Archive for December, 2011



Malaysian Batik:



A tradition comes



of age


Malaysian Batik: Reinventing A Tradition

Author: Noor Azlina Yunus

Publisher: Tuttle Publishing, 176 pages


Can Malaysian batik acquire a ‘national identity’? Rather than in any particular style or design, perhaps such an identity lies in its popularity as the fabric of choice in national attire, with Malaysians from all walks of life turning out in batik on informal and formal occasions, at home and abroad. THIS book offers a comprehensive narration of the growth of the Malaysian batik industry from its early beginnings as a scattered group of small personal holdings in the East Coast states of Malaya in the 1930s to the well-supported national hub that it is today.Under the auspices of Yayasan Budi Penyayang, the writer, Noor Azlina Yunus, has produced a well-illustrated account of the journey of Malaysian batik and the myriad phases and faces it represents – from its initial borrowings of the sober hues and repetitive patterns of the Indonesian batik Lasem, Pekalongan and Cirebon prototypes to the brilliant metamorphosis of colours and designs now crafted for high fashion.

In every chapter the writer’s batik story is accompanied by an impressive collection of photographs and sketches to illustrate each design, pattern, colour and technique described. The expert layout of the text and illustrations enhances the coffee table appeal of the book and facilitates the reading and comprehension of what are some rather complex descriptions of design and batik-making techniques.

In Chapters 1 and 2, the writer points to an outstanding difference in the development of batik in Malaysia and Indonesia, where batik making is a centuries-old tradition. It was the customary use of the sarong in Javanese court wear and among men and women of the upper class that helped to preserve the identity of Indonesian batik. The skilled batik artisans consistently used the stiffer designs, schematic patterns and more staid colour schemes established in traditional Javanese batik. In Malaysia, batik sarongs were worn by the common folk, many of whom were farmers and fishermen. The self-taught batik makers of Kelantan and Terengganu were thus more free to develop bolder new designs and colour combinations reflecting the fauna and flora in the natural environment.

The less restrictive cultural environment in Malaysia also allowed for innovations in the techniques and mechanics of batik production. Quite significantly, the transition from the use of the canting (a traditional hand-held tool) in Indonesia for the precise but slow release of the wax in batik tulis, to the use in Malaysia of metal-block wax stamping over broader areas of fabric to produce yardage batik cap, followed by the more versatile use of the canting technique to produce stylus batik has resulted in a more varied choice of batik fabrics and designs in Malaysia.

In Chapter 3 Noor Azlina discusses in some depth the emergence of the Malaysian identity in stylus batik from the 1970s right through to the 1980s and 1990s, led by the younger graduates of art and design trained in foreign institutions as well as local ones such as the Mara Institute of Technology. The reader is led to conclude that what can be considered a pioneering venture in Malaysian batik is not so much the creation of a unique Malaysian design identity but rather, the innovations and experimentations in batik production.

Interestingly, the tradition of designing individually styled yardage batik pieces for different designs in women’s dress, scarves and stoles, men’s shirts and even lifestyle products was born and nurtured during this phase of the batik story. The riot of patterns and colour combinations in traditional Malay women’s dress, such as the baju kurung, baju kebaya and baju Kedah, and men’ shirts typically reflected the Malay preference for stronger designs in their attire.

The writer also identifies the individual batik designers and producers who were outstanding during this era and contributed their artistic skills as well as marketing talents to popularise Malaysian batik. Through their combined endeavours, the country saw a proliferation of batik silk produced by a combination of waxing and hand-drawn design using the canting and brushes. To this day, batik silk remains the most popular fabric choice for batik, taking over from the cottons and lawns of the early period and the voiles, rayons and viscose later.

While individual designers in Kuala Lumpur were able to sustain their businesses, it was the organised efforts of government agencies like Rida (Rural Industrial Development Authority) and Mara (Majlis Amanah Rakyat) in the 1960s and 1970s that provided financial and technical assistance to the small-scale batik industry which started in the East Coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu and spread to the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The growth of local and international tourism, the government-encouraged use of batik for formal use, and individual initiatives developed a more stable market for Malaysian batik and the industry was to gain a stronger foothold in the nation’s economy.

However, as Noor Azlina rightly points out, while batik manufacturing was on its way to becoming a viable local industry in the 1990s, product development, if there was any, was less impressive. The new government agency Kraftangan needed to coordinate the batik industry players better and inspire them to develop newer and better designs to meet the demands of a more discerning twenty-first century consumer market.

The highlights of Malaysian Batik: Reinventing A Tradition in terms of both its exposition and illustration are Chapters 4 and 5 where the writer describes in great detail the role played by the late Tun Endon Mahmood (wife of former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) and the organisation she spearheaded, the Yayasan Budi Penyayang (Penyayang), to inject new life into the Malaysian batik industry.

