Pekalongan, Indonesia – The City Of Batik

Pekalongan is a small city on the northern coast of central Java. Five hours by train from Jakarta, it is also known to Indonesians as the City of Batik.
Batik is synonymous with Indonesia and it can generally be categorised into two types. Batik Keraton with traditional royal motifs from inland area such as Yogyakarta or Solo; and the Persisiran (coastal range) batik from Pekalongan, Ceribon and Lasem. Pekalongan batik is unique in that it bears motifs that is an acculturations of Javanese, Chinese, Dutch, Japanese, and Arabic design influence. The wide variety of Pekalongan batik is a reflection of a their rich culture and history in multi-cultural existence.

Oey Soe Tjoe is a famous Chinese batik maker of the 20th century, Sarongs with his signature are prized collection today. These 'Bunga Hokokai' (Japanese Flower) motifs and the 'Pagi Sore' (Day and Night) motifs are popular with the Peranakan Chinese in Singapore.
Oey Soe Tjoen is a famous Chinese batik maker of the 20th century, sarongs with his signature are prized collection today. Each one of these sarongs takes up to two years to produce by hand. Observe the fine craftsmenship with little dots. The ‘Bunga Hokokai’ (Japanese Flower) motifs and the ‘Pagi Sore’ (Day and Night) design produced by Pekalongan chinese are popular with the Peranakan Chinese in Singapore.

I have always wanted to go to Pekalongan, having heard and read so much about the place. Due to circumstances, I was not able to reach this place in my earlier expeditions to Java. As an artist, I have an overwhelming curiosity for batik painting which has led me to pursue my Masters degree dissertation on Innovating batik painting in art practices in 2006. Through my teaching of batik and entries into this blog, I have become sort of an accidental scholar in batik. And as luck would have it, the former director of Pekalongan Batik Museum Mr. Zahir Widadi stumbled upon my blog and extended an invitation to their annual festival, The 2nd Pekan Batik International 2009 from 29th April to 3rd of May.
The Pekalongan Batik Museum which is at the centre of this festival was opened in 2006. It is a private museum owned by a foundation. The small museum is the former city hall building built by the Dutch colonial. It today housed a collection of Pekalongan batik as well as batik from differnt parts of Indonesia and included a gallery dedicated to Indonesia’s foremost batik master Irwan Tirta. They also have an exhibits of batik implements and a batik resource centre. The museum staff are very helpful and would gladly give you a guided tour of the exhibits and explain the process of batik making.
The event was officiated by the Minister of trade of Indonesia, Her excellency, Dr. Mari Elka Pangestu. I informed her of batik practices in Singapore at our exhibition booth, mainly as an artistic medium.
The event was officiated by the Minister of trade of Indonesia, Her excellency, Dr. Mari Elka Pangestu. I informed her of batik practices in Singapore at our exhibition booth, mainly as an artistic medium.

Presenting my MA thesis to Mr Zahid Wadidi for the Pekalongan batik museum, batik resource centre.
Presenting my MA thesis to Mr Zahid Wadidi for the Pekalongan batik museum, batik resource centre.

We also had the honour of meeting Mr Dudung Alie Syahbana who is rapidly becoming a household name in fine batik. His design is contemporary, yet the fine craftsmenship rival the classics. He has an interesting house made of traditional wooden carvings and experiments constantly with natural fibres. He is all excited about his latest project of making batik on fabric made of ratan fibre. He even showed us his amazing collection of antique batiks.
We got to visit one of the oldest tjap (stamp) batik factory, run by Mr. Facthur Rahman who is a third generation batik maker. They make batik the traditional way by stamping wax onto cloth and then immersing the fabric in dye solution. He does it on a grand scale and their output for local and export market is impressive.
Accompanying me on this trip is Mr. Dino Hafian and artist Teng Nee Cheong. We were also joined by my Malaysian counterpart Miss Emilia Tan, the publisher of MyBatik magazine and her entourage. We had a meeting with the mayor Dr. Basyir Ahmad to personally thank him for the gracious hospitality accorded to us. We had a discussion on promoting tourism as well as international trade for batik. He is obviously a leader of the people and passionate about batik. He told us that of the 14 Indonesian provinces producing batik, Pekalongan produces 70% of the total amount.
This is truly a batik city. Everyone wore batik, school uniforms are in batik and it is common sight to see trucks laden with loads of fabric or chemicals plying their roads. Tons of batik leave this city for the world in several containers every night. Rightfully, this is the centre of the centre (excuse me for stealing this phrase from the movie Slumdog Millionaire). Later that afternoon we witness their batik parade. It was a visual delight filled with pomp and pageantry.
For a batik practicioner, this trip to Pekalongan is like a holy pilgrimage. I am truly blessed.
School children in Pekalongan wears batik. A different design for different school.
School children in Pekalongan wears batik. A different design for different school.

We also visited a number of 'Grosir' (wholesale centres) to track the final journey of batik being distributed to the world. There are six of such centers in Pekalongan alone. We visted Tanah Abang in Jakarta on our way bag. The new wholesale center is a 10 storey complex.
We also visited a number of ‘Grosir’ (wholesale centres) to track the final journey of batik being distributed to the world. There are six of such centers in Pekalongan alone. On our way back via Jakarta, we visited Tanah Abang. The new wholesale center which replaces the previously burnt market is a 10 storey complex.

I have more photos if you are not bored already. Click here for photo album.

