July 24, 2020

Gringsing, warrior pants or fever catcher

Photo of man in Batik pants with Gringsing motif, 
'Portret van een lid van het huispersoneel', 
ca. 1890-1900, collection NMVW, number TM-60008404

On the first of June my article 'De he­len­de krach­ten van het gring­s­ing-mo­tief 'on the batikmotif Gringsing was published on Modemuze. My article was a reaction to the theme-page posted before on Modemuze with the title 'The Fashion of Protection'. The post was made inspired by and in reference to the current pandemic we are in.In it Grinsging is mentioned as an apotropaic motif. The motif is widely known with Batikfans, however I knew little of it and thought it would be nice to explore this motif in more depth, especially in this strange and scary times we are in.
Hope you are safe and able to social distance! Keep in mind that although it is very cool that in past time and maybe still Gringsing was used as a protective cloth, better to wear a facemask, wash your hands and keep keeping that distance.

Batik with Gringsing motif hanging to dry after dye bath, 
at batikworkshop Winotosastro in Yogyakarta, Java (ID) in 2016


Grinsing, or Gringsing is a motif build up from little halve circles with a dot in the middle of each circle. Gringsing is a backgroundmotif, isen-isen, or filling motif. This means that it is used on the background of a Batik design. Filling motifs always have names and meanings, but they are seldom the main motif. However when Gringsing is used it is often the main meaning of the Batik cloth: namely to protect the wearer from illness.
Protection can simple be gained by wearing it or by using it during rituals. In these rituals a traditional medicine man, doekoen, or family member would wrap the cloth with the Gringsing motif around the sick person. The cloth in this way would catch the illness, specifically fever. The motif is very common in slendangs, a small Batik used as a carrier for babies. It is especially important to protect newborns from disease, so a little extra support is always helpful.

I contacted different Batikexperts about the meaning and the use of the Gringsing motif. What I noticed was that immediately they pointed out that this use was in the past. Often one gets a giggly respons when talking about old rituals connected to folk belief. The general feel is that they are outdated or just superstition and don't match with modern (Islamic) believes. But most folk beliefs are connected to Kejawen and are embedded with traditional Javanese culture. 
I did find a nice reference in the book 'Gedragen doeken' by Liesje de Leeuw. In the chapter 'Oma's sarong vangt koorts' ('Grandmothers sarong catches fever') Evy van Cauter tells how her Indonesian mother-in-law would use one of her old sarongs when someone got ill. She would wrap the children with fever tightly in the cloth and put them to bed. "The sarong would catch the fever", Van Cauter says.
My contacts did all tell me that Gringsing was very old. The motif also has different versions in different regions on Java. There is one that is more square, others are more diamond shaped. Inspired by this writing this blogpost, I thought it would be nice if you can learn about this and practice these different types of Gringsing in a colouringpage

The colouring pages are free to download on my website

On Java makers and wearers distinguish themselves with motifs connected to their region. There are even motifs that are strictly for the royal family, Vorstenlanden or 'princely lands' Batik motifs. These 'prohibited' motifs, Laragan, are good recognisable by their repetitive designs. Within the kraton familymembers each family would get their own versions of certain motifs like Parang or Kawung.
These motifs are symbol for balance, inner peace and decisiveness. Qualities fitting with good leadership. Nowadays the Laragan motifs are worn by everybody and are made by almost all batikworkshops. These motifs are extremely populair because of their connection to power. Gringsing is also very populair and is also being made all across Java, however it is not one of these formally prohibited motifs.

