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5 Traditional Indonesian Fabrics and the Stories behind Them

 

Indonesia is an archipelagic country blessed with various different traditional fabrics. Rooted in the hereditary traditions, each region in Indonesia has various types of woven clothes that dwell many philosophies and stories within them. Not to mention, some of them are highly valued as well. Let’s take a look at the stories behind these 5 Indonesian fabrics:
 

1 | Tenun Gringsing – A Symbol of Health

Indonesian fabric

Gringsing cloth, which comes from Tenganan, Bali, is the only traditional Indonesian woven fabric made using the double-knit technique. The word gringsing is a combination of the word "gring" (sick) and "sing" (no), which becomes "not sick". Therefore, gringsing fabric is considered to act as a repellent for various physical and spiritual ailments. The people of Tenganan believed this fabric had magical powers to protect them from illnesses.

According to a Balinese myth, the gringsing fabric originated from Indra's (Bali’s God of Thunder) admiration of the bewitching night sky. Indra explained what he saw to the people of Tenganan and taught the women to master the technique of weaving gringsing fabric that captures the beauty of the stars, the moon, the sun, and the great expanse of the sky.

2 | Tenun Ikat Flores – A Symbol of Unity

Indonesian fabric

The Flores woven fabric (tenun ikat Flores) is one of the many traditional Indonesian cultural products with high artistic value. Originating from Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, the manufacturing process of this fabric involves more than 20 stages and it can take almost a month to complete a single piece.

Several areas of Flores are centers for the production of this fabric. These include Maumere, Sikka, Ende, Ngada, Nage Keo, Manggarai, Lio, and Lembata. Each region has a variety of motifs, patterns, and different color preferences. This diversity leads to the incorporation of symbols that represent the ethnicity, customs, religion, and everyday lives of the people of Flores.

A feast for the eyes, each pattern of the Flores woven cloth has a different meaning and reflects one’s social status as well. Some patterns include the rhombus, which depicts the unity between the government and the people, and the up-and-down triangle line patterns represent the mountains flanking the island of Flores. If we look at the complexity of the motifs, the Flores woven fabric for men is usually simpler than the fabric for women.

One of many recommended spots to view these tenun ikat masterpiece is at Rumah Tenun Baku Peduli. Here you can glimpse a gallery of intricate handwoven tenun ikat while understanding the story of each pattern. You can even learn to make your very own tenun ikat! Located in Labuan Bajo, Flores, this place can surely add a unique touch to your adventure!
 

3 | Tenun Sumba – Unique Animal Symbols

Indonesian fabric

In addition to its natural beauty, Sumba is famous for its woven fabric. The dyes for this fabric are extracted from natural materials like noni root, wood fiber, and mud. The manufacturing process can take up to three years and it requires 42 stages to produce a single piece of cloth. The process of concocting dyes from plants is followed by the binding process, which uses gewang leaves, and then there is the drying process. This is what makes this fabric special and expensive.

Each pattern of this woven fabric has its own meaning. For example, the horse motif on the Sumba woven cloth symbolizes heroism, majesty, and nobility because horses are a symbol of honor for the people of Sumba. Other motifs, such as crocodile and chicken, represent strength and vitality. Usually, only kings and queens, and the people in their circle wear this motif. Another common motif is the parrot, which symbolizes unity.

The specialty of Sumba woven fabric doesn't stop there. It plays an important role in welcoming births, wedding celebrations, and burial rituals. Bodies of the dead are covered with a shrimp-patterned cloth as shrimp symbolizes resurrection to eternal life.
 

4 | Ulos – A Symbol of Blessings

Indonesian fabric

Ulos is a woven fabric originating from the Batak tribe of North Sumatra and it literally means a blanket that warms the body. According to a local belief, there are three sources that provide warmth to humans: the sun, fire, and ulos, and out of these, ulos is considered the most comfortable and familiar. The method of making ulos is similar to that of making Palembang's typical songket and uses a loom instead of a machine. The dominant colors of the ulos are red, black, and white, which are decorated with weaved gold or silver threads.

According to Batak culture, ulos with the highest class is Ulos Ragidup. It symbolizes life and brings hope to the Batak people that they will live longer than the people before them. Usually, this type of ulos is used as sitalihononton (a shawl);. Another type of ulos is Ulos Sadum Angkola/Ulos Godang. This is usually given to one’s beloved children in the hopes of bringing joy and blessings to the family. In terms of class, Ulos Godang is still below Ulos Ragidup, but when it comes to the price, Ulos Godang is much more expensive.
 

5 | Batik Papua – Bird of Paradise, Cendrawasih

Indonesian fabric

The development of batik culture and technology in Papua began in 1985 when the Indonesian government received assistance from The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in the form of cultural empowerment. The government brought in batik trainers from the city of Yogyakarta to provide batik training in Papua. After receiving the training, the batik craftsmen of Papua gradually became accustomed to making batik and even created their own unique batik patterns.

Similar to batik made in Java, Papuan batik, too, has its own meaning that is close to the Papuan values. Most of these batik patterns feature elements representing the local culture and nature. Some of the famous Papuan batik patterns include the asmat, the cendrawasih, the kamoro, the prada, the tifa honai, the Papuan sentani, and the asymmetrical pattern, out of which cendrawasih is the most popular one. This pattern is usually combined with patterns of endemic flowers and gives an elegant look and confidence to the wearer.

 

Woven fabrics are a part of Indonesia’s diverse cultural heritage and cannot be separated from its history. Therefore, by exploring the stories behind these traditional fabrics, you get to learn about the values that are the identity of Indonesia. Don’t forget to visit tourism villages and local stores to buy these woven fabrics as souvenirs on your future trip to Indonesia!