Glimmering ‘songket’
aims at spotlight

The songket, a traditional Indonesian fabric intricately patterned with gold or silver thread, is being promoted in the wake of the country’s success in securing UNESCO recognition of batik.

The songket is recognized by the wide variety of patterns, Farida Siregar, a member of the Az-Zahra foundation, which will host an exhibition showcasing cultural items from South Sumatra next month, said Tuesday in Jakarta.

“There are hundreds of songket patterns. Songket is inseparable from the lives of the people who wear it because it is worn during important events such as births, marriages, and death,” she said.

The exhibition will run from June 10 to 11 in Jakarta.

Thirty antique and precious songket pieces with prices in the tens of millions of rupiah, will be on display. The event, titled “The Ancient Sriwijaya Heritage”, will also feature traditional South Sumatran food, jewelry, wooden handicrafts and performing arts.

Sriwijaya was a kingdom in South Sumatra. The earliest historical record of its existence dates back to the 7th century. The empire, however, might have existed centuries earlier.  

Farida said that the weaving techniques used in making songket had existed for a long time, but it was only during the heyday of trade centering around the ancient kingdom that gold threads from India and silk from China were infused into the process.

“Songket produced today no longer uses actual gold thread,” she said.

Farida added that songket-making had been in a lull, but that lately, the enthusiasm for weaving had increased.

“[Promoting songket] is in line with the government’s program to develop and make it a national movement to wear traditional fabrics. This will rejuvenate the local industry and it is also becoming a trend,” Culture and Tourism Ministry director general of marketing Sapta Nirmanda said.

Last year, UNESCO awarded the dyeing and pattern making techniques used in producing batik fabric an intangible cultural heritage.

Prior to the recognition, the nation had campaigned for widespread usage of batik, and one day in the year was dedicated to wearing batik.

A red songket covered in patterns formed using gold threads was displayed to the press. It was said to cost Rp 70 million (US$7,700).

Songket is one of the attractions for visitors to South Sumatra. Other attractions include the Musi River and natural sights, as well as the ruins of the Sriwijaya Empire.

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