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Malay Culture

Songket Weaving of Palembang, South Sumatra

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1. Background

Palembang is the capital city of South Sumatra province, Indonesia. This area has a weaving craft that is called “Tenun/siwet Songket Palembang (songket weaving of Palembang)”. This songket is a weaving cloth that is made by adding pakan thread as a decoration by inserting silver, gold, or colored thread on lungsin thread. The word songket comes from the words ‘tusuk‘ (prick) and ‘cukit‘ (pick) which are combined together into ‘sukit‘, then is changed into ‘sungki‘, and finally into ‘songket‘.

People say that this weaving had been made since Sriwijaya Kingdom era. The making technique is not originally from Palembang. It is from China, India, and Saudi Arabia. The coming of the merchants from those countries allowed the cultural acculturation to happen. One of the cultures that the merchants brought in is weaving technique that people of Palembang still use until now.

Songket cloth of Palembang is worn in traditional wedding ceremony by the bride, the female dancers, and the female guests. The cloth is also worn in formal/ official occasions such as welcoming guests (official) from in/ outside Palembang. Songket is only worn in special occasions because it is a high value cloth and respected by Palembang people.

In Crivijaya era, the cloth was not only sold in the land of Sumatra, but also in China, Thailand, India, and Saudi Arabia. But when Indonesia was colonized by the Netherlands and Japan, the production and distribution of songket was decreased.  Even when the physical Revolution (1945-1950) happened, songket weaving craft production was stopped because there was no available material. In the beginning of 1960, the songket weaving regained its success because the government helped Palembang people to get the materials and distribute it.

The making of songket weaving is usually done as a part time job by teenage girls and old women while waiting for the time to do their daily prayer. In short, songket weaving is done by women. 

Nowadays, songket makers do not only produce one kind of songket such as sarong or cloth, but also wall decoration clothes, tableclothes, motifed carpets, women clothes, bed sheets, chair covers, carpet pillows, shawls, serber, kitchen cleaning cloths, handkerchiefs, cloth (material) for shirts, and tussor (diagonal weaving materials).

2. Equipments and Materials

Basically, there are two categories of songket weaving equipment: the main equipment, and the supporting equipment. Both of them are made of wood and bamboo. The main equipment is the weaving equipment itself which is called “dayan”. The set of equipment is 2 x 1,5 meters sized and consists of gulungan/boom (a tool to wind the main weaving thread), penyincing (a tool to stretch and get the weaving thread), beliro (a tool to make the motif), cahcah (a tool to insert another thread to the main thread), and gun[1] (a tool to pick up the thread). While the supporting equipments are used to arrange the thread position when it is being weaved are peleting, gala, belero ragam, and teropong palet. They are put at the right side of the weaver so that the weaver can easily reach them.

The raw material of songket is a weaving thread that is called lusi or lungsin. It is made of cotton, tree bark, banana fiber, pineapple fiber, and palm leaf. While the decoration, is made of silk thread and gold thread[2]. The silk thread comes from Taiwan and China, while the gold thread comes from India, Japan, Thailand, Germany, and France. Beside the thread, a weaver needs paints to color the thread. Those paints are imported from Germany and England.

Lungsin thread is made by using a ballast that is twisted by a finger. The ballast is shaped like a top (a child‘s toy that spins around on its point when it is twisted) and made of wood or terakota. Another way that can be found in another west part of Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, Bali, Lombok) is by using antih (a tool consists of big wheel and the hook to wind the wheel). While to get certain colors[3], the threads are soaked into soap for about 14 minutes to loosen its oil substance. After that the threads are soaked into colored liquid (the color is as it is desired) and dried. Once the threads are dry, they are rolled (dikelos). The next step is preparing the thread for weaving according to the kind or shape of songket (penganian). But nowadays only few people do that. Most of them buy the threads from factories in Indonesia, or import them from India, China, Japan, or Thailand.

3. The Technique of Songket Weaving

The making of Palembang songket is basically done in two stages: weaving the basic cloth with even or plain weaving construction stage, and weaving the decoration that is an additional part from pakan thread. People in America and Europe call this system as “inlay weaving system”.

a. Weaving the basic cloth stage

This stage produces an even and plain weaving. The first step is stretching one of the points of the thread (the thread is already given kani) on the table, while the other point is put into suri/sisir hole. It is arranged so that from 25 suri holes, each of them has 4 threads in it. This is for making the edge of the cloth. While the other holes, are filled with 2 threads for each.

After putting the threads into the suri and arranging them evenly, the threads are rolled with boom which is made of wood. This step is called menyajin or mensayin the threads. The next thing to do is setting two guns (tools to pick up the threads) next to the sisir. This step is called “the setting of gun penyenyit”. Then with sitting position, a weaver starts to move the dayan by stepping on one of the pedals to separate the threads so that after they are rolled, the weaver can put them easily from left to right (through whole dayan) or right to left (in turns). The threads that are in across position will be tighten up with dayan which has suri and become the basic cloth.

b. The Making of Decoration

After the basic cloth is made, the second stage is making the decoration. In this stage, the plain cloth is decorated with gold or silk threads with supplementary weft technique. The technique is rather complicated because to put the threads on to the basic cloth has to get through a careful calculation. In this stage, gun kembang is put on the parts of the cloth so the gold or silk threads can be put to create a motif. People say that this job spends a lot of time to do because the threads are counted one by one from right to left through a certain calculation according to the motif that is going to make. Next, the threads are tightened up one by one until they form the desired decoration.

The duration of time for making songket weaving depends on its kind and shape, and the smooth and complicacy of the motif. The smoother and more complicated the songket, the longer time that is needed. The making of sarong and cloth for example, can spend approximately two to six months. Even, often it is more than six months because usually a weaver can only make 5-10 centimeters of cloth in one day.

4. Songket Weaving Decorations

The natural riches of Palembang influence the decoration, which is rich of amazing patterns. Although the decoration is made using simple equipment, the result is a high value craft. Songket is not merely a cloth, but also a craft/ an art that is created from the weaver‘s creativity, taste, and imagination. The motifes of Palembang songket are generally divided into three parts: plants motif (especially flowers), geometric motif, and mix motif (plants and geometric).

The motifes are passed down from one generation to the next, so the patterns are not changing. Only certain people can do the motif, and not all people can create their own motif. The weaver traces the pattern that is already decided. This craft demands a collective work. For the record, all weavers across Palembang are women, young and old. The weaving skill is generally passed on through generations.

A few kinds of decoration of Palembang songket are: lepus piham, lepus polos, lepus puler lurus, lepus puler ombak-ombak, lepus bintang, lepus naga besaung, lepus bungo jatuh, lepus berantai, lepus lemas kandang, tetes meder, bungo cino, bungo melati, bungo inten, bungo pacik, bungo suku hijau, bungo bertabur, bungo mawar, biji pare, jando berhias, limas berantai, dasar limai, pucuk rebung, tigo negeri and emas jantung. For more information look at these example below.


tenun songket palembang
tenun songket palembang
tenun songket palembang
Biji Pare Bintang Berante Bintang Kayu Apuy
tenun songket palembang
tenun songket palembang
tenun songket palembang
Bungo Cino Bungo Jepang Bungo Pacik
tenun songket palembang
tenun songket palembang
tenun songket palembang
Bungo Intan Cantik Manis (Cempuk)
Kenango Makan Ulet
tenun songket palembang tenun songket palembang tenun songket palembang
Lepus Berakam
Naga Bertarung
Nampan Perak
tenun songket palembang tenun songket palembang  tenun songket palembang
Pulir Tabur Limar Tigo Negeri

Beside embellishing the weaving (songket), the decoration also has meanings. One of the examples of famous decorations is “naga besaung”/ naga bertarung (fighting dragons). In this case, dragon symbolizes wealth and victory. A person who wears the songket weaving with this motif expects wealth and victory in life. This motif is taken from one of Chinese culture elements that believes that dragon is a mythological creature that brings wealth and prosperity. As mention above, merchants from all over the world such as China and India came to Crivijaya kingdom to trade, which created the cultural acculturation. Another examples are pucuk rebung motif and flowers motif (clove, tanjung flower, jasmine, and rose). Rebung (bamboo) is kind of plant that can be cooked even since it is small and green. When it becomes big, it can be used as building material and many others. A person who wears the songket weaving with this motif expects to be useful for the society just like bamboo, which is very useful for human. While flowers symbolize purity, elegance, blessing, and kindness.

5. Cultural Values

Songket weaving of Palembang has some values of life that people can refer as guidance in their everyday life. The values are sacredness, beauty (art), diligence, carefulness, and patience.

Songket is worn only in special occasions. This reflects the sacredness value. The beautiful decorations that are made reflect the beauty value. While the demanding and complicated process of making the weaving reflects the diligence, carefulness, and patience values. Without those values, the beautiful and meaningful songket weaving cannot be made.

Sources:

  • Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan. 1994. Aneka Ragam Khasanah Budaya Nusantara V. Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan.
  • www.indonesiamedia.com
  • www.sumsel.go.id
  • www.songketpalembang.blogspot.com
  • www.korantempo.com
  • www.kompas.com
  • www.republika.co.id
  • www.songket-palembang.com
  • www.hupelita.com

(EV/7/01-08/TM)

Translated from the Indonesian version by (DW)



[1] Gun can be divided into two kinds: gun pengenyit which is used to pick up the threads which will be the basic of cloth construction (plain) and gun kembang which is used to pick up the threads which will be the songket motif.

[2] There are three kinds of gold thread for songket: cabutan, sartibi, and bangkok gold thread. Cabutan is from antique songket whose some parts of cloth has already worn out. This thread is still strong because it is made of cotton, which according to people, is dipped into 24 carat gold liquid. Sartibi is synthetic thread that is imported from Japan. This kind of thread is smooth, not shiny, and the weaving result from this thread is light. While bangkok, is shiny thread that is imported from Bangkok (Thailand).

[3] Before the modern technique, the traditional songket cloth was dipped into colored liquid. The colors were available in the environment (nature). This technique was passed on through generations. Usually, the red colour came from sepang (a wood which produces a red dye) wood by taking the core and boiling it and mengkudu‘s root. While the blue colour came from indigo, and the yellow came from turmeric. To get secondary colors such as green, orange, and purple, the primary colors (red, blue, yellow) were mixed. Tawas was added to avoid the colors from fading in dipping process.

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