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Overview of the Textile Industry in Java, in the 9th century (History of Nusantara Textiles, part 3)

BULETIN TEKSTIL.COM – Can you believe that in the 9th century AD, there was already a “textile industry” that was taxed? Let me take the reader on a 12-century journey across time.

The Ayam Teas I inscription (written in 822 Saka or 900 AD) in the era of the Ancient Mataram Kingdom is the first to specify limitations on commerce and artisan companies in Sima villages contained in the Ayam Teas region. The Sima area is one in which residents are exempt from paying taxes.

What is referred to as “limitation” here is setting a certain limit of the industrial output, so that if it exceeds the limit it will be taxed. The concrete rules read as follows: “……hiꬼhiꬼnana ikanaꬼ masambyawahӑra hanankona…..” (meaning…trading business there should be limited….”). This line is then followed by a number restricting the number of transactions in buffalo, cows, goats, and ducks, the mode of transportation used for commerce, the number of traders who use poles, the number of metal artists, and the number of weavers (textile industry).

It turns out that being restricted implies that if commerce in a location exceeds a certain threshold, a tax will be levied. According to current terms, the tax is a progressive tax, which means that the tax levy rate rises in proportion to the increase in the tax base. Thus, even though they are in the same neighborhood, traders will be taxed if their business volume exceeds the tax base. (Maziyah, 1992: 15).

As I mentioned in the last edition of the essay, there were already bear traders selling lawe (cotton spun yarn), woven textiles, and sombo (textile colors made from noni and kesumba). This evidence suggests that the ancient Javanese people engaged in weaving operations to provide clothes for their families. However, not all of these basic elements are readily available. As a result, people must purchase from peddlers known as pikulan sellers.

Illustration of an ancient pole trader

This suggests that what is indicated by the textile “industry” already exists. Trade activity between islands and countries have also happened. Can you imagine?

In the writings of Siti Maziyah, “Fabrics in Java, from the ancient Mataram era to Majapahit,” it is also mentioned in the inscription (called many names of inscriptions) various terms/names for cloth as a gift, wdihan followed by the name of the patih who received it, cloth rangga followed by the recipient’s name, cloth rangga followed by the recipient’s name. According to Zoetmulder (2000: 920), rangga fabric is a form of textile with specific motifs.

The inscriptions also include phrases relevant to the process of manufacturing yarn and textiles in other places. Although the words are not the same in all inscriptions, they may still be identified. For example, the wusuwusu procedure involves washing the cotton of impurities, twisting the thread, soaking the thread in castor oil, tying the thread to achieve a certain theme effect (in ikat), and dyeing the thread in various colors such as black, blue, and red. (Maziyah, 2016: 70-83).

Images of instruments ranging from washing cotton from filth to spinning and rolling warp threads, it turns out that tools like this have been mastered in numerous parts of Asia from the birth of Christ, according to “De Inlandsche Kunstnijverheid In Nederlandsch Indie (1912).”

This archaic technology is still used in some locations.

This identifies industrial woven and lurik woven fabrics (we call them structural patterns), as well as plain woven fabrics that will be used as material for manufacturing fabrics with motifs manufactured in surface designs, such as (later termed) batik, prada cloth, and so on. By the arrival of Chinese traders, who brought silk and embroidered cloths, embroidery methods were already well established.

The Java region already has an ancient tie-dying process based on a simple one like this.

Klontongan lurik fabric like this is a historic legacy design that is still practiced by craftsmen in Kerek, Tuban today.

The cloths used by the ancient Javanese people were not entirely created locally. Some of these textiles originate from commerce with South Asia, West Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, particularly China. This is evident from the foreign words used to describe these materials. (Maziyah, 2017).

If the reference in the inscriptions is brief, then this material was supplemented by literary works between the 10th and 15th centuries AD. The information gathered here is more detailed, specifying the type of cloth and motifs. In Kakawin Sumanasantaka pupuh 52:4, for example (Worsley et al., 2014: 224-225). It reads (in translation):

The shimmering fabric hanging from the walikuwung resembles a rainbow (a depiction of numerous colored cloth).

The gleaming white gauze used to embellish the ceiling resembled a rain mist flowing to one side, and so on.

The ancient looms are still quite simple.

In addition to inscriptions and literature, information was collected through news recorded by contemporaneous foreign tourists. Chinese News (authored and translated by Groeneveld) and The Portuguese Traveler (Suma Oriental – Tom Pires) are two of them. But news from China, which has had a lengthier link with the Archipelago and, in particular, Java, since the T’ang Dynasty in the 7th century AD, has dominated.

(Red B-Teks/ Adi Kusrianto)

Batik Observer and History of Indonesian Batik

In the continuation of this article, I will invite readers to get to know the history of textiles on other islands, outside Java.

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