From the inception of Penyayang in 2000, Endon was to consider it her personal mission to revitalise the industry with a new creativity, promotional scheme and business strategy to take it to loftier levels, locally and internationally. Under the untiring efforts of the foundation’s CEO, Datuk Leela Mohd Ali, and its subsidiary Batik Guild Sdn Bhd, Penyayang embarked on the “Malaysia Batik – Crafted for the World” movement launched in 2003.

Through the well-chronicled text and assortment of photographs in Chapter 4, the writer takes us through the colourful series of events – batik extravaganzas and fashion shows, street carnivals and fun walks, batik and craft exhibitions, batik demonstrations and workshops, seminars and conferences – organised by the movement that connected the Malaysian public with the best players in the batik industry. The batik industry players have been, in turn, given an organised platform and opportunity to showcase their talents and products and reach out to a much larger public.

The concerted and sustained efforts to promote the Malaysian batik industry and encourage the creation of Malaysian batik with a clear national identity has brought together the batik makers, designers, production houses, fashion moguls, fashionistas, retailers and distributors, writers and media communicators and academicians, all poised to witness the modern rejuvenation and reinvention of Malaysian batik.

The culmination of each year’s activities lie in the Piala Seri Endon, a batik design competition held annually to showcase the best in batik design, highlighting the knowledge and experience of the designers but more importantly their “creativity, originality and professional execution of the batik in the designs as well as their commercial viability” (page 78).

Admittedly, while the annual competition has injected new inspiration and artistic insight into the nation’s many talented batik fashion designers, there has been no discernable design identity that Malaysian batik can boast of. Apart from highlighting the tropical flora and fauna and the many ethnic symbols and patterns, and translating them into the most outstanding or subtle hues, one cannot say that the designers have created a truly Malaysian identity in their batik designs.

What we see in the wonderful display of contemporary Malaysian batik designs on the pages in Chapter 5 is a new confidence and boldness in combining the strokes of canting and brush through a heightened colour sense. The works of the most outstanding designers are represented in the collection of Galeri Seri Endon, set up in 2008 for the purpose of serving as an incubator to breed the best.

As Noor Azlina subtly suggests, the national identity of Malaysian batik lies perhaps in its popularity as the fabric of choice in national attire. Malaysians from all walks of life and background gladly wear Malaysian batik on informal and formal occasions at home and abroad. As the final chapters in her story show, Malaysian batik has indeed come of age.

Penyayang’s efforts under the stewardship of its chairman, Nori Abdullah (Endon’s daughter), will see Malaysian batik making further inroads and reaching greater heights to ensure Endon’s dream of crafting Malaysian batik for the world will be perpetuated for posterity.

* Published in The Star 23 December 2011



Gen Y




Baby Boomers




WITH the current focus on youth, change and transformation, it’s hard for the older generation not to feel they are being sidelined and their expiry date expedited. Every day there are announcements of programmes to attract the Gen X, Gen Y and millenium babies, but hardly any for the Baby Boomers, the septuagenarians and octogenarians before them. It is as though the latter are becoming the forgotten generation – obsolete!

No doubt investment in the youth of today is good business sense as they have the potential to be the most resourceful human capital. The government’s transformation plans to position the country as a globally competitive and technologically advanced nation alongside regional and international giants require the expert education and training of Malaysian youth to prepare them to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Besides, it makes good political sense to garner the support of young voters by taking care of their interests with concrete schemes to ensure their hopes and dreams come true. The nation’s youth have to be wooed to give them a sense of belonging and nationhood through which it is hoped they will quickly see the wood for the trees, and pick out the gems from among the pebbles in the political arena.

Research shows that while Gen Y, alternatively called the Gen Me and New Boomers born between 1982-2001, are more civic-minded, confident, tolerant, demonstrate a good team-working spirit and entrepreneurial skills, they are said to be imbued with a selfish sense of entitlement, a rejection of social conventions and increasing narcissism. Made culturally liberal and politically aware by the quick and constant flow of communication via email, texting and social networking, they are indeed a fertile catchment area for new information and propaganda especially on the internet.

It is doubtful, however, if the barrage of incentives and promises showered on them at workshops and seminars is a substitute for a nurturing family and community life. It is unlikely that they can replace the sound values and principles handed down by caring elders who have experienced life’s vicissitudes and know better.

While technologically savvy modes of communication such as Facebook and Twitter offer the virtual space for outbursts of brilliance, they cannot replace the face to face engagement with peers, superiors, colleagues and associates where mental prowess and creative genius would have to be sustained in a steady stream of discussion, dialogue and discourse across and around real tables.

A truly innovative national scheme to implement would be the injection of new life into the Baby Boomers. Their expertise and experience should be recycled into a productive synergy with the energy and enthusiasm of the New Boomers. There can be specific programmes to mobilise the country’s senior citizens who want to contribute in relevant ways to society.

Many do it privately in their own time and at their own pace. The civic-minded take up the cause of a charity or an NGO while the religious involve themselves in mosque, church and temple activities. Some reaffirm their loyalty to their alma mater by contributing to alumni and foundation work, others focus on their family legacy and heritage.

