Cultural Selection: Coastal Ornamental Patterns in Java Island

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The material culture of the coastal regions of Java Island, in modern Indonesia, provides clear evidence of the cultural interactions that took place in the 16th century due to the expanding Maritime Silk Roads. In particular, a number of ornamental designs present on Islamic artefacts exhibit influences from various different regions. Examples of such include the stylised lotus, arabesque designs, mirror frames, and Arabic calligraphic ornaments found in a number of tombs, mosques and royal palaces. As a direct consequence of the extended wider contacts with regions to the west via the Maritime Silk Roads, repeated motifs in ornamental design from the coastal regions of Java have a unique form and differ from those found inland.

Through closely observing ornamental designs and artefacts found in the North coastal region of Java, two artistic lines of the development of material culture in the region are evident. The first line is the replication of existing elements to form a continuity with the preceding period. Whilst the second line is the introduction of intercultural elements from other parts of the world.

Furthermore, with the introduction of Islam to the region, these lines met and therefore, a distinct Javanese form emerged to include such features as the Javanese arabesque, Arabic calligraphic ornaments and a unique wing design symbolising the bird. These particular ornamental forms are present at Demak and Mantigan Mosques, in Drajat tombs and tombs in Sunan Giri Mosque, and within the Royal Palaces of Kasepuhan and Sumenep. Further examples include Arabic calligraphies which indicate clearly an Islamic cultural origin but which often include the Javanese stylistic plant design suggesting that the calligraphy was inscribed in Java.

These cross-cultural artistic influences arrived with the development of navigation and of trade throughout the Southeast and East Asia. In addition to goods to trade, merchants were accompanied by missionaries who taught religion. As such, coastal towns in Java such as Gresik had diverse populations including Javanese people, Chinese and Muslims. Accounts from 1513 also testify to the presence of Persians, Guajarati and Malays in coastal Javanese towns. As such, products from across the Silk Roads were sold in coastal regions in large quantities. Typically, artefacts from these coastal regions are rich in design varieties, a testament to the extent of the cultural interactions occurring as a result of the Maritime Silk Roads.


See also:

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