Lasem is a small town on the northern coast of Java and is part of Rembang regency, Central Java. The town has been referred as to the “city of santri” (Islamic students), “old town” and “heirloom town”. There are also nicknames it inherited from the colonial era, including “batik city”, “Little China” and “Little Beijing”.
The Javanese, Arab, Chinese and European cultural mix has left its mark in batik motifs known as batik pesisiran. A similar batik pattern can be found in Banten, Jakarta, Cirebon, Pekalongan, Surabaya and Pasuruan, apart from Lasem. Those are cities located on the northern coast of Java.
The development of batik in Lasem started in the era of Na Li Ni, the wife of Bi Nang Un, who was a member of the Admiral Cheng Ho expedition mission in 1402-1433.
The golden era of batik in Lasem began in the 1860s.
CTH Van Deventer wrote in his book Overzicht van den Economischen toestand der Inlandsche Bevolking Java en Madorea 1904 that Chinese businesspeople had sent their fabric to Lasem for production. Around 4,300 people, mostly women, were involved in batik production at that time.
However, there was a printing technique for mass production that jeopardized the batik business, as Van Deventer said in his book.
Businesses in Lasem retained the way they produced batik patterns to fight printed batik.
Kengpodaily reported that Lasem batik had reached Singapore and its trade overseas was around 3 million gulden per year.
Batikrapport in 1934 reported that Lasem batik sarong was a popular item for people in Sumatra, Kalimantan and even in England.
In the 19thcentury, Lasem was a batik-producing city with 120 companies operating. At the same time, Pekalongan, Surakarta and Banyumas – other batik centers – had 60, 60 and 77 batik companies, respectively.
Java-Bodedaily reported in 1891 that Lasem batik patterns included pyramids, bamboo, deer, peacocks and roses.
Today, there are 120 batik businesses in 28 villages, according to Rembang administration data. The pattern and color of batik has been adjusted according to today’s trends.
After batik was recognized as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO on Oct. 2, 2009, business in Lasem redeveloped. [yan]