Tracing the Colors of Pekalongan Coastal Batik

Coastal batik, or batik pesisir. That’s how people call it. Characterized by its cheerful and striking colors, coastal batik is different from batik from Jogja or Solo–generally dominated by dark colors, like brown and black.

Located on the coast of Java, Pekalongan–once a bustling port and trading town–enabled intense interaction between migrants, foreign traders, and local communities. It was this cultural contact that later on influenced the color and pattern of Pekalongan batik as we knew it today. Dutch, Chinese, Arabic, and even Japanese culture left its batik mark along the coast of Java.

One of the well-known batik motifs of Pekalongan is buketan. Buketan originates from the Dutch and French word “bouquet”, which means flower arrangement. Eliza Van Zuylen is a Dutch woman who introduced this batik motif in 1890. European floral style is the main characteristic of Van Zuylen Buketan batik. Van Zuylen batik is one of the most famous batik of its time, and it is difficult to get one today. The extremely expensive price usually attracts seasoned batik collectors only.

There is also batik Peranakan or what the locals in Pekalongan known as Batik Encim. Can you guess the origin of this batik from its name? Batik encim is the result of assimilation between Javanese and Chinese culture that gave birth to the new Peranakan culture along the coast of Java.

Pastel colors of batik encim are often identified through its distinctive similarity with the colors of Chinese porcelain. Lotus flowers, Phoenix birds, or dragons are the main characteristic of Peranakan batik motifs. Another characteristic of Peranakan batik is the tight and detailed isen or filler motif. “Mreket-mreket …” said the people of Pekalongan, in Javanese, describing how crowded it is. One of the fine artists of Peranakan batik in Pekalongan is Oey Soe Tjoen—and his batik is always on the hunt.

Japanese occupation in Indonesia also lent its colors to Pekalongan batik. The motif they left behind is known as the Hokokai. This batik motif usually depicts cherry blossoms and butterflies, also with very crowded and tight isen.

Expensive textile price also gave birth to the Pagi-Sore (morning-evening) batik style—that combines two different large motifs on one fabric. Usually, the motif on one half of the fabric is brightly colored and darker on the other half. This is a smart way to have a 2-in-1 batik cloth that can be used on different occasions, both in the morning and in the evening—just as the name suggests. One of the well-known Pagi-Sore batik artists in Pekalongan is Lim Ping Wie.

The influence of Arabian and Indian culture from the Gujarat in Pekalongan can be seen in Jlamprang motif. The motif bears resemblance to Gujarat’s fabric motif, Patola, with geometrical pattern as its main characteristic. In Arabian-Muslim culture, Jlamprang motif is widely used because it doesn’t depict living creatures—and this is in line with their beliefs. Thus, geometric patterns became the go-to option.

All these motifs are now known as the characteristics of Pekalongan batik, or coastal batik.

No wonder the locals of Pekalongan are so proud of their batik. It’s a mother-child relationship. Batik is their self-image, a part of tradition that has been ingrained in their daily life: a valuable asset to be worn in various occasions.

“Batik is a need,” said a friend from Pekalongan.