For the people of Minangkabau in West Sumatra, the tradition of the Minang community is based on Islam (“adat basandi syarak, syarak basandi kitabullah”). This philosophy has a great effect on the culture of the Minang people which is reflected in their appearance and in how they dress. The songket, a woven cloth used as traditional garment that embraces the body from the waist down, has an important role in promoting and sustaining West Sumatra’s cultural identity.
The Songket of West Sumatra
The Minang community of West Sumatra has a weaving tradition which had existed since the golden age of the Hindu kingdom. During this period, songkets with gold threads represent the royal garments worn by the King and Queen and the aristocrats. What makes the songket special is the golden thread that is made of expensive metal.
In general, songket is a piece of woven garment with gold or silver threads (Kartiwa, 2012). The word originates from the verb sungkit which means thrusting a thread. Sungkit or bersungkit means embroidered with gold or silver threads. As a noun the word sungkit refers to a kind of a tool in the form of needles made of bones which are useful for lifting threads when weaving (DKND Sumbar, 2012).
After the arrival of Islam, woven garments are used by traditional leaders and used in traditional ceremonies as well as other important events. The symbolic meaning is revealed in the decoration of the songket which reflects the custom of the community as well as women’s self identity through their role as crafter and wearer. Songket plays a role in maintaining the continuity of life and customs throughout the age. This role is also reflected in the motifs of the songket, which patterns are generally geometric, curved stripes, and plant-shaped. Sometimes the design bears the shapes of animals, but only in the form of arches, broken lines, as well as a variety of lines.
Pandai Sikek and Silungkang Songkets
Songets which are very well known in West Sumatra are Pandai Sikek and Silungkang songkets. Pandai Sikek songkets orignate from a village located in Subdistrict Sepuluh Koto in the District of Tanah Datar, while Silungkang songkets are made in Silungkang village which is part of the District of Sawahlunto/Sijunjung (since 1988). In the west, Silungkang is bordered by the villages of Kubang and Lunto and in the east by the villages of Batu Manjulur and Tarung-Tarung. In the north, it is bordered by the Village of Pianggu and in the south by the Village of Padang Sibusuk.
Although both songkets derive from one culture, there are some distinguishable differences. Pandai Sikek songkets—which the weaver is printed on a five thousand rupiah banknote—has a denser, thicker, and stiffer texture. This is due to a greater use of gold thread. In contrast, the Silungkang songket highlights the regular thread and turns the gold threads into the center of attention.
Amran Nur, the former mayor of Sawahlunto (2003-2013) recalled that between the year 1997 and 2008 there were only 377 Silungkang songket craftswomen. In the year 2012, there was an increase of songket craftswomen, which reached the number of 678 women (kaintenusilungkang.blogspot.com). In 2015, it increased to 980 craftswomen (kompas.com). This shows the love of the people for the their culture.
Songket is Queen
Songket is regarded as the “queen” for its pivotal cultural role. Songket is always worn gracefully, both in traditional ceremonies and in everyday life. The songket is referred to as the “queen” because the term symbolizes the songket’s role as the guardian of tradition and the supporter of the traditional, religious, and female leaders who represent West Sumatra’s cultural identity. The tradition of wearing songket is a visualization of culture, a reflection of the philosophy of life held by the people who are living the culture of West Sumatra.
Dewan Kerajinan Daerah Provinsi Sumatera Barat (2012) Mengenal Tenun Songket Ratu Kain Sumatera Barat.
Kartiwa, Suwati (2012) ‘Songket Khasanah Budaya Indonesia.’ In Dewan Kerajinan Daerah Provinsi Sumatera Barat (2012) Mengenal Tenun Songket Ratu Kain Sumatera Barat .
Songket Silungkang: Warisan Budaya Kota Tua Sawahlunto (2014) kaintenusilungkang.blogspot.com accessed 12 August 2015.
Pemerintah Kota Sawahlunto Kembangkan Tenun Songket (2015) print.kompas.com/baca/2015/05/25/Pemerintah-Kota-Sawahlunto-Kembangkang-Tenun-Songket accessed 12 August 2015.
Visit the Sage II Vacation Home of Sawahlunto.
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