chapter  8
Textiles of Jambi (Sumatra) and the Indian Ocean trade
Pages 20

The influence of Indian textiles on the textiles of South-East Asia has been remarked on by many authors. Robyn Maxwell refers to the great spread of Indian philosophical, religious and political influence which began during the early years of the first millennium AD and the rival kingdoms which conquered and absorbed one another in succeeding centuries. The result, she says, was ‘a continued merging and overlayering of those cultural characteristics that had been developing since prehistoric times’ (Maxwell 1990:150). Accounts of the trade in Indian textiles between the sub-continent, Egypt and South-East Asia have revealed its extent and importance (Sen 1962; Gittinger 1982; Barnes 1997 a; Guy 1998). Although Gujarati traders more or less abandoned direct trade with Sumatra by the end of the sixteenth century, Indian textiles, probably introduced during the Srivijayan period, continued to play a role right up until the end of the nineteenth century, apparently with a concomitant influence (Gupta 1994:5). The unravelling of the different strands which go to make up the features of contemporary Jambi textiles is a difficult process, and it is impossible to be sure precisely how and why particular elements came to form part of the tradition. However, there is evidence which can give an indication of the factors which led to the various methods, materials and design elements coming together. In this paper I examine the cloths of Jambi in relation to its historical contacts with other countries, especially in relation to textiles and textile imports, and consider the process by which Jambi textiles have been transformed to accommodate ideas and external influence.