1. Cemetery visits – there are two main ones: Ratu Ibu in Arosbaya near Bangkalan, and Asta Tinggi in Sumenep. You can see the different styles of these cemeteries. In Ratu Ibu there is still a strong Javanese style. While in Sumenep the mix of Chinese and European styles on the carvings and the tomb ‘houses’ may surprise you.
2. Batik centres. We visited three centres: Tanjungbumi, Pamekasan, and Bluto not far from Sumenep. I am not an expert in batik, but my layman’s eyes sensed that there are different details from each area.
3. Antique goods hunting – or at least, you must see the beautiful creations of Madurese. Before they are gone to other countries.
1. Cemetery visits
From Bangkalan, it is only around 45 minutes to go to Arosbaya. It is a location of one of the Royal family’s tomb complex called ‘Aer Mata Ibu’ (or Mother’s Tears).
There is a story behind the name, as told by the tomb guard. Ratu Ibu (or the Permaisuri), one day was left by the king for a war for so long. In one of her dreams, she was told to retreat and pray to a place on a hill, for the safety of her husband and all people under his ruling kingdom. So she went to Arosbaya, and stayed there to pray. She cried remembering the fights that her husband must have gone through. Tears that she could not stop flowing, until it created some kind of a pond at the place where she prayed. Hence, the name Aer Mata Ibu (or Mother’s Tears).
The pond still exists. According to the juru kunci it is still the same source. I did not go there as it was full of visitors. I was actually curious if it tastes salty just like tears.
Over here we saw lots of similarities with Javanese carvings. Even the entrance looks like some temples in Java.
Details of carvings from the Royalties’ tombs – still very much look like those in Java, even the style resembles Gunungan (or literally mountains) which in Javanese it can mean the beginning and the end
Another tomb complex is Asta Tinggi in Sumenep. This is supposed to be the main complex of the sultanate families.
When we arrived, I was expecting a complex with lots of Madurese carvings. But from the entrance, I was in for a surprise.
There is a very strong European style – on the entrance gate, the dome. But inside the buildings that housed the tombs of the main members of the sultanate, there are carvings with strong Chinese style. The main tomb – the oldest part of the whole complex, the house has a very Javanese style with its high ceilings and details like a Joglo house. The whole complex is so mixed with different architectural details that I found it surprising at every corner.
The main entrance from the inside of the cemetery - I really felt that I was in a different part of the world, if not for the styles of the tombs
The strong Chinese style on the ‘gebyok’ (Javanese’s language for some sort of carved wooden screen) behind the tombs
2. Batik Centres
There were three batik centres in Madura that we visited: Tanjungbumi, Pamekasan, and Bluto which is between Pamekasan and Sumenep. Though seems that batik in Madura is not as developed as an industry as that in Java, but nevertheless design wise I do not think it is less than its counterpart in Java. And, because it is not yet that developed, it is not as pricey. And all batik that we have seen, is still handwritten. There is not so much of printed batik in Madura.
When we were in Tanjungbumi, we thought there would be signs on the road of where the showrooms are. But, there were none. There was a small, dusty, undeveloped road, with no signs of where we could find a place that sells batik. Then a lady who maybe saw the code of our rented car was from Surabaya, or maybe she saw our confused expressions, waved from the side of the road. She then invited us to get into her house, after we said we were looking for batik. Later we found out her name was Ibu Siti.
And it was our first party.
I was always mesmerized by the style of Madurese Batik. And later I found out that what I first bought 3 years ago, was from Tanjungbumi. According to Ibu Siti, batik from Tanjungbumi always has elements of the sea creatures. And the colours that they use tend to be ‘deeper’ – in my eyes they look more solemn, and to some extent, more ‘primitive’ in style and art work.
Next centre is Pamekasan. It was very apparent how they love their batik – everywhere in this little town we see batik graffiti on many walls.
In this little town, we visited Ibu Soraya’s showroom. Later we found out that she is actually a prominent figure who developed Pamekasan batik. She has been doing her craft since she was 8 years old. Practically lives from it. She graduated from IKIP in Malang, and continued on developing her batik business. She manages many batik craftswomen in 13 villages around Pamekasan.
According to Ibu Soraya, the uniqueness of Pamekasan’s batik is in its playful colour and patterns. Perhaps being one of the bigger town, what we sensed was that the patterns look more modern than those of Tanjungbumi’s. And true enough there were more colours used.
When we finally came to Bluto as our final visit to the three batik centres in Madura, on our last night on this flat island, we met Bapak Zaini. He inherited the business since late 70’s. He has learned to handwrite batik when he was 8 years old, and apparently it is not uncommon to see males able to do batik writing on this part of the island. Now he no longer crafts the batik. Like Ibu Soraya, he determines the patterns, and his craftsmen and women will finish up; and he also controls the colouring process until it has come to the final piece.
Just like in Pamekasan, we also see more playful patterns in Bluto. This is perhaps driven by the fact that this place is so near to the main road, that it is more exposed to the different influences of visitors. Trying to adapt to the different styles and taste. This was my own guess.
According to Bapak Zaini, these are very traditional patterns of Bluto, that goes way back
3. Antique goods hunting
I was brought up by a mother who loves antiques. It did not make me an expert in it, but I grew up loving them and enjoying their presence at home. My husband, is the same. He just loves history and everything that relates with it. So, in most of our travels, we always spend time to go to museums, and, also to search for antiques. Not necessarily to buy them, but more to know what they are (and if not too pricey, letting ourselves be lured to buy them).
So when we went to Madura we have set our minds that we should look for antiques in Sumenep. Why Sumenep?, because it is the centre of the sultanate so we imagined, the arts and crafts will be richer there.
Soonest we riched Sumenep, we went straight to the Kraton. Do not compare the complex to that in Yogyakarta. There was little left of the buildings but still it was enjoyable to look at.
Sumenep also has a very beautiful mosque - a place also worth visiting.
We asked the man who guided us around the Kraton if he knew any place that sells antiques in Sumenep. Lucky enough, he knew just the place. And we just went crazy – looking around, digging up stuff, and ended up buying some things that until now we are not sure where we will put them in our little home.
We found many interesting stuff there, and many of them are uniquely Madurese.
The shop is owned by Bapak Najib. He has been doing the business for 23 years. He’s got his goods from the little islands around Madura. And according to him, his buyers transported the goods they have bought from his shop all over the place, primarily to Europe. He also sells to many antique shops in Kemang area.
He showed us around, and told us what each was for in the olden days. And we were mesmerized by intricate details, the colours of green, red and orange or yellow that are so typically Madura, on each antique wooden goods that he showed us.
On our last night in Madura - after this last visit to Pak Najib's shop (this was our second visit), we knew that we have found another holiday haven.
4 days, 3 nights. We finally had to go home. With such impression of Madura, that we know will last forever. And we will come back, one day.