The Root of Batik Term

The Javanese term bathik was not encountered in written sources until the early seventeenth century (Rouffaer & Juynboll , 1914). It is, however, related to Old Javanese thika, which means writing, drawing, painting, and by inference anything enhanced by writing, drawing, painting, the Old Javanese compound tulis thika stands for writings of drawing (Zoetmulder & Robson, 1982). In modern Javanese term tulis, or its verb form ‘nulis’, is used for writing and also for drawing or painting designs. Synonymous with ‘mbathik’, the term also serves to denote the making of hand-drawn batik in Ngoko, the low level of spoken Javanese. The proto-Austronesian lexeme beCik, which Blust (1984) translates as “to tattoo”, suggests a tantalizing link between body tattoo and batik. The Indonesian tendency to relate two similar sounding terms in symbolic association may have been of influence in this respect. Whatever the case may be, a correspondence between the designs found in body decorations and textile patterns is a common feature of many Southeast Asian culture (Maxwell, 1990). Moreover, both types of decoration serve to denote a person’s identity.

Excerpt from: Heringa, H. (2000). The historical background of batik on Java. In Fabric of enchantment: Batik from the north coast of Java. (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art).


Rouffaer, G.P., & Juynboll, H.H. (1914). De batik-kunst in Nederlandsch Indie and haar geschiedenis. (Utrecht: A. Oosthoek).

Zoetmulder, P.J., & Robson, S.O. (1982). Old Javanese-English dictionary. (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff).

Blust, R. (1984). Austronesian culture history: Some linguistic inferences and their relations to the archeological record. In Prehistoric Indonesia: a reader, ed P van de Velde. (Dordrecht: Foris).

Maxwell, R. (1990). Textile of Southeast Asia: Tradition, trade and transformation. (Canberra: Australian National Gallery).

No comments: