January 5, 2024

Tebu dan Batik*

* Sugan Cane and Batik

Ibu Siti shows the re-make of her exhibition batik

View from one of the remaining building of the sugarfactory Kaliwoengoe 

After finishing my program in Jakarta, it was finally time to travel together with Koen. On the 29 of November 2023 we headed to Pekalongan. I was happy I already had a short visit a month earlier, but extra happy I got to take Koen now to meet everyone in Pekalongan and Batang. 
We stayed in the Sidji Hotel. My first time. I wanted to include a little bit of Batik history also for the places we slept at. The rooms, or our room was nothing special, but the hotel itself is pretty nice and shows how old {colonial} buildings can be repurposed.

In 1918, a couple named Hoo Tong Koey and Tan Seng Nio—who were very much a part of the thriving Pekalongan society then—began the construction of this house (today, the house serves as The Sidji’s lobby). According to the family lore, Seng Nio—the wife—was the driving force behind its main architecture and completion.
The couple began trading batik dyes before expanding to batik making. They set up a workshop for this purpose in the back of the house. It was an astute move—for the family business continued to prosper for many generations. Behind it all was the industrious Seng Nio—who managed operations while raising six children—some of whom would later raise their own families in this town.
Later on, this success allowed the flamboyant and charismatic Tong Koey to indulge in his passion for traditional music. He formed a gamelan troupe that performed for the crème de la crème of Pekalongan society. His involvement in the Peranakan community awarded him the title ‘Lieutenant der Chinezen’ (Lieutenant of the Chinese)—the third highest rank for Peranakan in the colonial hierarchy.

as can be read on the website of The Sidji Hotel. Although the building is very beautiful, we didn't really feel like using it as a photoshoot area as many guests do, but I think it is still interesting to stay here from a Batik historical point of view.

Entrance of the hotel which use to be the veranda

Photo at The Sidji Hotel of their batik past

Floor tiles at The Sidji Hotel

The always helpful Mas Qomar arranged a car for us for two days, which was very nice because the first day was very hot and the second day there was so much rains, that Koen saw his first banjir {flood} on Java. 
First day we went and meet with Ibu Rujaemah and her granddaughter Salmah. I only met them last year for the first time. During my short visit a month earlier, I visited again. I really love the batiks in the style Batik Masin and as I shared in my previous blog I ordered something made from their only one sided batik. The outer {jacket} was made without any measuring, but with videos me and Ibu Salmah send back and forth trying the figure out if we can use our hands instead. The outer turned out really nice and looking forward to see if we can make more items in near future. We looked at several batiks, finished ones and those that are partly in production. I always learn a lot from seeing these steps in the process, especially about the artists behind the work. New motif name I learned, That Ibu Rujaemah uses a lot, Pendal Sukun. It is based on the skin of the fruit with the same name that is in English 'Breadfruit'. The motif consist of bigger circles surrounded by smaller dots, like the skin of the fruit, but I found it on images online with either spikes or more like gringsing almost.

Batik Masin in different stages of the wax and dyeing process

Koen folding my new outer 

Next stop on our first day was Ibu Umriyah, Mak Sium. Next to seeing batiks in production, since everyone bought a lot of her pieces during the Pasar Batik at Erasmus Huis in Jakarta {Thank you!}, we shared stories on our stay in Jakarta. It is so lovely to hear how everyone enjoyed the openingsweekend. Read more about that in 'Building the future of Batik'. 
Mak Sium son-in-law Achyar was explaining how I am one of few that come visit them in Batang and that I am considered family. To emphasize, Mak Sium went to get something for us. We got 2,5 kilo of rice from her own ricefield. What an honour!

Mas Qomar and Mak Sium son-in-law Achyar

Mak Sium new batiks in the making

Me and Mak Sium

Last visit on our first day was to Ibu Rasminah. Koen was wearing the blouse I let made last year by The Aria Batik with a batik by Ibu Rasminah. She was over the moon. She wanted us to take a picture with her, but first we had to get wrapped in matching batiks. It was actually a really nice look the batik shirt with the matching sarong, with the kepala on the back. I had to wear a batik too, did not choose a matching one, but one with a classic ship motif I never saw before at Ibu Rasminah. Of course I had to buy it.