There is a sizeable group, however, who seem to be stuck in a time warp. They are disgruntled and feel that their past contributions to the nation and the government have not been duly recognised. They are no doubt grateful for the pensions and gratuities received but feel they are a neglected lot. It is for a caring society to boost the self-esteem and confidence of its ageing population by involving them in meaningful activities.

I remember feeling insecure about my impending retirement and making a conscious effort to plan for it. Having worked the whole of my life, I could not conceive of a time when I had all the time to myself. What would I do apart from socialising at weddings and family gatherings, birthdays and funerals in-between attending the inevitable agama classes to prepare myself for the after-life?

In middle age especially, the feel-good factor comes from knowing that you are still productive – if not biologically, at least mentally. Senior citizens need to be involved in activities where the results of their efforts are visible and tangible. This will give them a deep sense of personal satisfaction as they feel they can still be useful and their contributions acknowledged without having to crawl around to family and friends.

Besides, their political prowess should never be underestimated. Baby Boomers have seen the nation through the more than half a century of growth and development which Gen Y and Gen Me have no idea of. They have seen the blood, sweat and tears of their forefathers and can distinguish between leaders and their brand of leadership. But a good many have become disillusioned.



Rethinking loyalty,


love and core values


THE Umno president’s speech at the party’s 62nd general assembly has left me pensive as I ponder loyalty and what it means to be loyal.

Loyalty is a bonding born out of love and respect, faith and belief in someone or something we hold dear. We can be loyal to a person or an organisation – our family and friends or the alma mater that have had a major influence in our upbringing and education.

We look up to our elders and superiors, our teachers and role models that we share a special relationship with. The caring employer or corporation that impacts our career development and looks after our welfare deserves our loyalty.

Loyalty is therefore the outcome of a reciprocal relationship that sustains and nurtures the basic human need for a caring social order be it in the family, community or organisation.

For the individual, loyalty evokes an emotional bonding which, like love, guides one’s directions in life. We are prepared to walk that extra mile when we love or when we are loyal to someone or something that sincerely cares for us.

Thus it was in the early days when the Umno leaders roused the spirit of nationalism and inspired loyalty in the teachers, government servants and simple rural folk who comprised the party members.

The battle cry for independence was credible as were the generals who led the brigade. The promise of levelling the country’s deeply pot-holed economic ground was real to a people long neglected by choice or design. The Malays needed Umno to pioneer the new era as much as the party needed their pioneering spirit.

Besides sharing the patriotic zeal with the people, the Umno leaders were down to earth when they tread ground. Their talk of eradicating the poverty, uplifting the economic status and improving the education of the Malays was believable and therefore well received.

Their sincerity in reaching out to the people was unquestioned as they themselves exemplified the virtues of an honest life and selfless service.

There was no great socio-economic disparity then between the Umno leaders and the Malays whose hearts and minds they courted. There was no great divide between luxury and necessity, between what the people got and what their leaders acquired.

The people warmed up to them knowing they too were going home to a simple home and a spartan life. The relationship was grounded in sincerity and mutual respect.

Therefore the new reality that the “orang Umno” must face which the party president talked of should include the emotional and spiritual bonding the “pemimpin Umno” need to seal with their members.

He should add that a reciprocally fulfilling and trustworthy relationship is underpinned by shared core values between leaders and their followers.

It is bizarre to expect the Umno Malays to manifest the once popular values of “clean, efficient, honest” (“bersih, cekap, amanah”) when some of their leaders are not their best examples. The integrity and survival of Umno lie in the integrity of its leaders and members.

Of course one cannot deny that a big part of the new reality is the people’s social mobility and the choices they have.

Malaysia is not alone in experiencing this new multiplicity – multiple ethnicities and communities, multi-layered educational and economic systems, numerous opportunities for work and career advancement, many-tiered levels of communication, complex networks of human rights and civil liberties – all of them promising to make our puny human lives better.

Gone are the days when our working life was devoted to a single employer, be it the government, a corporation or family business; when we were educated and trained by superiors with great knowledge and the highest skills and ethical standards.

Through them we acquired the confidence, security and job satisfaction to give of our best including our utmost loyalty. There was time then to understand the core values of the organisation and put them into practice.

How times have changed and people impatiently surf the net and scour the pages for change when they have not fully grasped the need for it.

How the minds of the young are inundated with information and knowledge they barely comprehend, yet they have to partake of the numerous schemes for innovation and transformation.

How the nation’s pragmatic and materialistic concerns imbue the rakyat’s minds and hearts as they become cut and dry in their dealings.

It is no wonder that we lament the dying spirit of loyalty and even love as we forge ahead in our modern undertakings.

How sad that the “kesetiaan dan kasih sayang orang Umno” which came so naturally in the past has become contrived as the new breed of aspiring businessmen and contractors position themselves to extract the greatest personal benefits from the party.

How unfortunate if the party that upholds the ethnic cause of the Malays so nobly is unable to transform the minds and hearts of its members.

December 2011