The Story Behind of Jambi Batik

When talking about the history of Jambi Batik, it cannot be separated from the history of the development of Batik in Indonesia. According to various sources, batik was first entered the Javanese palace at around the 5th Century AD through the influence of Hinduism. While evidences from several artefacts mentioned that batik in Indonesia had alreday developed before the 7th Century AD, with the recovery of Kawung ornamentation on the walls of Syiwa Prambanan Temple, as well as on carvings of the robes of the Java-Hindu statues from the 8th Century AD.

Another evidence on the development of Batik in the Archipelago is the recovery of the ornamentation of lereng in the clothings of the gold statue of God of Durga at Dieng Temple, in Gemuruh, Wonosobo, from the 9th Century AD. While the influence of China appeared since the 7th to 9th Century AD, through the use of the ornamentations of Hong bird, lotus flowers, and many others. An ancient manuscript dated 1275 AD found in Kediri (East Java) also mentioned the gringsing decorative pattern.

The next evidence was found on the details of carvings on the cloth worn by Pradnaparamita statue from East Java, with a complex pattern of circles filled with flowers and vines which is similar to the traditional Javanese batik pattern of the 13th Century AD. In the 17th Century AD, the Sultans of Surakarta and Yogyakarta even set batik as mandatory attire in the palaces.

As for Jambi itself, the historical records that gave evidence on the entry of batik into this province until now are still under investigation. Several hypotheses developed that the batik culture began to be known in Jambi after the Pamalayu expedition, namely the expansion of King of Singosari, Kertanegara, which had sent its troops in 1275 AD to liberate Jambi Malay Kingdom from the hands of Sriwijaya. The friendship of these two kingdoms continued, marked with the delivery of the Statue of Amoghapasa to Dharmashraya (capital of the new Jambi Malay Kingdom) in 1286 AD. The arrival of the Singosari troops in the Jambi Malau Kingdom on the second visit also brought and introduced the habits as well as the traditions of Singasari to the Melayu Jambi community. Aside from that, many of the Singosari troops were eventually settled in Jambi, resulting in acculturation between the two kingdoms, including the culture of batik.

Although further research is still needed, the presence of the tomb of Pakubuwono III dated 1787 in Lubuk Landai village. The king and his family along with his entourage had moved there several years before from Central Java, and it is presumed that there were several batik artisans among them. The influence of Mataram is strongly felt in the kingdom of Jambi, even the princes and authorities of Jambi used Javanese language and clothings within the kingdom of Jambi (de Graaf,1986).

Other source also mentioned that batik was first brought and introduced to Jambi by Haji Muhibat in 1875 AD, when he and his family had moved from Central Java to settle in Jambi. At that time, batik was only worn by the nobility and the King of Malay Jambi as traditional dress with a very limited decorative pattern, by taking the carving ornamentation of the traditional house of Jambi. Batik has not been an important commodity, but as the trading relationships opened up with other countries, batik then became one of the internationally traded goods.

Several articles on the developments of Jambi batik can be traced from a Dutch author, who in January 1928 together with Mr. Tassilo Adam had spread the news on Jambi batik through the Resident of Jambi, Mr. Ezerman, as the intermediary. The presence of Jambi batik was supported also by Mrs. Van Bresteyn’s articles in Week Blad weekly dated May 22 and 31, 1928, which stated that the decorative pattern on her Jambi batik was truly made in Jambi.

(Fiona 1997:8)

In another article, it is mentioned that “a piece of Jambi batik as a tribute by Mr. Adam to the Colonies Institute, is a scarf with such beauty that it is incomparable to other kinds of scarves.” This article has strengthened the idea that at the time batik was only for the elites or the upper class of the social strata. It is supported with another writings that red, purple, yellowish and blue batiks belonged to the Sultan’s family. But along with the decline of the Sultan’s power, the request of red batik was also declining, and Jambi batik businesses became dormant in 1920.

According to several batik experts and collectors, there are many antique Jambi batik that originated from the island of Java, particularly batik pesisir (coastal) such as Cirebon, Pekalongan, and Lasem. This happened due to the trading relationship between the two islands: upon returning to Sumatera, the merchants brought batik merchandises, which attracted the local community. Then there are occurred repeat orders of Javanese batik pesisir with decorative patterns and color according to the nuances of the respective areas.

During the colonial periods of the Netherlands and Japan, then at the beginning of the independence of the Republic of Indonesia, the craftsmenship of batik in Jambi was declining, or one might say it was almost extinct. At that moment, only a handful of old artisans left, while the remains of the batik products were kept by the community across the Batanghari river. Post independence of the Republic of Indonesia, the Jambi batik industry was not exhilarating, in fact the production of batik in Jambi was halted for several years. Jambi batik industry started to grow again in the 1970s, inspired by the discovery of several pieces of antique batik belonged to one of the women entrepreneurs, Mrs. Ratu Mas Hadijah. Since that time, the Government of Jambi Province supports the redevelopment of batik in that province.

Jambi Batik Potentials

Batik centers in the Jambi Province, particularly in the city of Jambi, are scattered in several villages, among others in Ulung Gedong, Ulak Kemang, Mudung Laut, Kampung Tengah dan Simpang III Sipin. These batik centers in Jambi city have lived and redeveloped in the 1970s, after being dormant since 1920.

While in Bungo Tebo District, there are two batik centers, namely Kuamang Kuning and Rimbo Bujang. In addition, there is one batik center in Pamenang, Sarolangun District. Currently, the government of Muaro Jambi District is also developing batik in its territory, where in 2012 the PKK (Family Welfare Movement) of Muaro Jambi District had launched eleven decorative patterns based on local wisdoms and its natural potentials. A similar step is followed by Sabak District.

