With over 70,000 islands and a culture influenced by a multitude of religions, such as, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, Indonesia is a land of rich cultural diversity. It is this diversity that manifests itself in customs, traditions and a varied heritage, be it art, dance, handicrafts and even clothing. While the Indonesia people are well adapted to the western culture, they have proudly preserved their customs and indigenous traditions.
Owing to their varied heritage, each province in Indonesia has its own traditional attire, dances and food. This article will take you on a journey of the Indonesian culture, especially focusing on the traditional dresses worn by the people of Indonesia on various occasions.
Often, when one thinks of Indonesia, a colorful image of women dressed in blazing fabrics, wearing accessories and headdresses, comes to mind. The most common traditional dresses you’ll see natives wearing, belong to the Javanese, Sudanese and Balinese regions. One of the most common and popularly worn traditional dresses is Batik, usually seen on men at weddings, important meetings or any other ceremonies or events.
Here is a list of the traditional dress of Indonesia:
1. Batik and Sarong:
The Batik cloth is essentially a fabric with intricately designed patterns that are created using traditional techniques. These techniques vary from region to region, yielding unique patterns and materials. For decades, it has been worn by wrapping it around the waist. The cloth, however, has acquired a modern appearance and is now also being sewn into shirts, dresses, skirts and even bags. In fact, it has been classified as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
Batik, when worn in the traditional way, is typically paired with a sarong which is another famously worn traditional dress of Indonesia; a garment of honor and decency for the natives. A distinguishing feature of the Indonesian sarongs is the peculiarity of the material they are made of, namely, songket, woven and tapis. Each of these materials originates from different regions within Indonesia itself.
The kebayais traditionally worn by the Sudanese, Javanese and Balinese women. It is typically a long sleeve blouse that is made up of silk, cotton and semi-transparent brocade/ nylon. There even is a traditional hairdo made with the classic pairing of a kebaya and a sarong, where the hair is tied up in a bun and gold or even silver headdresses are worn to brighten up the outfit even more.
A kebaya is worn even on formal occasions and weddings, by women, just as men wear a peciduring such events and ceremonies. It can often be spotted on First lady’s and wives of diplomats, when making public appearances. Through all their diversity, the Indonesian women come together to wear kebaya on the 21st of April every year to honour the memory of Kartini, an idol for the Indonesian women, for her fight for women’s rights and freedom.
The peci, also known as kopiahor songkokis, is an essential part of a formal outfit, worn by men across all Indonesian islands. It is an important attribute even to the President’s and government officials’ attires. A peci, is a velvet, black cap that resembles the Turkish Fezand is more popularly worn by Muslim men in Indonesia. Fun fact- this velvet cap has been worn by numerous demonstrators and activists, during the 20thcentury, to showcase their nationalistic sentiments and solidarity. A few of those activists include Agus Salim, Muhammad Hatta and even Sukamo, who later went on to become the President.
A commonly worn torso wrap, a kemben, was traditionally worn by women by wrapping an average sized cloth on their torso, folding the edges and securing it with a soft rope. They ultimately covered it with an angkin. Nowadays, kembens are secured using zips, straps of buttons and are very popular amongst the Javanese women, who traditionally wore two kembens; one for to cover their upper body and another wrapped around their waist like a skirt. Moreover, considering the Indonesian weather, which is mostly hot and humid, kemben is a really comfortable piece of clothing.
Fun fact- Before kebaya gained popularity amongst the Javanese women, a kemben used to be their go-to!
5. Baju Kurung:
A baju kurung, is an enclosed dress, popularized by Sultan Abu Bakar during the 19thcentury. Its usage grew tremendously, especially in Malaysia, during the 1970’s and 1980’s and it is now considered to be the Malaysian National Dress. In Indonesia, it is commonly worn in the Sumatra islands. Traditionally, it was a baggier and lengthier dress than what it is today.
Popularly referred to as, belangkon,it is a traditional headdress for males, commonly seen on Javanese men. It is usually prepared using the Batik cloth and has four types- Kedu, Banyumasan, Surakarta and Ngayogyakarta. These four categories are mostly distinguished by their shape and origin. There are numerous stories about the source of blangkon. One of these theories suggests that it originated from Aji Saka, who defeated the colossal who owned the Java island.
Another theory suggests that it originated from the Javanese, who had adopted the Islamic and Hindu cultures, thereby resultantly absorbing the blangkon trend as well. The belangkon is also said to be derived from the turbans, worn by the Indian Gujrati traders, who were amongst the first few Muslims to visit the island for commercial purposes.
For Indonesia, it is nearly impossible to single out one dress as ‘The Traditional Dress of Indonesia’, for the simple reason that the vast cultural and ethnic diversity would not permit such a narrowing term. Throughout the 34 provinces of Indonesia, there is a separate traditional attire that, even within the province, is worn with a few variations. The primary reason for such diversity lies in the various legends, symbols and beliefs that are peculiar to the region. Some even reflect a heavy influence of other cultures, for instance, Jakarta’s traditional dress is greatly influenced by the Arabic, Chinese and Malaysian cultures.
On the other hand, the Balinese attire, with its extravagant details and ornaments, reminds one of the impact of Hinduism on the Balinese culture.