MY fascination with songket fabric started as long as I could remember. Songket is a luxurious textile that required some amount of real gold leaves to be made gold threads and hand-woven into exquisite fabrics.
I remembered seeing the beautiful fabric being used mainly in weddings and Eid-il Fitri celebrations.
As for myself I didn’t have any reason to buy the fabric. Mainly songket is not a fabric that you will use often. It is for a very special occasion.
But I finally have reason to pick the best songket in my eyes – black with gold threads – for John to use as sampin to match his Baju Melayu.
Everytime he donned his Baju Melayu (for celebrations and weddings) I could see how happy and proud he was. So do I.
Now Adam’s inherited John’s precious samping on top of his own. Both are almost similar – black with gold threads – with slightly different designs.
Songket fabric was said to have brought in during the Malacca Sultanate period when trade to the Malay Peninsula was at its peak during the fifteen centuries. The materials such as silk threads and looms necessary for weaving were brought along by traders from India, China and the Arab world and the West, via India. Indian traders brought in the first primitive backstrap loom and along with it the use of cotton. Although later the backstrap loom was replaced by the simple frame loom, still in use today.
Up to the 16th centuries, trading in textile was also active in the east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu. In contrary to the theory of origin via the port of Malacca, Kelantanese believed, historically, songket was brought in through the north, via Cambodia and Thailand, and then came down via Patani, to Kelantan and then to Terengganu. The effect of Siamese domination in the Malay Peninsular states became evident when study the ‘gigi yu’ motif of the bamboo shoot (pucuk rebung) which resembles the Siamese flames.
However, in Terengganu, it is believed that songket weaving came from India through the Sumatran during the time of Sri Vijaya. The Sumatran origin is most likely to be accepted due to several reasons still evident today. Facts shows most weavers are found in Terengganu today then anywhere else in Malaysia, while fine pieces of songket still being produced in Aceh, Sumatera, resembles greatly to the old songket pieces kept in local textile museum in Aceh.
The metallic threads stand out against the background cloth to create a shimmering effect. In the weaving process the metallic threads are inserted in between the silk or cotton weft (latitudinal) threads in a technique called supplementary weft weaving technique.
The term songket comes from the Malay word sungkit, which means “to hook”. It has something to do with the method of songket making; to hook and pick a group of threads, and then slip the gold and silver threads in it.
Another theory suggested that it was constructed from the combination of two terms; tusuk (prick) and cukit (pick) that combined as sukit, modified further as sungki and finally songket. Some says that the word songket was derived from songka, a Palembang cap in which gold threads was first woven.
Songket is known in many names in vernacular Indonesian languages. For example, it is known as songke in Manggarai, Flores, and Bima, Sumbawa, while it is known as songket in Bali and Java. The Karo Batak call it jongkit.
People in Ternate, Maluku, call it suje, while the Buginese in South Sulawesi call it subbi’ and arekare’ and the Iban Dayak in West Kalimantan call it pilih or pileh. And as merchants were plying freely in the robust empire then, anything could have been transferred between one community to another.
However, according to Kelantan tradition this weaving technique came from the north, somewhere in the Cambodia-Siam region and expanded south into Pattani, and finally reach the Malay court of Kelantan and Terengganu as early as the 16th century. The weaving of songket continues as a small cottage industry on the outskirts of Kota Bharu and Terengganu. However, Terengganu weavers believe that songket weaving technique was introduced to Malaysia from India through Sumatra’s Palembang and Jambi where it probably originated during the time of Srivijaya (7th to 11th century).
Much documentation is sketchy about the origins of the songket but it is most likely that songket weaving was brought to Peninsular Malaysia through intermarriages between royal families. This was a common occurrence in the 15th century for sealing strategic alliances. Production was located in politically significant kingdoms because of the high cost of materials; the gold thread used was originally wound with real gold leaf.
Regardless of the origin, songket has been playing a big part of Malay culture throughout the centuries and is still going strong. Instead of the royalties who would wear it in the past, nowadays anyone can own one or two to be included in their collection. And as for myself I have two favourite pieces of Terengganu songket in my collection – I bought them for John and Adam respectively. But now, Adam is using both… A