Once famous Madurese batik comes apart at the seams

The island of Madura is famous for its traditional bull races, but few are aware that the Madurese are also fine exponents of the craft of batik. Much of the batik is marked by bright colors of red, green, blue and yellow, and the use of varied motifs.

It's difficult to find historical records on Madurese batik making. Acectdotal evidence says the craft was first practiced on the arid island about 300 years ago in Paseseh village, Tanjungbumi subdistrict, Bangkalan regency.

It is believed the emergence of Madurese batik was linked to the tradition of Javanese batik. In roughly the 1700s, when the Mataram Kingdomopened contact with the Kingdom of Madura, a process of cultural exchanges took place. The Javanese batik-making tradition, particularly from rural areas, was brought to Madura. This influence can still be seen today in batik made by housewives in Pamekasan and Sampang. In these two places, themotifs resemble those of rural areas in Java: dark colors dominated by deepred, black and dark blue.

Over time, Madurese batikmakers found their own format with patterns and motifs suited to their own cultural background. There are two main characteristics of Madurese batiks: the rural batiks characterized by dark colors and coastal batiks dominated by marine-inspired bright colors.

Coastal batiks usually bear images of objects related to the sea -- seashells, seaweed, starfish, algae, shrimps, crabs, ships and so forth. The images are still maintained today by most batikmakers in coastal areas. Locals say the motifs are connected to the maritime culture which is deep-rooted in the Madurese community. In the past, when Madurese fishermenwent to sea, their wives spent their time making batiks as they waited for the ships to return. The strokes they made on their batiks showed their deep longing for their beloved husbands far at sea.

Another unique aspect of Madurese batiks is the preparation of coloring materials. Although coloring chemicals are now available, most Madurese batikmakers prefer traditional coloring agents prepared from plants.

To obtain red, for example, they will soak the root of mengkudu (morinda citrifelia) in water. Blue is obtained from the leaves of tarum (indigofera) while the color of dark green is from the bark of a mundu (garnicia dulcis) tree. Black is derived from mixing the basic colors.

In the 1970s, there was a boom in Madurese batik in the domestic market when the regional administration, through the office of the Ministry of Industry in Bangkalan regency, tried to boost production by means of introducing coloring chemicals to the batikmakers. The idea was not well-accepted. However, the batikmakers have accepted the recommendation from the local administration to use silk cloth instead of the usual mori, or unbleached plain cloth.

The most important job in batikmaking is coloring or soaking the cloth inthe coloring agent. The process of natural coloring takes about five weeks,while the chemical coloring process is only two weeks, but natural coloringprovides better results. The older a batik cloth is, the more luster it will have if natural coloring agents are used. On the other hand, with a chemical coloring agent, the older the batik, the more faded the color willbe.

The price of a 2m x 1m batik cloth ranges between Rp 300,000 and Rp 400,000 if a chemical coloring agent is used. A batik cloth of the same size will cost over Rp 600,000 when natural coloring agents are utilized.

There are taboos which must be observed if natural coloring agents are used, said batikmaker Hadi, 60.

""First, a batikmaker having her period must not prepare a coloring agent.Second, during the coloring process, the batikmaker is not allowed to make a visit of condolence even though the deceased is one of the closest neighbors. If these two taboos are not observed, the coloring agent will have a pungent odor and could not be used,"" she said.

Despite its long history and heyday, Madurese batik seems to have lost its popularity and is becoming increasingly forgotten on the national batikscene. There are several factors involved. First, batikmakers lack knowledge of modern management skills and are unable to run their batik enterprises as modern businesses. It is clear from the absence of promotional media and appropriate marketing techniques.

Second, the regional administration has yet to embark on maximum efforts to place Madurese batiks as a prime commodity of the island. Government support is usually limited to production techniques and has never touched on marketing aspect. Third, there no investors who have been able to organize Madurese batikmakers. Other factors include design development andproduction capacity in relation to the market demand.

""There was a time when Madurese batik was sold to many regions and even exported to Malaysia, Singapore and Saudi Arabia, among other countries,"" said Mafudz, a batik vendor in Tanjung Bumi Market. ""Madurese batik was taken abroad in the sea trade and by haj pilgrims. Today, however, it seemsdifficult to market Madurese batiks in other regions.

Sumber: The Jakarta Post , Sat, 01/26/2008

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