Jambi batik artisans, comprised of a majority of housewives, performed their works as an activity to fill the time in between their household chores. Their works then sold either to collectors or batik shops which are numerous in Jambi. At times they would also do batik works based on orders from their regular customers. In general, the types of batik produced in Jambi are long fabrics, sarong, and scarves, with the same measurements of batik products from other areas.  The long fabric in general is measured at 2.5 x 1.1 meter, the scarf is measured at 2.25 x 0.9 meter, while for a sarong, the measurement is 2.0 x 1.1 meter.


The people across Batanghari river from the capital of Jambi, such as Kampung Tengah, Ulu Gedong, Olak Kemang and Mudung Laut, have from generation to generation been very familiar with batik. As one of the cultural heritage areas of the Jambi province, as well as the centers of batik making, the people of those villages still adhere to the customs and traditions inherited by their ancestors, and one of them is the use of batik in their daily lives. For them, batik has an important role in every stage of the life cycle, starting from birth to the death of a person.


The processions of gift exchange at a wedding ceremony in Jambi always involve the traditional fabric. A week or more before the wedding, the family of the groom would walk in a procession from their house to the family of the bride’s house with twelve delivery trays (gifts). The most important of the gifts are the trays containing the materials for betel chewing and the money, which are brought at the front of the procession, and completed with lots of fabrics folded in the forms of fruits, flowers, fans, two swans and a boat. The last two forms reminded us of the wedding of Orang Kayo Hitam with princess Mayang Mengurai, and the myth of their journey downstream to find the new kingdom in Tanah Pilih.

According to Jambi customs, the bride’s family is not obliged to exchange gifts, the gifts of food in the form of twelve large cakes to the groom’s family is more of a formality and manner, there is no element of equality in the exchange process.

As for the bridal throne, a stack of batik sarongs are folded and arranged to form a sunflower for the bride and groom to sit, with one sarong to form each petal. Nowadays, it usually needs eight fabrics to form a flower, but in the past it used fifty six fabrics, arranged in seven layers.

A few days or even a week after the gift exchange, many important guests are invited to witness the couple seated in the ornamented throne, filled with embroidered ornaments and gold embroidered cushions. The night before the wedding day, a buffalo was brought to the house, sometimes wrapped in red cloth, and slaughtered to provide food for the guests.

The next day, the groom and his entourage arrive at the family of the bride’s house, greeted with a martial art performance by a dancer dressed in black with a batik cloth folded as headband. In front of the groom, two rows of men hit the tambourines while singing, and a small boy performs a ceremonial dance. The groom will be accompanied by a flower and a yellow umbrella carrier to shade the groom from the sunlight. Once he has arrived at the bride’s house, the groom will hand over the ring before he is allowed to see the bride in a private room.

The couple then appears to sit at the ornamented wedding throne. On this occasion, the bride and groom are dressed in royal attire, red velvet dress embroidered with gold thread. The bride is fitted with a sarong, a songket scarf, and a belt, with an addition of jumputan silk scarf with rainbow and dots pattern, which currently obtained from Palembang, but in the past, they made their own jumputan fabrics (Ahmad Yunus 1989).

Hair Cutting Ritual

Another important ritual in the cycle of life of the Jambi community is the hair cutting ceremony, performed when an infant reaches the age of forty days. The ceremony known as “thanksgiving” is sometimes performed at home and reserved for the close family members only, but if the family is able to afford, hundreds of guests will be invited and the ceremony is performed in a mosque.

The baby whose hair will be cut wears a royal clothes and is placed on a mattress decorated with embroideries and covered with batik and songket. The father carries the baby in a procession to the mosque, with a songket cloth to cover the baby’s head as a protection. There are seven honored guests, who symbolically will cut a lock of the baby’s hair. The lock of hair is then placed in a green coconut, as a sign of hope that the baby will grow into a useful member of the society and is able to solve problems with a cool head.

The seven honored guests receive a special gift as a reward, then paper flowers and colored eggs are distributed to all the guests. A red traditional beverage from steeping the sappan woods is also provided.


Before the circumcision ceremony, a boy who will be circumcised wears a royal attire of red velvet with gold embroideries, and receives gifts from the guests. Later, he is placed in a room with walls covered with cloths and decorated with flowers. On the bed, he wears a long cloth, usually with Javanese decoratives.


A burial is performed several hours after death. The body is prepared at home, bathed with a ritual of great caution using water with certain fragrant flowers and leaves and incenses. A piece of cloth is then covered over the body by four persons, each holds every corner, while the body is once again bathed with a solution of camphor.

Furthermore, the body is then wrapped in a moslem way, with a white shroud as long as 15 meters. A mattress is placed on a framed bamboo coffin which will be used to carry the body to the cemetery. On the mattress, seven batik cloths are placed, each with a different design which does not depict any bird. This is not related to the prohibition for a moslem to describe the living things, but of the local belief that birds might steal the soul of the dead person and keep it as theirs.

A green velvet cloth embroidered with holy verses from the Quran is placed on the top of the coffin, and on a certain part of the coffin, a knot is made out of a scarf to indicate the sex of the deceased. For a man, the knot is made out of a scarf from Mecca, Saudi Arabia, while for a woman, the knot is of a plain white scarf.

During the procession, at the times of laying and covering the body in the grave, a batik cloth is placed over the the grave, held by four persons on each corner. It is performed to honor the deceased and to cover it from the weather. At the end of the procession, the batik cloth used as the cover and the green velvet to cover the coffin are not buried along with the body.