A bunch of housewives chattered away while their hands, using canting ( a pen-like tool for drawing batik ), etched Betawi bridegroom patterns into fabric as they sat on the terrace of a house in the Terogong area of South Jakarta on Thursday afternoon.
‘Working like this is better than doing nothing at home,’ Halimah, a 66-year-old retiree, said.
Halimah, who once worked as a tukang tembok ( the one who covers the pattern with wax ) 40 years ago, said she never dreamed that she would be able to reassume her old job.
‘People from Terogong once worked on the batik fabric at home,’ she said.
The same memory was also shared by Halimah’s employer, 50-year-old Betawi native Siti Laela, who eventually decided to take a risk and open a Betawi batik workshop in her house last year.
‘I often watched people nembok [cover the pattern with wax] when I was a kid. However, I haven’t found this kind of activity again,’ she said, adding that as a native, she felt sad that the tradition was dying.
Siti, an English teacher, said she saw the opportunity to revive the tradition after learning how to make Betawi batik in a training session at the Betawi Culture Institution ( KLB ) last year.
She said although her business did not grow up fast for the first year, she was satisfied with the improvement.
‘The demand is increasing over the months. I am optimistic that it will go well,’ she said, adding that she hoped the Betawi batik could become prominent in the city.
Betawi batik has been well-known since the 18th century. Several areas, such as Palmerah in West Jakarta, Karet Tengsin in Central Jakarta and Senayan in South Jakarta, used to be centers of Betawi batik production. However, many workshops in these areas went out of business in the 1970s, when batik entrepreneurs began producing screen-printed textiles using batik designs.
Some of them were also closed down because of waste management issues and urban expansion programs.
Batik with Betawi patterns, such as tumpal ( a traditional motif ) and flowers, are now produced outside of Jakarta, in, for example, Cirebon in West Java, and Pekalongan in Central Java.
Like Siti, several new Betawi batik makers are now struggling to bring Betawi batik back to its hometown.
Another Betawi batik workshop owner, Ernawati, who had the same vision as Laela, said she still faced some obstacles in her business.
Ernawati said the printed fabric with Betawi motives flooding the market was one of them.
‘Printed cloth is not batik. But the pattern is the same and the customers sometimes don’t bother to distinguish them,’ she said.
Shanda Chandradini ‘ the deputy chairman of Betawi Batik Family ( KBB ), a community of Betawi batik makers ‘ said obtaining the raw materials was also a problem as they needed to be bought from Pekalongan directly.
She said the demand for Betawi batik was actually increasing but too few producers were making it.
‘We only have 10 members in KBB,’ she said to illustrate this discrepancy.
Shanda said she had asked the Jakarta administration to help them promote their business and form a cooperative to provide raw materials.
The city administration has implemented several policies, including obliging civil servants to wear Betawi traditional clothing every Friday and issuing a gubernatorial decree on Betawi culture, to boost the popularity of the native culture.