There is much speculation as to where the kebaya could have originated from. There are some who say that the kebaya originated in the Middle East, while others argue that it may have come from nearby China. Derived from the Arabic word kaba meaning “clothing” and introduced to Indonesia via the Portuguese language, the term kebaya has come to refer to a garment whose origins appear to be a blouse. It was first worn in Indonesia at some time during the 15th and 16th centuries. Origins of the Kebaya
After Dutch colonization, the kebaya took on a new role as the formal dress for the European women in the country. During this time, the kebaya was made mostly from mori fabric. Modifications made to this traditional costume later introduced the use of silk and embroidery to add design and color. The most dominant form of kebaya worn on the islands of Java and Bali today, can be visibly traced to the kebaya worn in Java and Sunda from the late 19th - early 20th century onwards. Indigenous Dress in the Making of a Nation
Considering the enormous historical – political and social – shifts that have occurred in Indonesia during the last century, the form of the kebaya, has remained relatively unchanged. Its function and meaning however, in contrast to its form, has seen major changes in colonial and post-colonial Indonesia, operating to meet different groups’ political agendas, social needs and aspirations. The kebaya has come to symbolize the emancipation of women in Indonesia through a representation linking the kebaya to the 19th century “proto-feminist” figure of Raden A. Kartini. During the 19th century, and prior to the Nationalist movement of the early 20th century, the kebaya had enjoyed a period of being worn by Indonesian, Eurasian, and European women alike, with slight style variations. During this time distinguishing class and status was important and produced variants of the basic costume. The kebaya of Javanese royalty were constructed of silk,...
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