Posing with Ibu Rasminah wrapped in her batiks

Next day we started at Museum Batik in Pekalongan. The tour organised by Tony of aNERDGallery was there too, so we got to see the group from Singapore, including Eunice. Mas Dewa was their museumguide, who we already met for lunch and dinner when we arrived. It is kinda surreal being in a place I know so well together with Koen. Of course everyone is very curious to meet Koen and Koen laughs every time someone comes around the corner with "Hallo Miss Sabine". 

Finally a photo at the letters BATIK in Pekalongan

Tony of aNERDgallery and Mas Dewa giving a guided tour through Museum Batik in Pekalongan

After our visit, we headed to Batang to spend time with Ibu Siti, Nurul Maslahah, Maulida and their mother Ibu Bayinah. We started at Ibu Siti’s home, seeing her family again and seeing all the orders she got after the Pasar Batik. I am so happy to see that my exhibition could have such an impact already. Hopefully it is not a one time thing, but can develop in something more sustainable. In Siti's living room she made a small display with the poster of the exhibition and printed photographs so that visitors can see it. It makes me so proud. 
After lunch we went to Nurul. Nurul got recently married and was a few days home, so we were very lucky we got to meet her and her husband in Batang. We looked at batiks, finished and in progress. Learned about the different parangs they make in Batang that I later saw again in Museum Danar Hadi. The Parang Kembang which looks like a flower ready to open up and Parang Ikan which is a little fish that caught with a hook.
Because the rain kept pouring down, we had the head back to the hotel on time. Roads leading into the small neighbourhoods along the way back to Pekalongan were already blocked. The street was already more a river showing how severe the situation truly is.

Parang Ikan in process

 Ibu Kustiyah, Ibu Siti,  Ibu Bayinah, Nurul Maslahah and Mbak Maulida 

Mbak Nurul with one of her batiks

After only two full days In Pekalongan and Batang, we headed the next place on our to visit list, Semarang. We stayed in the South of Semarang in a very lovely green guesthouse. We unfortunately didn’t get to go to Ungaran because of heavy rain in the afternoon, but I was so glad Mas Aris came to meet us when we just arrived. 
On Sunday 3 December we got to explore Kaliwungu and the surrounding area with Mas Ruwanto. Last year I met with Mas Ruwanto and we visited the sugarfactory that is part of both our research. Read more in the blogpost 'Ubud, Sumber Salak, Ungaran and Kaliwungu'. 
We met in the morning at what remains of the sugarfactory. The growth that was over powering the old constructions has been maintained. Making the buildings less romantic, but making it much more visible in what poor state they are. The 'waterpomphuis' roof seems ready to collapse. But from what I gather our hands are tied. As long as the police doesn't give permission to do anything with the buildings, there is nothing that can be done to protect the buildings from slowly crumbling. I still believe the buildings and certainly the 'waterpomphuis' that is right next to the road can be put to good use. If it could be renovated, it could be a little exhibition space with photos from the past showing the history of the sugarfactory and the later war years. I hope we can get to some kind of arrangement soon, before the buildings are merely piles. But I was happy to visit so soon again and now show Koen. We were again welcomed and escorted over the terrain. Took much more photos, since the weather was although hot, very sunny, of all the buildings, inside and out. 

