• Indonesia tries to hang onto traditional art of batik
In the rush to cash in on the tourist trade, one Indonesian business says, traditional culture is being compromised.
By
Ella Archibald-Binge

23 Dec 2015 - 1:48 PM  UPDATED 30 Dec 2015 - 8:03 PM

Tourism is a major contributor to the Indonesian economy, employing around 11 million people across the country.

But in the rush to cash in on the tourist trade, one local business says traditional culture is being compromised.

Ella Archibald-Binge reports.

In the bustling Indonesian tourist city of Jogjakarta, one business is happy to take the slow lane.

Workers at Batik Plentong are devoted to preserving the ancient Javanese art of batik, a traditional method of decorating cloth.

One 26-year-old batik maker, Sri Lestari, says she is proud to uphold a longstanding tradition.

(Translated) "It's a legacy from the older generation to the younger generation, so I think that it has to be preserved well."

From tracing the pattern to waxing and dyeing the cloth, one garment can take months to manufacture.

A typical garment will sell for anywhere from eighty to $100.

But recent years have brought an increase in mass-produced, machine-made batik.

The printed versions are cheaper to make and sell, and many tourists and even locals cannot tell the difference.

Third-generation batik maker Astri Astariani says she is disheartened by the shift away from tradition.

"I'm a little bit sad about that because, to produce one two-metre batik like that, it really needs a long process and is very hard work, so, to see people using machines like that, it breaks my heart a little."

The 31-year-old Ms Astariani says she worries the centuries old technique may be lost to future generations.

"This is a very important tradition to Indonesian culture, so that's why we try to preserve the tradition, so the young generation knows about this tradition and they can know about the history and they want to continue to do the batik like this."

Batik Plentong's head of production, Bhadi Suwito, has worked in the industry for 57 years.

He says machine-made garments are no substitute for the traditional artform.

(Translated) "Batik is about art. And although now we have so much machine-made batik, the traditional way of making batik still needs to be preserved."

The family-owned company regularly opens its factory to the public.

Ms Astariani says she wants to educate tourists and school groups about the process.

"Local people also don't know (the difference). Especially for the young generation, they don't know which one is the handmade and the machine. So, that's why we try to explain about them and we try to give a course, a batik course, to them so they know the real batik is something like this."

Ella Archibald-Binge travelled to Indonesia as part of a government-funded media visit.