that the red color is the best red, and cannot be duplicated in the area's other batik centers. It is therefore not surprising that many batik business owners in other regions (such as Pekalongan, Surakarta, Yogyakarta, Semarang, and Cirebon) are attempting to obtain blank bang-bangan cloth, which is a cloth that is just given a basic pattern and dyed red on some of the motifs.


Lasem’s batik has an array of unique patterns such as Bang-Bangan (red-colored), Biron (blue-colored), Bang-Biron (combination of red and blue), Sogan (yellow-ish), Tiga Negri (red-blue-brown), and Empat Negri (red-blue-soga-purple). Each color represents a different meaning and usage. Generally, there are only two Lasem motifs, Chinese and non-Chinese. This non-Chinese motif is usually found in Javanese-dominated patterns such as Sekar Jagad, Kendoro Kendiri, Gringsing, Kricak/Watu Pecah, Pasiran, Lunglungan, Gunung Ringgit, Pring-pringan, Pasiran Kawung, Kawung Mlathi, Endok Walang, Bledak Mataraman, Bledak Cabe, Kawung Babagan, Parang Rusak, Parang Tritis, Latohan, Ukel, Alge, Ceplok Piring, Ceplok Benik, Sekar Srengsengan, Kembang Kamboja, and Sidomukti.


Batik Tiga Negri (Image credits: Travel Kompas)


Batik Tiga Negri is one of the unique patterns that has more complex motifs because it is a combination of inland batik motifs (Solo and Yogyakarta) and coastal motifs (Pekalongan and Cirebon). This motif has more meaning to it, as it represents the acculturation of three cultures that has had a big influence on Lasem: Chinese, Dutch, and Javanese. The Batik Tiga Negeri's predominant colors of red (inspired by Chinese culture), indigo blue (Dutch), and brown sogan (Javanese) show this epic acculturation.


Batik in Lasem has developed into a domestic industry with a significant economic impact, with nearly every home in Lasem running a batik business. Just in 1930, there were only 120 batik business owners in Lasem, mostly of Chinese ethnic background. Until in 1942, the sucess of the Batik Lasem industry went to a halt, with all of Lasem's batik shops being shut down, during the Japanese occupation. However, the industry was able to rise back up around 1950.


The Batik Lasem industry has since then developed very quickly, with its marketing efforts encompassing almost all of Java, Sumatra, Bali, southern Thailand, Malacca, and Suriname. It is not surprising that the Batik Lasem industry has grown to become one of the five Indonesian regions with the largest batik centers, along with Surakarta, Pekalongan, Yogyakarta, and Cirebon. This is only possible due to the large number of knowledgeable batik business owners in Lasem.


Thanks to the recent berkain trend gaining popularity amongst young people, Batik Lasem (and other batik patterns) has become more widely known and recognized by the community. The uniqueness and vibrant colours that stands out from Batik Lasem should be preserved for generations to come.


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