HomeBlogs Batak Traditional Cloth “Ulos Batak“ As witnessed both by its place in etnographic museums and collections
the world over and the extensive liturature which is devoted to it, the
traditionally art of textiles is one of the world’s richest and most
diverse. The diversity of techniques and motifs can be explained in
large measure by the archipelacis nature of the country, whose native
barriers tend to autonomus local developments, such its own distinctive
The Batak region which, as already pointed out,
constitutes a kind of land-locked “ island “ has given rise to a
production of fabric with its own distinct characteristics. Contrary
to those of the other provinces of Indonesia, the Batak textile
tradition is devoid of significant external influences such as Indian
It appears that the Batak uses practically only cotton
in the fabrication of their textiles. His cotton was traditionally
produced locally and its spinning was- and sometimes still is- carried
out in the families each one of which possessed one or more
The usage of milk or gold threards, common at
Aceh in the North and in the beautiful Minang textiles South of Tapanuli
region, is rare in the true Batak fabrics, ( they are nearly absent in
the Toba region, but sometimes used in a limited fashion among the Karo,
Simalungun or Mandailing ).
Dyes were also produced locally, but
the natural ( eg. Indigo ) or mineral sources have gradually have
replaced by less difficult to obtain and more brilliant synthetic ones,
which retain their original colouring longer. It must be noted the
softness and even the irregularity of the traditinal dyes generated a
beauty which can not by matched by their replacements. The ritual
importance of textile making among the Batak became manifest at this
dying stage. Among the Toba this operation was accompiend by sacrifices
and special prayers to the spirits of the ancestors to come and bless
the work accomplished.
A widesspread characteristic of Batak
textiles is the sobriety of their composition and colouring, often
approaching austerity, the simplicity of the motifs, and the sombre
hues, black, dark red brown and breish grey being predomiknant.
certain Batak ceremonial cloth ( Ulos Adat ) are rendered more striking
as the Ulos called :” Ragi Idup or Ragidun “ ( Ragi – Motif – life ), a
handspun cotton cloth with traditinal dyes of deep maroon and indigo
colors. The finely detailed geometric motifs including rhomp and
key-shapes and panels I red, black, and white continious supplementary
cotton thread shows the Dong-Son influence.
among the Batak is a familu affair, the domain of the women-folk,
athough the finishing of the borders is sometimes left to the men. Every
house has 9 or had ) one or more looms and every girl learned to work
them well before the age of marriage. It is still possible today to see
Batak women weaving at their looms in front of the traditinally Batak
houses byt the sight is becoming , alas, more and more rare.
among the Batak is done using a simple horizontal loom situated about
50 cm from the ground. The woof is formed by a single thread and the
tension is regulated by a bacstrap upon which the wearer leans back. It
should be noted that this type of loom is almost exactly the same as
that used in other less developed regions of the archipelago such as the
Dayak regionb and the isles East of Bali.
Technically the Batak
fabrics are made using the “ Ikat “ process, consisting of dying of the
threads before weaving using bindings to prevent the dye staining
certain parts of the thread.
“Ikat” means “binding” or “ band “
in Malay and Indonesian and this “saving process, of Dong San origin, is
to be found I more or less developed variations throughout the
archipelago. The Batak uses one of the simpler, more widely-spread
variations, the “ warp Ikan”, also practised by the Batak, the Toraja,
in Sumba and in Eastern isles. This process makes possible by means of
successive colorations of motif. Always gfeometrical among the Batak.
which appear during the weaving.
Among the textiles most commonly
I use it is necessary to mention first the famous “ ulos “, large
rectangular pieces of ikat still worn frequently as much by men as by
women, Black and purple- brown are the dominant colours of Ikat in the
Toba region, claret and deep among the Karo, Simalungun and Mandailing.
Although the colours produced a rather austere appearance the
workmanship is generally very fine. The colours became more varied and
more lively away from the Toba regoin, for example the “ulos Sadum “ of
the Angola regions are often oa a striking blue with polychrome
If one could say about the marga that they are the
equivalent of Scottish clans, it has also been said that Ulos had
function similar to those of the traditional Tartan, i.e. combining a
clothing function, that of a social status indicator, that of marking
the belonging to a specific group, and also a ritual or sacred role.
the batak the symbolic importance of textiles is particularly
noticeable and , their use as ritual presents from the brie’s family to
that of the groom is widespread.
In fact, all the presents from
the the bride’s family are known as “ ulos “, even those other than
textiles, while presents from the groom’s family are known as “ piso “,
even those other than knives or other like weapons ( Piso- knives ).
presents are offered for the most on the occasion of “ Rites de Passage
“, births, marriages and death.
For example, at batak marriages,
the climax of the ceremony is “Mangulosi “ when the bride and the groom
are both enveloped in the same piece of material. This type of ritual
can of course be found in many other civilizations and religions, apart
from their distinguishing particularities, A Jewish wedding, Javanese
and a Batak wedding all make use of this same symbolism
ritualistic Batak fabrics have today disappeared, such as the circular
pieces, the “Hijo Marsitogutoguan “. ,which were used for birth-rites
and the “ Ulos Lobu-Lobu “, which were used for weddings. On the other
hand, other ritual or “ Adat “ textiles still survives and produced at
the present, the “ Ulos Sibolang “ and the aferomentioned “ Ulos Ragi
Idup “ or “ Ragidup” specialists enumerate more than a scope of
different types of Batak textiles.
Among the Batak there is a
established hierarchy among the different textiles which may be offered
as gifts , depending on the status and age of the recipient and the
nature of the occasion to be celebrated. The most prestigous are the
splendid “Ragidup” made up of a central panel with two sides-pieces. The
central panel is made up using the floating weft technique, combined
wirh the warp-Ikat technique, enables the fabrication of very elaborate
patterns which however are always geometric. The central panel consists
of a sombre middle strip borded on each side by a predominantly white
strip. Ragidup’s is offered at marriages by the father of the bride to
the the groom’s mother but also used in many other occasions.
a Batak waman is the the seventh month of her first pregnancy, her own
family offers her an “Ulos Ni Tondi”, the purpose of which is to
transmit to the new child the strength and the spirit of the maternal
clan. This piece, endowed with a sacred force, is also a “ Ragidup “ and
will be used in protective ritual when the mother of child is i’ll or