Books with info on Gringsing, 
starting at the top; 'batik klasik' by Dr. Hamzuri (1981), 
'Batik, Fabled cloth of Java' by Inger McCabe Elliot (1984), 
'Gedragen Doeken' by Liesje de Leeuw (2016), 
'Ensiklopedia, the Heritage of Batik' by Primus Supriono (2016) 
and 'Batik, ontwerp, stijl en geschiedenis' by Fiona Kerlogue (2004)

Looking for answers I turned to my books on Batik. Gringsing is described as frog-rill, scales, snake or dragon skin with a note that it wards of diseases. It is also not helping that the double Ikat weaving technique from the region Tenganan on Bali is called the same - with a slightly different spelling - Gerinsing. This ikat also has the same meaning.
The meaning is being explained through the literal translation of the word in Sankrit: 'Gering' is 'sick' or 'illness', while 'sing' is 'not' or 'no'. About the correctness of this explanation are different opinions, just as on the possible similarities between these two Indonesian textiles. In short the motifs just don't look enough alike to explain their similar name and meaning.

After going through the books I owned, I ended up at my PDF version of one of the oldest books on Batik, 'De Batik-kunst in Nederlandsch-Indië en haar geschiedenis' by G.P. Rouffaer and Dr. H.H. Juynboll from 1914. According to Rouffaer Gringsing is one of the oldest Batikmotifs. It is mentioned in different Javanese sources and the oldest of these sources is the Pararaton, Pustaka Raja or the Book of Kings from the 13th century.
In this manuscript are short stories on the kings of the Singhasari and Majapahit empire. These empires boundaries stretched beyond Java, over other Indonesian islands and part of what is now Malaysia. In 1896 linguist Dr. J.L.A. Brandes published a study of the manuscript with translations in Dutch. 
Another important source that is mentioned by Rouffaer is the Malat. A Balinese manuscript from the legacy of  linguist H.N. van der Tuuk. In here Grinsging is connected with different types of Wayang stories, shadow puppet theatre. Rouffaer uses Plate 58 in as an example in his book. It shows a square cloth, possible a headscarf, that was part of a series of samples with motifs from Yogyakarta. 

'Batikpatroon: Gringsing wayang',  from before 1891, number RV-847-114, collection NMVW 
Published as plate 58 in 'De Batik-kunst in Nederlandsch-Indië en haar geschiedenis' from 1914



The square cloth shows different Wayang characters surrounded by Gringsing. Rouffaer thinks this is an example of 'Gringsing Wajang', which is mentioned in the old sources mentioned in this article. However the 'Gringsing Wajang' is also a motif within the earlier mentioned Geringsing, the double woven ikats from bali. In the book 'Five centuries of Indonesian textiles - the Mary Hunt Kahlenberg collection' is a beautiful example included.

Photo of page 218 -219 from the book 
'Five centuries of Indonesian textiles - the Mary Hunt Kahlenberg collection' 


One of the biggest discoveries Rouffaer made was that Gringsing was in the 16th century part of the ‘Javaanse oorlogskostuum’ (Javanese war uniform) as he calls it:

"Yet before, in earlier times, especially in the 16th century, Yes, then Javanese would wear a martial semi-long pants, their lantjingan, of batiked cloth. And again mainly with that Gringsing-motif..."

“Doch vroeger. Speciaal in de 16e eeuw. Ja, toen droegen de Javanen hun krijgshaftige haIf lange broek, hun lantjingan, van gebatikte stof. En alweer voornamelijk in dat gringsing-patroon”…” - Rouffaer, G.P., De Batik-kunst in Nederlandsch-Indië en haar geschiedenis, page. 430.

That these warrior pants were made of ikat was less likely. If you put scissors to a so fine woven ikat like that it would unravel without stopping. Yet the royal family did wear pants of woven Songket and Ikat fabric if I am not mistaken, but it had to be woven in that shape already, so an very expensive product. 
So the old manuscript might be writing about Batik, or Ikat, or Batik...
Rouffaer also concluded that the Gringsing Batikmotif could only be made with the use of a canting, waxpen. 

To conclude, Gringsing is very old, maybe the oldest Batikmotifs known. It possible gave warriors strenght and protection, exactly what we need now in our battle against Covid-19. A fitting motif in these difficult and scary times.


Thanks Modemuze, Modemuze editor-buddy Roberto Luis martins, my Batikmentor Pak William Kwan and fellow batik-fan Jennifer Wanardi! 

The colouring pages are free to download on my website

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