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On Batik Lasem, A Brief Note

It was wet, wet, and wet everyday � since the Chinese Lunar Year � at Semarang. From morning till night the rain dropped from the sky and, surely, it was cold. We never experienced this for nearly ten years or so.

But many Chinese thought that rainy days in between Chinese New Year will bring more prosperity. Sure? Yes, they do hope.

Oppositely, we were very lucky at that night, the sky was clear and we did not have rain. It was Friday night, February 15th, when there was an opening of �New Light of Batik Lasem� exhibition. This exhibition is sincerely about a presentation of a research of batik Lasem. You know, batik is a traditional hand made fabric: completely hand printed and colored.

Lasem is a small town, a seashore, and is believed where the first Chinese was landing there from the Mainland, China. This town is estimated as a living community and an important harbour at the north of Java Island since 9th century. This was one of the most three important harbour in the Majapahit Kingdom era. So the Chinese and Javanese cultures were mixed beautifully at Lasem. Chinese who then married with local residents making a new origin called �Tionghoa Peranakan� (Peranakan Chinese) with their �budaya peranakan� (peranakan culture).

Mr William Kwan, a Chinese origin who was born at Batang, a small town in Central Java, is making research on batik Lasem. He is the director of Indonesia Pluralism Institute. He was growing up at Semarang before moving then now living at Jakarta with his family.

Mr Kwan showed us there are many proves that Lasem is a multicultural town. There are mosques, churches, vihara, and temples are all living side by side peacefully. According to Mr Kwan there has not a depth research yet which shows when batik was firstly produced at Lasem. But local history (Babad Lasem) � in �Sabda Badra Santi� written by Mpu Santi Badra, 1401 Caka (1479 M) � indicates that the pioneer of batik Lasem was Princess Na Li Ni (wife of Bi Nang Un, a ship captain of Chenghe Admiral).

The influences of Chinese culture can be noted at batik Lasem in the motifs of dragons, peacoacks, kilin (Chinese mythologic dragon), chicken, butterflies, golden fishes, peony flowers, chrisantenum flowers, baby bamboo, ban ji and so on. And Javanese culture is clearly signed in the designs of parang, kawung, udan liris etc. The dominant colors of batik Lasem are dark-red, blue, light-brown, green, dark-brown, and purple. The most unique and popular color of batik Lasem is the dark-red and is usually called as �chicken-blood red�. Consummers extremely love Tiga Negeri (Three Countries), Lok Can, Bang-bangan (Redish) and Bang-biron (Red-Bluish) designs of batik Lasem.

In fact, all batik enterpreneures were Chinese at the time. At 1970 there were still 144 Chinese people who made batik Lasem. But then since 1990 there was significant changing of the etnicity and locations of batik manufactures. The batik Lasem enterpreneures then dropped to only 22 persons at 2007 consists of 13 Chinese origins (59%) at Lasem and 9 (41%) Javanese at suburban.


More than thirty people took part at the discussion moderated by Seno Satrio Prakoso from Widya Mitra Foundation which fully supported the exhibition. Mr Kwan explained all the things of batik Lasem to audiences who were very enthusiastic to the topic. The discussion last at around 9:30 pm and it almost two hours� run.

Surprissingly, a welknown Indonesian photographer and his wife attended the exhibition. They are Deniek G. Sukarya and his wife Karen who is a batik lover. This top level photographer is very popular for his travel photo shots. His photo works show the richness of this country.

A leading batik collector Handoko, living in Semarang, came and joined with the audiences. I personally wish thank to him for lending me his extraordinary collections to the show.***

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