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  • Denisa Mayari

Traveling Traditions: Tracing Kain's Timeless Tale

Long before the advent of modern bags and luggage, our Indonesian ancestors demonstrated remarkable ingenuity in utilizing kain (traditional fabrics) for a diverse range of functions, including practical means of carrying their belongings during their travels. Kain, often associated primarily with clothing and decoration, held multifaceted functions that extended far beyond its traditional use.

Kain as a Practical Travel Companion

In the absence of conventional bags, our Indonesian ancestors employed a technique known as bundling to transport their possessions securely. This method involved wrapping items within a piece of kain, creating a neat and compact bundle that could be easily carried or slung over the shoulder. The tightly woven fabric provided protection from the elements and minimized the risk of items getting lost.

The use of kain for travel wasn't merely a matter of convenience; it held deep cultural significance. This textile often featured intricate designs and patterns, each carrying symbolic meanings that reflected the wearer's identity, social status, and affiliation with a particular ethnic group or community. As travelers embarked on their journeys, they carried with them not only their physical belongings but also a piece of their heritage and cultural pride.

Gendongan Jamu: Kain as the Carrier of Herbal Wisdom

Beyond its function as a travel companion, kain played a crucial role in traditional medicine, specifically in the practice of carrying and selling herbal remedies known as "jamu." The use of kain as a carrier for jamu, referred to as "gendongan jamu," was a common sight in Indonesian markets and communities. Gendongan jamu typically involved a specially designed kain that could hold various containers of herbal concoctions and remedies.

Herbalists and sellers would skillfully arrange their jamu bottles within the folds of the kain, creating a portable and easily accessible display. This traditional method allowed herbalists to traverse streets, markets, and villages, offering their natural remedies to those seeking relief from ailments or aiming to maintain their health. The gendongan jamu not only served as a practical carrier for these valuable herbal elixirs but also became a symbol of Indonesian folk medicine and cultural heritage. It embodied the deep-rooted belief in the healing power of nature and the importance of preserving traditional remedies.

Despite modernization introducing more convenient ways to purchase and consume herbal medicines, the gendongan jamu remains an iconic representation of Indonesia's rich cultural tapestry and its holistic approach to health and well-being. It stands as a testament to the enduring connection between kain and various aspects of Indonesian life, including the age-old tradition of herbal medicine.

Modern Interpretation

In a more contemporary context, Yogyakarta artist Eddi Prabandono drew inspiration from the traditional buntelan, or fabric bundle, to create a sculpture titled "Traveller." This artwork stood in Terminal 3 of Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, symbolizing the essence of travel in a transitory space. Eddi Prabandono's piece encourages us to contemplate the shift from ancient practices to modern travel habits.

Today, the practice of using kain for carrying belongings has largely been replaced by modern suitcases and backpacks. The evolution of bag designs to accommodate various functions speaks to the changing nature of travel. Eddi Prabandono's "Traveller" sculpture serves as a reminder that in the past, our Indonesian ancestors employed the ingenious technique of bundling using kain sarung, mirroring the sculpture's depiction.


Throughout Indonesian history, the archipelago's maritime nature facilitated extensive trade, exploration, and cultural exchange. Our ancestors traversed vast oceans and interconnected islands for various reasons, ranging from trade and diplomatic missions to spiritual pilgrimages. The art of bundling with kain emerged as a practical and versatile solution for carrying necessities, reflecting the resourcefulness ingrained in Indonesian culture.

The adaptability of kain as a carrier showcased the innovative thinking of our ancestors as they navigated diverse landscapes, weaving threads of connection that have endured through generations. The use of kain bridged the past and present, linking the rich tapestry of history to the modern practices of travel.

Our ancestors' use of kain as a practical carrier during travels exemplifies their resourcefulness and adaptability. As we reflect on these ancient methods and their modern interpretations, we gain a deeper appreciation for the ways in which traditional practices continue to shape and influence modern life. Kain, once a humble fabric used for bundling, stands as a testament to the ingenious solutions crafted by Indonesian ancestors for their diverse needs and their enduring legacy in our culture of travel.


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