Oh, to go to Palembang! A Small Catalogue of Crafts from One of the Oldest Cities in Modern-Day Indonesia.

February 24, 2013
Category : Antiques

Just saying the name evokes an image of an exotic place and Palembang certainly reflects all the exoticism of South-East Asia’s rich history.  From the 7th Century A.D., Palembang, South Sumatra, was a major trade & cultural centre for the archipelago that we now know of as Indonesia.  

History notes that it was part of the fabulous Buddhist kingdom of Sriwijaya for over 7 hundred years until it briefly came under Hindu control.  But, throughout the centuries, Palembang has always had a strong connection to China:-

  •  From the 9th Century, it was a stopping point for Chinese students to learn Sanskrit before moving on to India to continue their Buddhist studies;
  •  By its very location (near the Strait of Bangka which led to the source of the spice, white pepper), it found itself often having to fend-off Chinese pirates that roamed the seas;
  • And, in the 1300’s, Chinese emigration from the mainland established 3 settlements in the area and briefly ruled Palembang (with China’s assistance) until the growing Islamic population gradually took control.  Even then, the Chinese and Islamic settlements continued to co-exist side-by-side in harmony.

In the 17th Century, the Dutch East India Company arrived and Palembang became its largest trading centre and clearing house for the precious white pepper that was shipped back to Europe.  Holland kept control of the area until finally Independence was declared in 1945.

Like many places in Indonesia, Palembang has an amazingly rich history!

Bali Artworks has quite a collection of Palembang crafts, most of which reflect the Chinese influence on the arts from that city and we’d like to share those with you.

(These pieces are best viewed in close-up, so please click on any one of the images to see it in better detail.)

As you can see, most are easily discernible by their red colouring, gold-painted decoration and their lacquer finish.  Some pieces are remembrances of a homeland that moved further away with each succeeding generation but others are items that are uniquely Indonesian in their use – as food holders, implements used in special ceremonies, etc.  We think they are wonderful examples of how traditional crafts e.g. the beautiful basket-weaving from the area, have been embellished by adding the signature Palembang-style.

Palembang was also (and still is) a centre famed for its textiles.  Its songket sarongs, woven with real gold thread, were sought far and wide.  We look forward in the future to showing you some wonderful examples of highly-valued songket cloth and hope you’ve enjoyed seeing just a few examples of Indonesia’s amazing crafts.


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