Damarkurung: An Endangered Indonesian Craft

I was so glad when Multicultural Kid Blogs asked me to write about Indonesia. Even better, I am writing about an Indonesian craft! “Yippiiiie…!” said my heart. Crafting is my hobby and I like exploring unique crafts! In this article, I want to introduce you to a very unique Indonesian craft: “Damarkurung” (also known as “damar kurung”).

A damarkurung is a traditional Indonesian craft.
A damarkurung is an original Indonesian lantern.

The damarkurung is a kind of lantern. Its shape is a cube, traditionally made of paper with wood as the frame. Currently people are making damarkurung from fiberglass so they don’t get ripped easily during the rainy season. Right now damarkurung are an endangered craft. People in Gresik are trying hard to make damarkurung popular again.  That’s one reason I chose to highlight this Indonesian craft on Multicultural Kid Blogs.

Damarkurung were produced by indigenous people in Gresik – East Java. What makes this Indonesian craft unique is the painting style. Masmundari (1904-2005), an old lady from Gresik, is the most famous damarkurung artist. Her painting style was very childish and whimsical. A damarkurung is different than other kinds of lanterns. Damarkurung have stories in their paintings which tell stories about humanity. There are rules to the paintings as I explain below.

This Indonesian craft, known as a damarkurung, is a kind of lantern.
This is an Indonesian lantern, a damarkurung, made by my son.

1. Every side of a damarkurung must have two or three sequences, top to bottom. If you choose to make two sequences on one side, then the other three sides should have two sequences too.
2. The paintings are painted in two dimensions, not three dimensions.
3. Outdoor stories are represented by tree pictures.
4. Indoor stories are represented by roof pictures.
5. Wind directions are represented by arrows.
6. Conversations between figures are represented by three dots that are arranged like triangles.
7. Only use the following colors: green, blue, red, and yellow, in water color paint or acrylic paint.
8. There are two kinds of stories: sacred and profane.
9. The reading of damarkurung stories begins from the sacred, then  you turn the damarkurung to left, and read from the top to the bottom; it will tell you the story of humanity. This is similar to the reading concept of reliefs in temples in East Java.

Do not worry! Even with all these those rules, a damarkurung is not hard to make. I have made one with my son; you can see the step-by-step instructions here. One thing is sure, the damarkurung is an endangered traditional Indonesian craft. By teaching kids to make it, we can save it. I realized this, so I am teaching my son, and asking him to teach other kids, so we can save the damarkurung. As with other endangered crafts from around the world, by teaching kids to make it, those endangered crafts can live again.

You can find more wonderful crafts on our Multicultural Kids’ Crafts Pinterest board.

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A mother of a worldschooler boy. Children book writer. Like to traveling and crafting. Always find inspiration through the cultures and kids.

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