South East Asia Cottage Industries (Part 5 of 5): Indonesia

Batik and natural dyes

In Indonesia, the cottage industry and handicrafts started all the way back during Dutch colonization, although it was not as advanced as that of India at that time. Just like any other village industries, people in the rural areas have turned from agrarian society to crafting entrepreneurs. Through thick and thin, many rural villages have passed on the artistic heritage of fine Batik making for hundreds of years now. Not just Batik, the Indonesian archipelago is famous for its massive supply of high-quality wood-carvings, herbs, natural dyes, and nature crafts that are mostly sold locally and exported as coveted works of artisans.

Wukisari Village in Imogiri, Yokyakarta for example, has gone through a disastrous earthquake and yet the unfailing spirits of the villagers kept the small-scale industry going. The Batik community adapted to tremendous changes – from working for the batik industry to establishing their own batik cottage industry from scratch. In general, Batik making in villages is so common and widely available, it is not impossible to discover that nearly every resident is involved in batik production.

But Batik is never fabulous without splashes of vibrant hues. It is not uncommon now for private small-scale cottage industries to make use of nature as natural dyes for Batik, or even textiles, after knowing the harms and dangers caused by synthetic dyes they used not too long ago. In Sumba, on the eastern islands of Indonesia, one may find the ancient art of tying, dying and weaving the complex ikat textiles is still practiced. Many of the communities (mostly women) are supported by Ubud-based Threads of Life, a Fair Trade Organization that is responsible for helping ikat-producing communities in Eastern Indonesia maintain their heritage of natural dyes.

Long-term research and discovery have shown that East Indonesian textile artists use about two hundred different dye plants in their palettes. With increasing export demand from all over the world, it is no surprise that some of the plants have become sparse and hard to find. This result in creation of fake “natural” dyes; some look so real you need skilled eyes and nose to tell the difference!


The wood carving villages

In Bali, it is such a common sight to find wood carving statues everywhere. Mundung Village in Susut District in central Bali is well-acquainted with men, young and old, spending their days working with wood from Albesia tree to form various shapes of animals and human figures. Wood carving is definitely a laborious project; the strong, young men are usually seen comfortable working with their shirts off, to show their gleaming, beefy muscles to visiting tourists.

The villagers are generally pious Hindus; therefore most of their crafts revolve around statues of animals, mystical beings and folklore idols. For the purpose of commercialization, certain styles of works are dedicated to certain villages. Up in the highlands is Mas Village in Gianyar Regency, near Ubud, which is best known for its female figures wood carvings, Buddhas, characters from Hindu epics and the traditional Topeng and Wayang Wong masks. Legend has it that when the Royal Balinese families moved to Ubud, many were vying to work for them by offering to sell them goods. Since then, only the best carvers from Mas and the best painters from Ubud are being accepted and soon all of the best artisans flock to respective villages to earn a living. Not too long after that they successfully created community activities that revolve around the same expertise, up till today.



Not so far away from Bali is Lombok, an island in Nusa Tenggara Barat of Indonesia. Anyone who steps foot on this magnificent island will surely be blown away by its picturesque and splendid nature. The local people are called Sasak, and their major religion is Islam. Mataram in west Lombok is the capital city where most commerce takes place. Tourists will love the rich Indonesian flavor in pottery, baskets and nature crafts where villages like Banyumulek, Penujak and Masbagik are popular for producing them.



Indonesia is popular for its lucrative plantations, be it cash crops or miraculous mountain herbs. Jamu (Indonesian traditional medicine) has been a popular household product since antiquity. It is solely made from special herbaceous plants that were searched and practiced traditionally since older generations. Today, thousands of domestic entrepreneurs have made profits by exporting herbs to Asia and Western countries. These companies often engage the services of people in Semarang in Java, or Riau in Sumatra for their expertise in identifying and processing the herbs naturally.


Conclusively, most villages in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines are magnificently beautiful in nature but yet that alone is not enough to sustain the lives of its people who are shadowed with poverty. Cottage industry in general have helped improve thousands – probably millions – of lives by giving them chances to learn skills-based crafts and earn quality wages. This is such an important development especially for the women in aforementioned villages so that they can remain in their communities instead of being transported to foreign countries as domestic helpers. Although there are organizations that ban against exploiting natural rainforest reserves, it is essential to understand that these natural resources are renewable and therefore the whole production and business cycle cause lesser harm to the environment than some of us might have assumed.



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