How Batik Cloth Was Obtained

As late as the end of the eighteenth and up to the mid-nineteenth century well-to-do European and Indo-European women spent their lives in semi-segregation among the women of their extended families (Taylor, 1983). Brought up and waited on hand and foot by Asian servants from birth, they rarely left the compound and never by themselves. Indo-Arabian women were held in isolation in the women’s quarters of their homes, while Peranakan*) women were supposed to spend their time inside the compound, learning the arts of cooking and embroidery (Beng, 1988). How then did these women come by their precious textiles? A network of Javanese female batik traders, the tiyang wade, would circulate among the homes of affluent customers. Arriving with their bundles during the afternoon siesta, they would spread out their wares to be chosen from, and bargained for, at leasure by the ladies of the house. Outright payment in cash were rare; as a rule purchases would be made on monthly installments with interest applied to the debt. Thus the retailer, who generally obtained the textiles on credit herself, could accumulate huge profits. As an added service, textile with particular designs of colors could be ordered with an advance payment. Servants often acted as go-betweens with male itinerant traders: the koja, or Arabian trader of imported cloth, and the klontong, or Chinese peddler, who carried material for kabaya, needles, and threads as well. All three groups of retail traders formed the end of a long chain of commercial links, which often bridged long distances and a series of intermediate buyers and sellers.

During the las quarter of the nineteenth century the city of Bandung in West Java became known as the main fashion center where male batik traders from all over the archipelago could buy in bulk from the abundant choice in the market. A second well-known wholesale market was the Tanah Abang market in Batavia. These developments were probably due to the fact that both Bandung and Batavia had limited batik production themselves. In batik-producing towns elsewhere in Java, cloth could be obtained directly from the workshops (De Kat, 1930). Therefore, Sumatran, Chinese, and Arabian batik dealers settled in many of the Pasisir towns to trade directly with the batik enrepreneurs (De Kat, 1930).

*) Gluckman (2000) noted that the modern term Peranakan literally means person of mixed descent. Historically, however, it has had two meanings. The first referred to the Muslim Chinese from Guangdong who settled in Indonesia in 14th-15th century; the second, and somewhat later, reference was to any locally born descendant of a Chinese father and local mother.

Quoted from: Heringa, H. (2000). Batik pasisir as Mestizo costume. In Fabric of enchantment: Batik from the north coast of Java. (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art).


Taylor, J.G. (1983). The social world of Batavia: European and Eurasian in Dutch Asia. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press).

Beng, T.C. (1988). The baba of Melaka: Culture and identity of a Chinese Peranakan Community in Malaysia. (Kuala Lumpur: Pelanduk Publications).

De Kat, A.P. (1930). Batikrapport. (Batavia: Landsdrukkerij).

Gluckman, D.C. (2000). Introduction. In Fabric of enchantment: Batik from the north coast of Java. (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art).

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