Mandela lauded for promoting Indonesian batik

 
Mr Nelson Mandela (above) was a big fan of the Indonesian traditional batik and wore shirts with the print at international events and meetings with world leaders. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

Mr Nelson Mandela was a big fan of the Indonesian traditional batik and wore shirts with the print at international events and meetings with world leaders.

On Friday as Indonesians joined the rest of the world in reacting to the passing of the icon, they also lauded his love for batik.

Former Indonesian vice-president Jusuf Kalla expressed his gratitude to Mr Mandela for helping promote the Indonesian batik globally.

“Nelson Mandela played a great role in introducing our batik on the international stage,” Mr Kalla said in a statement to reporters on Friday. 

“He had the courage to wear batik during a United Nations’ session. Even I might have had doubts wearing a batik shirt and speaking before the audience at a UN meeting… Thank you and have a safe journey, Nelson Mandela,” he added.

 Blogs and news portals noted how the former South African president loved wearing batik on formal occasions, whether he was meeting Queen Elizabeth or Stevie Wonder.   

Batik, a wax-resistant traditional dyeing technique used on textiles common in Indonesia, was added by Unesco to the list of items that are part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2009.

In South Africa, batik shirts have become known as the “Madiba shirt”, after the clan name by which many fondly referred to Mr Mandela.

Mr Moses Phahlane, first secretary at the South African Embassy in Jakarta, told The Straits Times: "He was responsible for popularising batik in South Africa. For us, it is a unique dress code."

"I wouldn't know whether people (there) like it because of the design itself or because it was worn by Mr Mandela, but it may be because of the combination of the two," he added..

Mr Sugeng Rahardjo, the former Indonesian Ambassador to South Africa, told BBC Indonesia that Mr Mandela was first introduced to Indonesian batik during his visit to Jakarta in 1990, a few months after he was released from prison on Robben Island.

Then-President Suharto had gifted him a batik shirt as a souvenir, which he then wore to their meeting, said Mr Sugeng, who was the notetaker at the occassion.

On a return visit to Indonesia in 1997, Mr Mandela stunned many when he wore a batik shirt to meet Mr Suharto, who was himself decked in a formal suit.

Some of Mr Mandela’s batik shirts were designed by the late Iwan Tirta, a famous Indonesian batik maestro.

“Mandela is a strong, prominent figure who suits my batik collection. He not only looks appealing, but his fighter’s charisma is enhanced even more when he wears batik,” Mr Iwan was cited saying in the late 1990s when he gave one of his shirts to Mr Mandela.

A lot of people began wearing batik in South Africa after Mr Mandela poularised the trend, Mr Michael Pasaribu, who runs a batik shop in Pretoria, South Africa, was quoted as saying by media reports.

“The delicate patterns and colours of batik reflect patience and harmony. This is a reflection of Mr Mandela’s character,” Mr Sugeng the diplomat added.

 wahyudis@sph.com.sg