The origins of batik are still unknown but is found to have existed as early as 5000BC.  The wax resist-dyeing technique has been used by Egypt and India from over 2000 years ago. It all started from an evidence found in Pharaoh tomb, a wax indigo cloth revealed that batik has existed since the ancient time. Another oldest indication of its existence is when a unique designed textile was discovered in the 1st Century in Toraja Regency, Sulawesi Island in Indonesia. The answer to how the heritage is passed on throughout most part of the world remains a mystery. The emergence of the design has made the wax resist-dyeing technique become one the finest art ever existed on earth.


The next period of the batik heritage has emerged in China since the early age of Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618).  Chinese artisans have been practicing the wax resist dyeing technique by decorating silk textiles with animals, trees, mountains and hunting figures. The decorated silk has been found in the Nara period, Japan which is believed have been crafted by Chinese artisans. Up till this day, the art of batik is still being practiced by a minority of Chinese ethnics such as Miao and Gejia in Guizhou province to produce their traditional textiles. The pattern is seen to be highly inspired and used by textile artisans in the Nara Period (710-785). 

Centuries after, batik has started to grow and spread even more in the 8th Century through trade connections that were built from Gujarat, India to Malacca. During this period, textile trading has become a par of the course between merchants from Arab and India with many royal kingdoms in Indonesian archipelago. The birth of the name batik was created in Java island that is derived from the word “Amba” and “Titik”. The word “Amba'' means draw while “Titik”' means dot to form lines that can develop unique designs. There is also another wonderful meaning for batik which comes from a Javanese phrase, “Mbatik Manah” that signifies to paint with your whole heart.  

The unique art technique has reached its high point of demand in Java Island, Indonesia in the mid-17th century. Traders from Europe, Arab, China and India bought and sold batik textiles and the evidence is proved on a cargo bill. Holland started to industrialize the production of batik as well by using copper rollers and a resin resist around the year 1835. However, the Javanese were hesitant to buy the textile from Holland. Therefore, the patterned textiles have made its way to West Africa, where the art began its new life and became a part of the country's tradition that lasts till this day. The technique is known as ‘waxprint’ in West Africa.

Concerning the high demand of designed textiles, the wax dyeing technique requires so much time and effort for artisans which has become a threat for textile merchants due to a high demand in Java. Hence, the textile merchant has found its way to speed up the production of batik through wooden block printing. It was inspired by the invention of copper stamps to apply hot wax. 

In the 20th century, batik has evolved rapidly and has been produced in numerous European textile printing companies such as in the UK and Holland. These attractive designed fabrics have inspired a wave of creativity that has developed into many aspects of life. A group of young artists in Amsterdam during the 1890s introduced batik technique into furnishings, interior designs and fashion that has turned into an exclusive lifestyle. It has shown that the eye-catching design is very successful since then and being practiced by countless craftspeople in Europe and America.

On this day, batik has grown and become a part of a common cultural practice in South East Asia especially in Indonesia and Malaysia. In Indonesia, the authenticity and remarkable cultural values of the art has been preserved and it has become a necessity to wear batik for government employees. 

Let’s go deeper into the history of Batik Malaysia.  The traditional art has existed since the 16th century when maritime trade between the East and West prospered. Textiles and foreign raw materials were highly demanded by the traders from the West. The unique designed textiles that are known to be batik are sold by the merchants in Malacca Port to the traders. 

The technique of designing cloth began with the existence of Batik Pelangi that used a tie and dye process which is similar to an Indian textile concept. It then progressed into Kain Pukul in Kelantan and Kain Terap in Terengganu which the new technique used carved wooden block.  Malaysian artisans have started designing textiles with wooden blocks since the 20th century. 

They developed their blocks once again when the Javanese artisans introduced the use of wax and copper blocks on the East Coast which is still being used now by Kapten Batik in producing exclusive tradisional batik shirts (internal link). The art had an advanced innovation as they got inspired by the Javanese batik ‘tulis’ which means hand drawn. They started hand drawing technique which is specifically called ‘mencanting’ and crafted their own unique designs as well as giving new identity into the art. 

Malaysian Batik is known for its geometrical designs that is unique and different from the Indonesian batik. Malaysian artisans developed larger and simpler designs which they focus highly on the brush painting method. The design is also different in terms of color as batik Malaysia is lighter and vibrant while the Javanese design is deep colored. 

In this era, Malaysian have turned the unique tradition into a fashionable wear that can be worn by everyone as their everyday outfit. Baju Batik designs are now more modern and tailored to have the right fit to attract the younger generation which is one of the ways of how Kapten Batik tries to preserve the traditional art piece (internal link). This heritage has become more and more popular and became a part of our everyday life. Batik designs are now being applied into furnishing and even architecture. It is important to preserve the legacy of this finest heritage as there is a connection with the world history and to keep it appreciated by more generations to come. 

November 17, 2023 — Haikal Aziz