One of the remaining buildings of the sugarfactory Kaliwoengoe, 
the center is still being used while on the sides it is falling apart

Posing with Mas Ruwanto Tri in front of the 'waterpomphuis'

Eastside of the sugarfactory Kaliwoengoe with view on the office 
and rails of the Semarang Cheribon Stoomtram Maatschappij. 
On the left the 'waterpomphuis'. From between 1910-1925. KITLV 49716, Collection UB Leiden

After a saté-lunch, for Koen, we went to see the small train station of Kaliwungu. I don't know why, but this time it caught my eye in the train and just had to go there. 
Ruwanto made a Facebook post after our visit on the history of this train station and the connection to the sugarfactory. So some info from that post with extra details added by me:

The first railway was made in 1867 connecting Semarang with Tangung, Surabaya. Both important habour cities that were used by the Dutch goverment to export and import goods. Among these goods were the colonial goods or 'koloniale waren' in Dutch that were the products produced on Java under the 'Cultuurstelsel'. After the Cultuurstelsel was ended, of course plantations kept producing tea, coffee and sugar that were mostly shipped out of Java. The Samarang–Cheribon Stoomtram Maatschappij, N.V. (SCS) build and operate the Semarang West - Kaliwoengoe railway line, including the main branch line to the Kaliwungu sugar factory, which opened on Sunday, May 2, 1897. Apart from being a line for passengers, the railway continued to function as a transportation for sugar, also called 'het witte goud' {white gold}. 

Transport of sugarcane on tracks near the Sugarfactory Kaliwoengoe, 
between 1910-1925, KITLV 4975, Collection UB Leiden

Train station Kaliwungu with Koen and Mas Ruwanto

The train station is still manned, but no trains stop there anymore. We were welcomed to look around and take some photos, but not of the office. 
While headed to our next location, Mas Ruwanto also pointed out the still remaining railway tracks next to the road that use to lead to the sugarfactory. The railways were mostly dug up during the Japanese occupation. The metal was used to make weapons according to the stories.
During lunch we learned a local expression. If a drink is not sweet, in Kaliwungu they say; "We must be far from the sugarfactory". Showing how intertwined the history of the sugarfactory still is with the nowadays Kaliwungu.

What remains of Onderneming Djatti Kalangan

Rooftiles may be useful to date the buildings

We ended our daytrip at the Onderneming Djatikalangan, where in the past tea and coffee were processed, but now matches are made. I was nearby this place already in 2019, after I find in documents that next to the sugarfactory, the Ottenhoff family also owned Onderneming Djatti Kalangan in Ungaran. I found on Google maps that there was still a road called Jalan Raya Jatikalangan. I headed there and we came across what looked like a factory, but the person I was with didn't want to go in. 
Talking on WA with Mas Ruwanto to prepare for this trip, I mentioned the name of the onderneming and soon after he came back with the possible location. The same place I was at in 2019. 
To our surprise two older buildings still remain on the ground. One from the early 20th century, but one maybe older. It looks like a Dutch farmhouse. The roof tiles turned out to have some leads for us to follow, ‘steenbakkery tegal’ and different company names, so things to dive further in. The people we met didn't know anything about the buildings or the history of the place, but let us look around, even inside and take many photographs. 
It was so much fun to explore with a fellow researcher, so happy we got to spend time and share knowledge. I learned and get to see so much. Thank you Mas Ruwanto!

On Monday 4 December I got the news that my exhibition was in the news. A really wonderful article by journalist Sylviana Hamdani with the impressive title 'Masa Depan, Batik, Unveiling the industry's challenges and reshaping the future' in the newspaper The Jakarta Post. Hamdani attended the opening and interviewed me and the pembatiks. I didn't expect any article to still come out, but this was more then just an article. It goes in much depth on several artworks and features next to a photo of me with my selfportrait, also a lovely portrait of Mak Sium and Mbak Nurul with their batiks, the oldest and the youngest pembatik featured in the exhibition.

"We need to show this craftsmanship to the younger generation to make it more future-oriented and sustainably resilient," Bolk said on the opening night."At the same time, this is also an invitation to reflect on the future of batik."

'Masa depan Batik | Future of Batik' will re-open on Tuesday 9 January and will still be on display till 20 January 2024 at Erasmus Huis in Jakarta.
Keep an eye out on my blog to for further updates on me and Koen's journey to Batik!

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