Monday, April 4, 2011

Megamendung, Indonesian Batik - The Chinese Influence

Chinese influence plays a heavy part in the Indonesian history, not only because there is a large Chinese population in many cities in Indonesia, but also because they bring their culture that somehow assimilates with local culture.  This process has left its mark in architecture, cuisine, dance, songs, and fashion….including batik.

According to the history, Cirebon, a city on the coast of Java was famous for its harbor that was packed with merchants vessels from all over Indonesia and abroad.  Sunan Gunung Jati, one of the Islamic leaders in Java, established the kingdom of Cirebon known as Kingdom of Pakungwati.  He was the only Sunan (Islamic Leader) to have become a king.  Gunungjati fully utilizes his kingship to propagate Islam along the coastal area of Cirebon to the most remote area of Pasundan or Priangan and developing Islamic teaching in Cirebon.

He was married to a Chinese princess named Nio Ong Tien, an important figure in developing the strong artistic force in the Cirebon court.  She brought an attention to the arts, especially ceramics.  The classic ceramics motives from China are heavily influenced batik motives.  Hence, came the blend of Cirebon-China batik motives, with ornate phoenixes, peonies, cranes and a mythical beast combining aspects of the lion, dragon and birds.  One of the most famous Cirebon batik motives is Megamendung.  Megamendung suggests rain, and therefore, life, for an often parched land.  This cloud motif is also combined with roosters hidden among a tracery of leaves and vines.  This motif is dominated by layers of blue with different shades.  Dark blue refers to dark rain clouds, the life-giver, while pale blue symbolizes the brighter hope in the future.

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