As I have been working for the local Ministry of Culture as a designer, I have gathered a lot of experience and knowledge of my own culture through observation and learning. And being a student of Islamic art and architecture, coupled with an understanding of my own history and culture, I can certainly say that I am quite adept at this topic.
The Malays are very heavily influenced by the Arabs after the coming of Arab traders and subsequently Islam into the region. Arabic and/or Islamic influences can be easily seen in almost all aspect of Malay culture – Performing arts, visual arts ,fashion, architecture, music and so much more.
For example, one can see the influence of Arabic music in the traditional Malay music. The introduction of the Oud, known as the Gambus in the Malay society, as well as various percussions very important to the Arab community became a part of the traditional Malay music. You can also see the influence of Arab dance in the performing arts of the Malay. One of the clearest Arab influenced traditional Malay dance would be the Zapin in the Malay Peninsula or Jipin in Brunei. The steps of the dance accompanied by the Arab inspired music for the dance recalls of an Arabic influenced performance, without being too dependent on that culture, paving way to a unique Malay performing art.
The Malay textile or specifically the patterns used for the textiles is an important remark on how the Islamic and Arabic art influence a long held custom and tradition in the Malay world. There are a lot of Malay traditional textiles available, however for this article, I would like to concentrate on a few of them that showcases a clear Islamic influene, namely the Batik and the Songket/Tenunan (will be elaborated in the next part)
Batik – The Beauty of the Printed Textile
The Batik technique is known all over the world, however the most known version and perhaps most popular of Batik would be the Indonesian Batik. It is believed the word Batik is taken from the Javanese word Amba (to write) or Titik (to dot).
The technique uses several different ways to produce a Batik item. One technique, perhaps the oldest way is to peruse the wax resisting method, where designs were drawn on a piece of fabric using molten wax, left to harden and then soaked in dye, which will also then melt the wax, as usually the dye would be hot, or soaked in hot water separately. This technique was proven to be used by the Ancient Egyptians to draw designs on their mummies linen wrapping, where the linen would be dipped into wax and then designs would be scratched using a stylus. There are several evidences showing other cultures stretching from the African region to India and even to Japan and China also used the same technique, more or less, using different material or method (i.e African tribes would use cassava paste instead of wax). This technique of producing a batik product would result in finer, more delicately design items, as usually everything would be painstakingly done by hand from the drawing the design to dying the fabric. It is said that it could even take several months or even years to produce a fine article of Batik.
The more modern technique of producing Batik, and hence, less time and energy consuming would be the Stamping method, where a block of stamp, usually made in copper or other materials, would be dipped in dye to be stamped on the fabric. This produces a repetitive pattern, if using a singular stamp, or a unique pattern, if using several different stamps. In the 1800’s this technique were introduced by the Dutch in Indonesia to mass-produce Batik. Later Indonesian immigrants would bring both the Stamp and Drawn Batik techniques to Malaysia.
There are several influences in the motifs of Batik particularly in Indonesia. The influences include Hindu-Buddhist, European, Japanese, Indian, Chinese and Islamic. Here I would like to specifically elaborate on the Islamic influence on the Indonesian Batik.
The most apparent Islamic influence on the Indonesian Batik would be batik from Sumatera, specifically in Cirebon, Jambi and Bengkulu, where Arabic Calligraphy would be used – in itself or merely as influence – as a motif.
However Islamic influences can also be seen on more traditional, older Javanese patterns. Whether this is is a direct influence, indirect, intentional or unintended, or always had been that way since the beginning I do not have a say in it, as I am not an expert on such material. However you can see the parallels between certain pattern of Javanese Batik and traditional Islamic pattern, particularly the way the patterns were repeated, as you can see in the examples below –
kawung or Coffee Bean batik. Detail of a sarong. The pattern of overlapping circles is a common motif across many cultures.
Floor pattern at Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb. The pattern is less rounded, but essentially on the same square grid. The takeaway of the similarity between these two pattern are the star cross shapes coloured brown in both examples.
Batik Banyumas. The left mostpattern resembles closely to the eight pointed
Lustre tiles from Iran, probably Kashan, 1262, in the shapes of the Sufi symbols for the divine breath
Contemporary inland batik from Solo, Indonesia, with sidha drajat pattern. The Way the pattern is arranged is quite similar to the pattern below
Decorated tiles at Tash Hauli [Tach Khaouli] palace. Khiva, Uzbekistan