Seeking Outstanding Lasem Batik Pieces in “Little China”, Central Java
If you are looking for fine batik pieces that are infused with both Chinese and Javanese cultural traits, then head to Lasem, a small town in the district of Rembang by the north coast of Central Java. Dubbed as “Little China”, Lasem was where the first Chinese are believed to have set foot on Java. The assimilation of Chinese and Javanese cultures has blended harmoniously, as evident from the excellent batik materials produced here.
Like all batiks found along the north coast of Java, the colors used in the Lasem Batik are colourful : bright yellows, blue, red and greens. But Lasem Batik distinguishes itself in the use of a particular red color, known as chicken blood red. Motifs are also specific, especially pictured are peonies, phoenixes, lions, watu pecah (broken rocks) or watu krecak that are very much Chinese influenced.
At the same time, Lasem Batik also uses traditional Javanese motifs such as the kawung, gunung ringgit and parangan. This harmonious fusion produces cloths that are both attractive, elegant and fascinating.
This kind of batik, however, disappeared in the 1950’s on account of adverse political conditions, but, fortunately, it has now made a definitive comeback, which is also because most Chinese merchants here are in the Batik trade. And, to produce these beautiful pieces they employ local women and young girls.
Today, to rebuild the industry, a Lasem batik merchant by the name of Santoso Hartono, producer of the “Pusaka Beruang” batiks, gathered together small and medium scale producers and established a cooperative, that together established the “Griya Batik Lasem” (the Lasem Batik House). The Griya is today located in the 1800’s built heritage home of the former regent of Lasem.
The distinguishing mark of Lasem Batik is that particular red color used here, known as ‘abang getih pitik’ or chicken blood red. This color is difficult to produce even in labs as it is taken from the roots of the mengkudu and jeruk plants then mixed with the water of Lasem, which is said to contain special minerals not found elsewhere.
This unique bright red color on Lasem batiks, sometimes called bang-bangan, is particularly loved by indonesian batik aficionados.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that batik producers from other batik centers such as Pekalongan, Solo, Yogyakarta, Semarang and Cirebon, will look for cloths that have only been given the basic treatment and dyed in red only on particular parts in its motifs.
Besides the bang-bangan red, Lasem Batik has also other unique and no less attractive colors and motifs. These are: Tiga Negeri (Three regions – namely red-blue-brown), Bang Biron (red-blue), es teh or Sogan (iced tea – yellowish brown), biron (blue), Empat Negeri or Tiga Negeri Ungon (four regions or three regions and purple -red, blue, pale brown and purple), where each combination bears specific meaning and are used for different occasions.
Lasem batik is sometimes referred to as “Batik Tiga Negeri”, which comes from its coloring process that passes three stages.
First the cloth is dipped in the red solution after the wax is removed from those areas that are to absorb the red color. Following the same procedure, areas that are to be made blue, then lastly brown, will be dipped in the required dyes. All these treatments take place under one roof. The cloth is called the 3 regions Batik since red comes from Lasem, blue from the city of Pekalongan and light brown from Solo.
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