Minangkabau Songket

The Minangkabau call kain songketkain balapak”. On some cloths the gold threads are so dense that the silk foundation can hardly be seen.

Among the Minangkabau, the name given to a motif, rather than directly describing its physical form, may point to a proverb or aphorism from Minangkabau adat, the system of rules that govern behaviour.

For instance a pattern named ‘blah kacang’, which literally means ‘split peanut’, would refer to the adat teaching that if a person is asked to divide equally some property, he must be very careful to ensure that the division is in fact equal. By extension he should be honest in all his business dealings.

Another motif, supposedly of a mangosteen, actually teaches that just as one should not judge fruit of the mangosteen by its ugly mottled red skin and thick woody shell, so should one not judge a person by his or her outer appearance.

A pattern of slanting lines studded with four equally short perpendicular lines is called “itiak pulang patang”, ducks going home in the afternoon. The point is that when rice farmers lead their ducks back home after a day in the wet rice paddies, the ducks keep to a line and do not stray into the countryside. So a good Minangkabau will not stray from the teachings of the adat.
Minangkabau weavers say that their ritual textiles are the ‘skin of adat’. The preserving of textiles contributes to the maintenance of adat.

This preserving tendency does not preclude innovation though. Some production outlets are bringing modern motifs into their designs. These include houses with large sweeping roofs, and buffalo.

“Kaluak paku kacang balimbing,
Tempurung lenggang-lenggangkan,
Dibawao manurun ka Saruaso,
Tanamkan lado jo ureknyo.
Anak dipangku, kamanakan dibimbing,
Urang kampong dipatenggangkan,
Tenggang nagari jan binaso
Pikir juo jo adatnyo

Fern shoot, star fruit pips,
Gently swing the coconut shells,
Take them to Suruaso,
Plant pepper with the roots,
Child in lap, nephew in hand
Think if the villagers
Keep the village intact,
But consider tradition as well.”

cf Cita Tenun Indonesia. “Tenun”, KITLV – Jakarta, Jakarta, 2010
Susan Rodgers, Anne Summerfield and John Summerfield, “Gold Cloths of Sumatra”, KITLV Press, Leiden, 2007
Anne and John Summerfield, “Walk in Splendour, Ceremonial Dress and the Minangkabau”, Fowler Museum, UCLA, Los Angeles, 1999