A Reflection on Pre-Service Training: Part 5, Clothes
What sorts of beautiful and culturally unique articles of clothing are typical in Indonesia?
Traditional Indonesian material is known as batik, a colorfully printed, often ornate pattern used primarily to make shirts. Both men and women wear them. They’re considered appropriately formal for an official event, but I’ve seen farmers wearing old ragged silk batiks in the fields. Different colors and patterns ‘originate’ from different places across Indonesia, but this doesn’t seem to restrict people’s stylistic preferences too much. At my practicum school, the teachers had ‘uniform batiks,’ which they wore a few days a week as an alternative to the normal government issues garb. For the uniform batiks, the school decides on the material at the beginning of the year, and then each teacher has the shirt tailored and hemmed to his or her preferences. The result is an interesting set of uniforms that turn out to luck interestingly unique despite the identical material. In the city where I currently live, all of the students also have uniform batiks. Apples are intertwined in the motif in recognition of the area’s well known apple orchard prestige. I feel personally connected to the apple batiks because the design was originally drafted by students at my practicum school.
Other parts of Indonesian dress for men include the sarong and a topi. The sarong is a simple tube-cloth that is folded around the waist to make a sort of ankle-length skirt. Batik material is sometimes used for sarongs, but the design (regardless of fabric quality) is generally much more simple (sometimes a basic plaid pattern). The sarong is casually worn in the evenings and at tahlils (weekly prayer/community gatherings). At this time, it is acceptable to wear a sarong outside of the house. Sarongs can also be worn during the day if you stay inside the house, but venturing outside in a sarong during daylight would be a little odd. I have grown to like wearing both batik and sarong on a regular basis.
The topi is a flat topped hat that has a football shape from an aerial profile. Formal topis are black and appear to be made out of felt. Casual topis, generally worn to community gatherings, often have colors and designs, but they aren’t too ostentatious. My topi is navy blue with a red and gold motif circling the brim.
The most notable and frequently commented upon piece of clothing in Indonesia is the jilbab. Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, and many women wear the head scarf. I don’t want to make too many comments on the jilbab because it’s a bit of a sensitive topic, and I’m not sure I completely understand its purpose or significance here in Indonesia. Islam in Indonesia is simply the most recent form of popular religion in a country (and particularly here on Java) that has deep roots in traditional beliefs, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The result is a set of beliefs and practices that are uniquely Indonesian and should only be carefully compared to Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic beliefs elsewhere. That being said, I’ll make a few comments based on things I’ve heard or observed about the jilbab in Java.
One, it appears that there is a smaller percentage of younger girls wearing the jilbab than older women. The exception is that very young girls seem to wear the jilbab more commonly than school aged girls. I have two slightly different interpretations of these observations. One, the jilbab is becoming less popular—hence the lesser percentage of school aged children wearing the cloth—but small children still wear it out of tradition until they are old enough to decide for themselves not to wear it. The second interpretation is that my observation doesn’t show a trend in popularity at all. By the way of this hypothesis, school aged girls simply don’t wear it because it gets in the way of their rambunctious activities or they are feeling rebellious. Ultimately, these girls will start wearing the jilbab once they mature and as the generations progress, there will be no observable shift in the percentage of women wearing a jilbab. I don’t know which interpretation is right.
My second observation of the jilbab is that is definitely sometimes used as a formality. For example, I have only seen my host sister (aged 30) wear a jilbab one or two times—both times were during community celebrations (wedding, etc.). When she leaves the house for errands, she does not wear a jilbab.
Other people have tried to explain how casual or formal jilbabs are in Indonesia. One person explained that in devout Muslim countries, jilbabs are only plain black or white, but in Indonesia they are quite colorful. In Indonesia, it is true that the jilbabs are very decorative, but I don’t know what that means, and I don’t know how that compares to jilbabs elsewhere. Another note is that two current volunteers decided to wear jilbabs and have regretted their decisions because they now realize that the cloth sends particular conservative messages of their beliefs and carries certain, more strict expectations for their behavior. So, there are a lot of conflicting messages and ideas of the jilbab in Indonesia. If you want to know more, you should really try finding a post by some of the female PC volunteers in Indonesia. I can’t say much more about it.