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Songket Symbolism
  Artistry & Technical Exploration

Much documentation is still hazy about the origins of the songket fabric and weaving techniques. Several theories were written by historians in an effort to narrow down songket weaving point of origin. Songket weaving was introduced into the Malay Peninsula by the influx of Indian and Arab traders between the thirteenth centuries to sixteenth centuries through the port of Malacca. Songket fabric was said to have brought in during the Malacca Sultanate Empire 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.

This theory is supported through the writings of Duarte Barbosa, which described the fine silk and brocade worn by the rich in the famous city Malacca. He goes on and describe the Malays and their attire “… the most distinguished among them wear short coats which come half way down their thighs of silk cloth – in grain brocade (songket?) – and over this they wear girdles; at their waist they wear daggers in damascene- work which they call crus (keris)…..”.(the book of Duarte Barbosa)

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 Melaka, 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.

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