Still in her thirties, Siti Samsiyah is the moving force behind a batik enterprise on the island of Madura. She employs dozens of women in her community, mostly to do the labor-intensive waxing of the cloth that is the key to the batik process. Her company, called Giat Mandiri (roughly translated as “self-reliance”), operates with almost no infrastructure. The women gather to work simply sitting on the front steps of the house that belongs to Siti Samsiyah’s mother, or they may take their work home with them where they can supervise their children while working.
In a community where the men are away at sea on trading ships for long periods, the women who work for Giat Mandiri say they are simply passing time while earning a little extra income to help with their children’s schooling. Yet Siti Samsiyah manages complex tasks, overseeing the dyeing of the cloth with modern chemical dyes and marketing the finished products at trade fairs as far away as Jakarta. Moreover, the economic role of the batik industry in Tanjungbumi is substantial. Siti Samsiyah is one of the largest employers in her small town, and she has even used her income to purchase a stake in the ships in which the men of the town go to sea.