Pekalongan, a port city in central Java (Indonesia), has long been known as a centre for batik, an elaborately decorated cloth (usually cotton) produced with a wax-resist dyeing technique. This textile has traditionally been crafted by hand in family workshops and small-scale cottage industries. For those growing up in Pekalongan at the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, apprenticeship in a batik workshop was not an attractive option: young people with aspirations for advancement set their sights on other professions such as computers or sciences.
City leaders decided that Pekalongan’s future viability lay not in a search for new industries, but in reinvigorating the craft for which it was already well-known: batik. An historic building was dedicated as a museum of batik. A mayoral decree provided for batik to be integrated as local content into the public school curricula, in conformity with the existing national educational framework.
Beginning with only one school in the 2005-2006 academic year, it only took three years for the programme to reach all of Pekalongan’s 230 schools, from kindergartens to secondary schools. Young people have gained a new appreciation of the skills and knowledge required for the craft and a renewed respect for its practitioners, together with an increased interest in the possibility of making a career in batik, which is now once again viewed as an honourable occupation. Specialized training is provided at vocational schools, whose students may gain the skills to enter batik-making as a career. The Polytechnic of Pekalongan has established a three-year diploma course in batik, thus producing specialists with higher degrees.
The Long Term City Development Plan 2005-2025 is guided by the vision: ‘Pekalongan, city of batik: advanced, independent and prosperous’. The vision sees the art, craft, culture and economy of batik as Pekalongan’s greatest potential, ‘the main locomotive and main driving force turning the wheel of development of Pekalongan City’. Today, young Pekalongan residents are increasingly confident that they can aspire to reputable work and a reasonable income without having to join the migration to Indonesia’s larger cities.
Prepared by Frank Proschan