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Handicraft heritage gallery, a step towards preserving tradition

July 27, 2013 DESTINATION No Comments Email Email

With a total population of more than 300,000 people, with majority are Malay, Brunei Darussalam has a wide range of traditional handicraft, delicacies and ceremonials. The Malays in Brunei Darussalam comprise of seven ethnic groups namely: Melayu Brunei, Tutong, Belait, Kedayan, Dusun, Murut and Bisaya, Menganyam, which can be translated as plaiting or weaving certain parts of bamboo, rattan and the leaves of other plants into variety of articles is one of the specialities possessed by these ethnic groups. Although the end products may differ from each ethnic group, it however has similar plaiting techniques.

In the early time, plaiting is merely a hobby to pass their time and common for ladies to possess the skill. But nowadays, interest for such skill is lacking and production of traditional handicrafts particularly from plaiting has reduced tremendously.

The government is making various efforts to protect and sustain the tradition. One of the remarkable efforts is by establishing the Brunei Arts and Handicraft Training Centre (BAHTC) in 1975, providing courses on various traditional handwork skills. Among the courses available are weaving, plaiting, brass-work, silver-work and songkok-making (traditional head-gear).

Galeri Warisan Kraftangan Majlis Perundingan Mukim Ukong
Galeri Warisan Kraftangan Majlis Perundingan Mukim Ukong (Mukim Ukong Consultative Council Handicraft Heritage Gallery) based in Tutong District is an initiative programmme introduced by Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB) and supported by Petroleum Geo Services (PGS) as the main sponsor of the gallery’s building.

Officially opened on May 10, 2012 by Awang Jasmee bin Zainal Rashid, Manager of Brunei and Malaysia Zone of PGS, the gallery exhibits and sells handicraft products produced by the local community.

According to Dayang Nilam Lindu, a member of the council, prior to the establishment of the gallery, plaiting activities were carried out at home. With the presence of the gallery, proper activities can be carried out in a group.

The group is made up of women particularly housewives sharing and exchanging their knowledge and skills in making traditional handicrafts. The gallery is manned daily by two women but more human resources will be needed if there are scheduled visits.

Besides activities at the gallery, the members of the council are invited to participate to sell their products in exposition conducted by government and private organisers. Participating in the exposition will not only generate income but assist in promoting the existence of the gallery to public.

Various types of handicraft products produced by the gallery’s members are exhibited namely: tikar (straw matt), suruk, bayung, takiding, nyiru, kibah and baskets.
Although most of the women are from Dusun ethnic group but the plaiting technique, skill and products are quite similar to other ethnic groups. The main materials used are also same such as Mengkuang leaves, bamboo, rattan and bamban.

“Mengkuang leaves are easier to find compare to other materials. The Mengkuang leaves which grow under the shady areas are softer and preferably used for plaiting,” said Dayang Nilam.

Besides the main materials like bamboo and rattan, the material for colouring is difficult to find nowadays. The original colouring material, a type of plant which is known as kutan can produce red and green colour.

Regarding the skill, most of the women learnt the technique and skill indirectly from their mothers by observation. There is a saying that ‘practise makes perfect’; and after some time, plaiting becomes a routine for these women. A medium size of straw matt can be plaited only in one day or less depending on the concentration.

Plaiting large sizes handicrafts is much preferred compared to the smaller ones as it required more concentration.

The same handicrafts products may look slightly different from one another depending on the pattern and motif used. Patterns or motifs used on the handicrafts are normally referred to natural surroundings. Various pattern and design, among the common patterns used buah pelajau, rama-rama (butterfly), buah pidada, pakis (fern), bunga api (fireworks) and many more.

Some of the challenges faced today in preserving this tradition are difficulties in finding the materials (ie. rattan and colouring substances), contributing towards the lack of interest by the younger generation to be involved in this hobby or business. Furthermore, advance technology has enabled the production of much modern products which serve similar purpose such as plastic baskets easily available to be purchased at nearby supermarkets.

Thus with the opening of the gallery, it is hoped that it will encourage the younger generation to be involved in this traditional handicraft, exposing them to the colourful products highlighting the importance of preserving this tradition as one of the cultures of the respective ethnic group.

Since its opening, the gallery has received various visits and conducted workshops for youth to learn plaiting.

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