Indonesian culture is undeniably diverse with all regions preserving their respective traditions, including the variety of woven fabrics from different parts of the archipelago. Lamongan, about 46.5 kilometers west of Surabaya, the capital of East Java, still boasts its hand-woven fabrics known as tenun ikat or tie-dyed fabrics, a legacy of the region’s ancestral tradition typified by highquality handicrafts.
The woven fabrics use staple fibers, mercerized threads and silk imported from China and India as materials.
They are functionally divided into pakan (weft threads) and lungsi (warp threads). The former are fed crosswise into weaving looms with a special tool called a lorong or layar and the latter run parallel into the looms.
The craftsmen who create these handmade products live in the Maduran district, particularly in Parengan village. Therefore, their fabric designs are popularly known as tenun Perengan. Unlike in other regions these fabrics, with their distinctive patterns and colors, are mostly woven by men.
The tenun ikat of Parengan dates back to the reign of Tumengung Surajaya or Raden Hadi, the uncle of Sunan Giri (one of Java’s Islamic proselytizers), in the Keturanggan Lamongan regency from 1569 to 1607.
Lamongan was then known as the entry gate to several kingdoms in Java, which was frequently visited by overseas monarchs.
To pay respect to the noble visitors, Surajaya fashioned woven cloths out of the threads obtained from Chinese and Indian merchants, which were presented to his royal guests.
Since that time, the people of Lamongan, particularly male residents, have learned to craft the fabrics by hand.
The use of traditional hand looms demands a lot more skill and perseverance on the part of craftsmen than those required by weaving machines. A 4-meter piece of woven cloth for a sarong takes a weaver a day or two to create.
The unique creations of the local culture have been increasingly sought-after by local and foreign customers.
Sadly, the trade is constrained by the declining number of craftspeople. Local young people would rather work as construction workers because they can receive better pay than the rate of Rp 40,000 (US$2.99) per piece received by traditional fabric weavers.