KOMPAS.com - Employees of state-owned companies and government institutions have for years adhered to a tradition of wearing batik on every Friday of the week.
But today is special because President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has called on all Indonesians to wear batik on that day to celebrate UNESCO’s decision to include batik in its list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" items.
"Batik is regarded as a cultural icon with its own uniqueness. It conveys certain symbols and a profound philosophy, including man’s life cycle, and it has been touted by Indonesia as a non-material element of its cultural heritage," Coordinating Minister for people’s welfare Aburizal Bakrie told a press conference at Bogor State Palace on Sept. 7, 2009.
"We’ve been told that batik has been recognized as an element of global cultural heritage produced by Indonesians. The President has called on all Indonesians to wear batik on Oct. 2, to celebrate batik," the minister said.
Indonesia’s Batik, together with the Tango of Argentina and Uruguay, the traditional Ainu dance of Japan and France’s Aubusson tapestries were among the 76 elements inscribed on 30 September in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, WAM, the United Arab Emirates’ news agency, reported on Wednesday.
These 76 inscriptions were decided by the 24 Member States of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage, currently holding its 4th session in Abu Dhabi, from Sept. 28 to Oct. 2, 2009, under the chairmanship of Awadh Ali Saleh Al Musabi of the United Arab Emirates.
UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization)’s list describes Indonesian Batik as: The techniques, symbolism and culture surrounding hand-dyed cotton and silk garments known as Indonesian Batik permeate the lives of Indonesians from beginning to end: infants are carried in batik slings decorated with symbols designed to bring the child luck, and the dead are shrouded in funerary batik.
The president’s call for batik dress has been supported by regional heads in a number of provinces and district, such as the Jakarta Governor, the East Java governor, and the Cirebon district head.
Earlier, on September 25, Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo had issued an official appeal to all Jakarta residents to wear Batik on October 2.
"Students, people who work in hotels and bars as well as those who work for private companies are also urged to wear Batik although there will be no sanctions if they fail to do so," said Aurora Tambunan, deputy for cultural and tourism affairs to the Jakarta governor, recently.
UNESCO has already acknowledged the Keris (ceremonial dagger) and the Wayang (puppet show) as part of Indonesia`s cultural heritage. "Traditional music instruments namely Angklung and Gamelan are also in the process of being registered with UNESCO," Aurora said.
In the spirit of supporting Jakarta residents who wear Batik on October 2, the Jakarta city government would give special discounts to those entering recreation centers in the city. "Museums run by the Jakarta regional government will give free tickets in the period October 3-7, 2009 only for those who wear Batik," chief of Jakarta city’s culture and tourism office, Arie Budhiman, said.
Among the museums to give free tickets are the Jakarta History Museum, Ceramic and Art Museum, Maritime Museum, Joeang Museum, MH Thamrin Museum and Textile Museum. "We will also distribute Batik pins among visitors wearing Batik to the museums," Arie added.
On October 5, Ragunan Zoo would give free tickets only to those who come wearing batik dress. On the same day, Ancol recreation park will give a 50-percent discount on tickets at its main gates, Atlantis and Gelanggang Samudera park. Dunia Fantasi would also give a 40-percent discount on the same day.
Batik, which has been developed for centuries particularly on Java Island, is cloth which traditionally uses a manual wax-resist dyeing technique. But, thanks to modern advances in the textile industry, the term has been extended to include fabrics which incorporate traditional batik patterns.
Some scholars believe that batik was originally reserved as an art form for Javanese royalty in Central Java around Yogyakarta and Solo under the patronage of the Sultan and his court. But, other scholars disagree and believe that batik was prevalence even to the common folk.
It was regarded an important part of a young ladies accomplishment that she be capable of being able to skillfully hand draw batik using the canting (the pen-like instrument used to apply wax to the cloth). Batik or fabrics with the traditional batik patterns are also found in several countries such as Malaysia, Japan, China, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal and Singapore.
But, unlike in other countries, Indonesia is particularly very proud of its batik which is considered as formal dress in official functions. Batik are usually made of cotton or silk, which are comfortable to wear. And this benefits not only Indonesians, but also some foreign diplomats who prefer to use batik, and avoids suits, amidst Indonesia’s heat.
The government, through some of its agencies concerned, was giving special attention to batik makers as part of the efforts to perpetuate and develop the Batik trade. The government, according to Cultural and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik, has provided the batik-making industry with assistance in the form of low-interest credits and training in production processes and design making in several potential areas across Indonesia.
First Lady Ani Yudhoyono recently had called on all parties to expedite the regeneration of traditional batik craftsmen and women so as to preserve the craft as part of the nation’s cultural legacy. "It is a pity that batik development does not happen hand in hand with the regeneration of traditional batik craftspeople. Doing batik work actually needs patience but the skill can be bequeathed to the younger generation," Ani Yudhoyono said.
She said the younger generation should be immediately involved in the development of batik craftsmanship so that they can keep the craft alive and even make masterpieces themselves, and prevent batik from being claimed by other countries. "UNESCO itself has asked Indonesia to ensure regeneration in the craft as a precious world cultural heritage," the first lady said.
Meanwhile, neighboring Malaysia, which shares a number of similar cultures with Indonesia including on batik but with its own unique specification, said it would study UNESCO’s decision, said Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 17.
The government would make the study to ensure whether the decision would have a bearing on the traditional batik making in the country, he said.
"I do not have the full details (UNESCO’s decision) because Malaysia too has batik. We will analyse the actual meaning of the decision and whether the decision will affect the production of batik here," Yassin told reporters.
So what can I say Malaysia? Should you lie to the world again?