Batik cloths from Jambi, Sumatra
I set about exploring the history of Jambi batik with a view to establishing its nature, characteristics, methods of manufacture and function in its social context. A central aim of the study was to establish an accurate description of batiks from Jambi which could serve as a guide to museum cataloguers. In particular I planned to clarify the position regarding the red batiks. During the course of my investigations, I came across a similar confusion surrounding a group of batiks containing Arabic calligraphy. A further purpose of the study was then to determine which, if any, of these calligraphy batiks were made in Jambi. For those which did, my intention was to discover how they fitted into the social and economic context in which they were produced. This study has challenged a number of assumptions which have been made about batik in Indonesia. I have confronted static models and others which have focussed too narrowly on Javanese techniques and meanings. I have demonstrated the importance of approaching textiles from a perspective which recognises change and diversity. I have tried to emphasise the need to understand the central role of trade and colonial experience in relation to textiles in South-East Asia. I have also shown the need for taking into consideration the wider geographical context, beyond the Indonesian archipelago and beyond the notional boundaries of South-East Asia. Previous studies of Indonesian batik have tended to apply Javanese models to all of Indonesia. Indonesia was viewed with Java as the centre and the other regions as satellites to it: a Java-centric model which has marginalised batiks from Jambi. Finally, I believe I have shown the crucial importance of studying the technical aspects of textiles. Many other studies of textiles in South-East Asia have employed an anthropological perspective focusing almost exclusively on the symbolic to the neglect of the technical. This has resulted in a paucity of information which could help museum curators to identify both how and where the textiles were made. This lack of information made the study of textiles from Jambi, as it must do for many other marginalised places, particularly difficult. I hope that this study has not only revealed this problem, but has gone some way to remedy it.