Zainal Songket Palembang

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Finally we had the opportunity to visit the famous songket gallery and museum in Bumi Sriwijaya, Zainal Songket Palembang. As it turned out, an interesting surprise awaited us there!

Palembang, South Sumatera

This is my second time visiting Pempek City but the first time for Zauji. Initially we had plans to spend the end of the year on a relaxing trip around West Java, however, we moved this agenda due to an impromptu assignment.

The capital of the province of South Sumatra is our destination for ending 2022. Not only fulfilling assignments but also visiting a friend who has not seen him for a long time. We chose the morning flight from Jakarta to Palembang on December 25, 2022 so that we predict that the traffic jams will start to decrease.

Thank God, the sunny weather brought us back to the land where Musi River  is located. The area in Palembang City is divided into two, namely the Ulu and Ilir areas which are separated by the Musi River. The hotel and other destinations we chose are in the Ilir area which is about 30 minutes by private car from Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II Airport.

Songket Cloth

I really like Indonesian traditional costume. Because I was born and raised in Java, Batik is of course Indonesian traditional costume that I use most often. When visiting Palembang City, I was very curious about songket cloth, which has a very unique type of motif.

In fact, songket cloth is mass-produced or factory-scale production, which we can find anywhere, including fabric shops which are widely scattered in the city of Bandung. 

Reporting from National Geographic, the word 'songket' comes from the Malay language 'sungkit' which means 'hook'. The origin of the word 'songket' may also come from the word 'songka', which is a typical Palembang cap which is believed to be the pioneer of woven using gold thread.
Although known in Indonesia and Malaysia since the 13th century, songket weaving originated in mainland China less than a thousand years ago and spread to other Asian continents. Motifs resembling songket were found in Mendut Temple, Central Java around the 8th to 9th centuries.

Songket itself is made by hooking and taking a pinch of woven cloth and then gold and silver threads are inserted in between. Additional threads form an ornamental effect plait. Some motifs are geometric or floral. Not only Sumatra, Eastern Indonesia also has songket with animal motifs, skull motifs or ancestral motifs.

Initially songket was only commonly used by the nobility. Songket cloth is specifically for women, while cloth for men is called tajung cloth.

Songket Fabric Making Process

The beauty of Palembang's songket has stolen my heart since the first time I visited Palembang 15 years ago.

Reporting from, songket cloth began to exist in Palembang since the time of the Sriwijaya Kingdom in the 7th to 13th centuries. Palembang songket cloth is widely known for the beauty of its unique motifs.

Palembang songket cloth is made using raw silk thread which is given a layer of gold. Gold became one of the ingredients because of its abundant amount, especially during the heyday of Sriwijaya and the Palembang Darussalam Sultanate.

The thread is woven using dayan. Dayan consists of Cagak and Beliro which function to pull the thread. The thread is inserted and then pulled, and so on to form a songket motif. Of course, special skills are needed to weave songket.

The initial design makes a pattern or what is commonly called 'nyukit' determines the songket motif that is made. During the nyukit process, the threads are separated one by one to form the desired motif. In addition, the mistake of lifting the stick sequence when weaving can result in the songket motif not being formed perfectly.

Songket types consist of lepus (woven and patterns dominated by gold), limar (silk thread with various colors), sow (patterns spread and sprinkled evenly) and rumpak (box motifs).

Each type has its own motif, such as falling bungo lepus, animal lepus, mentok limar, tretes mider limar, sweet beautiful limar, white sown limar, ancient motifs such as elephant pyramids and others.

Making songket cloth with a length of 2 meters and a width of 1 meter takes up to 3 months to 6 months. It's not wrong if the price of woven songket cloth is expensive because the raw material (gold-plated silk thread) and the long production time certainly have its own value.

Zainal Songket

This time I had the opportunity to visit one of the famous songket galleries in Palembang, precisely in the songket center area, Jalan Ki Gede Ingsuro No 32, Ilir Barat II, Palembang City. We also met directly with the owner of Zainal Songket, namely Drs. H. Kgs. Zainal Arifin Husin.
Zainal Songket Palembang
He kindly received us and shared stories about the songket business that he had started since 1982. He himself has been working on songket cloth since he was 11 years old (that's great!). In the residence which also functions as a gallery, songket making place and museum, we share stories. What a surprise , his house is already 500 years old!

Fabrics made in Zainal Songket are well known to many groups, from the president of the Republic of Indonesia (the era of President Suharto to President Joko Widodo, celebrities to foreign countries. His work is even used in the weddings of two famous YouTubers. It's no wonder that he has won various awards during his 40 years of work.

What I admire about him is his strong love for cultural values ​​and traditions which he maintains in his daily life or sacred events such as weddings. Although on average, his songket is not cheap because it costs millions to tens of millions and even up to Rp. 1 billion, noble values ​​are the most important thing and not just chasing material things.

The existence of cultural development, especially Palembang songket, is his focus, especially in this digital era, culture has begun to disappear, eroded by the times. He even regretted and corrected the mistake in naming songket cloth at a hotel in Palembang City.

Songket Gallery and Museum

After chatting together, Zainal Arifin allowed us to see the Zainal Songket Palembang gallery and museum. He himself accompanied us. Sure enough, we can see the beauty of songket cloth directly. In the first room we were presented with premium songket cloth that costs millions.

And it turns out that songket cloth is stored in a special way, not like ordinary cloth. Songket cloth should not be folded but must be rolled up so that the gold-coated threads are not broken or damaged. 
Songket Palembang
Songket Cloth Worth Rp. 17 Million
The next room is the Songket Museum. I was amazed by the beauty of songket, which is hundreds of years old. Friends of Menong can walk through history which is engraved in fabrics, jewelery and other collections.
Songket Palembang
Songket cloth from 1718 AD

Songket Cloth of Limar Sumping Tahun 1732 M

Jar in Songket Museum
Jar of 1824 AD

Gold Crown Palembang
Gold Crown in 1812 AD
The last room is a product gallery for Zainal Songket. We were also engrossed in choosing souvenirs that we would take home. Not only a variety of fabrics, Menong friends can also choose Palembang clothes and handicrafts.
Songket Store
Before heading home, we 'peeked' at the production room where workers weave songket. In the stage area, the main house, there are two looms that are being used by workers. We also got to see how the workers arrange each stick so that the motif is perfectly formed.
The loom
It was a pleasure to know the maestro, Zainal Songket Palembang. And of course it is our duty to protect the cultural heritage for the next generation. Ah, I admire this songket more and more!

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