Indonesian Textiles – Threads of Tradition – Spreading The Craft

Textiles connoisseurs are quick to point out that Indonesia possesses the greatest diversity of Traditional textiles

In the world. Found among the colourful barkcloths of Borneo, Irian and Sulawesi, the plain weaves and exquisite songket silks of Sumatera, the beautiful batiks of java and the renowned ikats of the western island, is a variety and a technical virtuosity that is unsurpassed. For Indoensia, fine textiles are far more than just colored cloth. They maintain many old and hallowed sartorial associations, symbolizing power and status and being employed as ritual objects, as gift-trade items – even as froms of accumulated wealth and currency.

Spreading the Craft: Each of Indonesia’s more than 350 ethnic and linguistic groups appear to have had, at one time or another, their own distinctive textile traditions. Some of these may date back 2,000 years or more, and are preserved today in remote upriver or mountainous areas. Many have also been influenced by foreign (especialli Indian) textiles. As early as the 14th century, Indian fabrics were imported on a very large scale, and during the 16th and 17th centuries Indian patola cloths were particularly influential. Europeans later promoted Indian textiles here as items of trade, and the colonial presence left its mark both in patterns of textile distribution and in the use of some European motifs derived from coins and porcelains.

Migrants as well as traders have played a role in the diffusion of textile techniques and motifs. For example, the northern coasts of Ceram and Irian Jaya were home to traditional weaving communities that may have originated in the Banggai islands off the east coast of Sulawesi, and one finds here the Alune tribe (literally “the people who weave”) amidst groups who are talented at making bark cloth and plaiting, but who are not traditionally weavers.

And there is a story about a princess of Wolio, the old kingdom of Buton in southeasr Sulawesi, who married a sultan of Ternate (in the Moluccas) in the mid -17th century. When she left her home of Koloncucu to cross the waters, it took three kora-kora – huge Moluccan out-riggers rowed by upwards of 100 men – to transport her retinue. Among them was a group of weavers, who upon their arrival in Ternate were given a plot of land. There they stayed and practised their craft for the benefit of the court. The realm of Ternate extended in those days as far north as Mindano and as far south as Flores. One may still find Koloncucu weavings today in Halmahera and on neighbouring island.

–> Read Also : Indonesian Textiles – The Symbolism of Textiles

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