29 thoughts on “Pekalongan, Indonesia – The City Of Batik

  1. Dear Mohamed Kamal Bin Dollah,
    I’m a Norwegian citizen, living on Phuket-Thailand. In 1990 I was on a trip to Yougjakarta-Indonesia and there I bought a verey nice batik picture in the goverment shop by an artist called Edy S. The picture shows what they say is the story of Indonesia. What I’m wondering about is: How can I clean this beautiful picture? It is not on silk but I think it must be cotton. They said in the shop that I can wash it by hand lightly in light soap water, is that true? Please help me.
    Best regards from
    Lars-Erik Schackt.
    Ps. If nessesary I can send a picture of it.

  2. Hi Thanks for your interesting article. I plan to go to Pekalongan in the Autumn. Do you know of a good place to take lessons or do a workshop to further my techniques in this wonderful art?

  3. Hai saya mahu bawa 24 orang dari malaysia melawat kilang batik yang membuat sarung untuk wanita dan lan lain pada 30 mac mulai jam 10 pag.kami akan bertolak dari semarang awal pagi dan kembali ke semarang sore. Factory apa yang boleh dilawati.apa lagi yang ada di pekalongan yan boleh dilawati selain muzium batik.tlg saya dapatkan nama factory dan no tel.ini emai saya naz_

  4. Dear
    I am a batik lover from Burma. I have a plan to visit Pekalongan in April. Could you pls advise me, which is the best place do i need to visit.

  5. want to know the prices of batik per yard.and hw to convey them to my country nigeria.even if is not up to container? how long does it take to produce the goods?

  6. To Pam Westwood,
    Java is the island where Pekalongan (city/township) is located. I suppose it means the same thing like for example made in California and made in USA.
    Could be the real thing or a counterfeit as there are cases reported. I am not an appraiser so I can’t tell what you have. Best reference is the Batik Museum at Pekalongan.

  7. I have an Oey Soe Tjoen batik in a black wooden frame. It has a signature without the long “underline” following the “n” and it says Java not Pekalongan. I wonder if anyone can help tell me what I have? I’m curious!
    Pam Westwood

  8. Dear Bapak Kamal,
    What a such inspiring article. I was born in Peranakan Family and I have some relatives in Surabaya and this article give me a broaden view to see what Peranakan in Jawa. :).
    Dear Mia,
    I would love to have your paper too if you do not mind. please send a copy to my email
    Many thanks,

  9. HI Kamal,
    Thank you for a most informative article on Pekalongan! I am an artist and would like to commission Pekalongan style sarongs. However, I have already some designs in mind as I am working on some designs and motifs that tie in with some future exhibition work that explores my Peranakan background. I am not sure if there are any batik artists who would work that way ie execute my designs (in batik tulis and cap) – could you please advise me and perhaps suggest any/some contacts in Pekalongan?
    Thanks and Regards,

  10. Hi – my company is moving operations into Indonesia and is looking for someone to produce custom formal batik shirts, incorporating our logo for our staff and clients. DO you know anyone who could do this? Please help.

  11. After a forty year fascination with Batik, I was fortunate to visit Pekalongan and spend time visiting many of the Batik factories. The quality and diversity of Motif that can be seen in Pekalongan far exceed the range and quality of many other areas of production in Java.
    This wonderful art is further enhanced by the residents of Pekalongan, who are kind and gracious and most welcoming, even to a gila Bule like myself.
    My visit was greatly assisted on every level by Tn Zahir Widadi, Tn Dudung Alie Syahbana, Liem Poo Hien,Ir M.Rikza Setia Bella and Tn Bachir Mochamad, who all very patiently furthered my education and understanding of Batik and the history of this living Art.
    I consider myself extremely fortunate to have visited Pekalongan and hope one day soon to return.
    For any lover of this fabulous Artform,a visit to the city of Pekalongan is a truly worthwhile Batik experience unequalled elsewhere in Java.

  12. Thank you Mira for your information about this fascinating the City of Batik in Indonesia. I would certainly want to visit Pekalongon in my trip to Indonesia soon. Thanks very much. Vince

  13. Assalumu’alaikum Wr.Wb.
    Salam kenal untuk : Pak.Kamal.
    Narasi bapak dan gambar-gambar foto sangat indah, dengan kekhasan-kota Pekalongan dengan ciri batiknya yang menonjol.
    Namun apakah jadinya jika ke-orsinilan batik-Pekalongan diplagiat dengan batik sablonan.
    Dampaknya sangat luas bisa melumpuhkan industri pengrajin batik asli (tulis dan cap), serta lapangan kerja.
    Dan apabila ini tidak dicegah pengakuan dari UNESCO bisa ditinjau ulang. Kiranya masyarakat Batik Pekalongan yang kaya dengan kreatifitasnya menyadari ini.
    Terima Kasih.
    Wassalamu’alaikum Wr.Wb.

  14. Dear Kamal,
    Thank you for this fascinating entry on Pekalongan batik. I would love to make a trip to Java to visit the various batik towns.
    What batik houses or markets in Java would you recommend for a tourist to visit and purchase some batik? I plan to visit Bandung, Pekalongan, Cirebon, Solo and Tasikmalaya.
    Thank you!

  15. Thank you for the description of your trip tp Pekalongan. I too have been there and visited some of the batik makers and loved the experience. Is there a copy of your thesis anywhere as I am particularly interested in the stamp making craft in batik production. Thanks agaian. MD

  16. dear mr. kamaldollah,
    hai, right now i’m doing my research about Batik Pekalongan, especially about Kampong Batik. If you don’t mind, I’d like to share my paper to know your opinion about it.
    Please let me know by email, so i can send you my paper.
    Thank alot,

  17. Dear Kamal,
    I have seen the picture. it is good, congratulations!. batik which is on you picture with coin has been handed by on of Indonesian candidate president.
    hope see you again

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