On the handicraft trail

Some useful woven products

I’VE always been keen on preserving culture and our multi-ethnic traditions. So when I was invited for a craft trail, I jumped at it. Joining the group on a two-day trail, we started in Alor Gajah on a route cutting across the Malacca-Johor border and ending near Batu Pahat. 

On the scenic route through villages in Malacca and Johor, we met craftsmen with a passion for their handicrafts and enjoyed warm kampung hospitality, with a taste of homemade specialties and garden-fresh fruits.

It was an exciting quest to discover skilled makers of traditional handicrafts which are fast vanishing.
Watching the craftsmen work with their hands and feet on wood, rattan or tin, it was easy to see how important it was to nurture and preserve the rich heritage we have.

Whether it was carving wood, crafting musical instruments or sewing tiny glass beads, it struck me that our heritage has a blend of rich traditions, with Middle-Eastern, Javanese, Malay and Chinese influences. I was delighted to see our unique muhibah heritage in a Baba craftsman skilled at making Malay wooden tops and a Malay woman skilled in sewing beaded slippers, a tradition typical of the Nyonyas.

Pewter Craft

Mohd Azrai Hussin of De'Legend Craft
Just a few steps from Kraftangan Malaysia’s Malacca office, there are small warehouses that support the arts and crafts of various entrepreneurs under Kraftangan’s Incubator Project.

Among them was talented and enterprising Mohd Azrai Hussin, 26, who took the bold step to produce his own designs as De’Legend Craft, two years ago. Using an alloy of tin, antimony and copper, Mohd Azrai designs a range of gift items and fashion accessories in contemporary and traditional patterns.

We observed a worker pouring molten metal into moulds and smoothening the product of its rough edges. Another worker was soldering parts together and hand-polishing them. These beautiful items are distributed through local wholesalers and boutiques, some of which make orders for custom-made designs.

A range of attractive 'dokoh' accessories

Showing off a “dokoh”, Mohd Azrai said that such elegant necklaces were gaining in popularity, not only for weddings but also to be worn with formal outfits. He designs a wide range of costume jewellery like brooches, ear-rings, kerongsang, tudung pins and tie-pins. Then there are the key-chains, bookmarks, glittering gold- and rhodium-plated decorations and prestigious corporate gifts.

Products set with Swarosvky gemstones cost quite a bit. The prices range from RM5 to RM300 for accessories and between RM100 and RM2,300 for corporate gifts. De’Legend Craft is located within the Malacca branch of Kraftangan Malaysia at Lot 89-102, Kelemak Industrial Estate, Alor Gajah. Tel: 012-616 0283 & 017-317 7280.

SAS, What?

With our eyes still dazzling from the gleam and glitter, we headed to Kg Gedang through a network of new highways, with unfamiliar names like Lebuh AMJ and Lebuh SAS. We soon figured out that AMJ was for Alor Gajah-Malacca-Jasin and SAS was for Sg Udang-Air Keroh-Selandar!

Woven Rattan Products
Kamsiah Md Kassim and her useful woven products

At Kg Gedang, we met Kamsiah Md Kassim, homemaker-turned-skilled rattan-weaver and entrepreneur.

Surrounded by her lovely rattan products, this feisty 51-year-old told us how she had started weaving rattan as a hobby. She fondly remembered that the first item she completed was a tray and regrets not keeping it as a memento.

She does her research first which items are in demand before adding to her range of products. She has spent time teaching weaving skills to other homemakers and two special people in her neighbourhood.

From a cottage industry that started in 1997 with six participants, her business has developed into Sabenar Sinar Enterprise. She continued to receive more designs through the support of the Malacca branch of Kraftangan Malaysia and her products are now even distributed in Kuala Lumpur. To cope with her increasing orders, she had to stop teaching in 2003.

When she is inspired, Kamsiah varies her designs with more intricate weaving patterns. She also paints her products in attractive colours. Her expanding range now includes trays, baskets, food covers, containers, umbrella stands and mirror frames. Kamsiah feels that for the best results, weaving should be done at leisure because pressure or distractions can cause careless mistakes. If there are any mistakes, it is a tedious process to unpick and re-do the job.

She confessed that when she was in the mood, she would continue weaving long after her normal working hours. Her workshop is located at 22nd Milestone, Jalan Lanjut Manis, Kg Gedang, Alor Gajah. Tel: 019-963 2147 and 06-552 8700.

Wooden Tops

Koh Kim Bok skillfully creating a wooden top
Top spinning is a traditional game of the Malays. So it seemed odd that we were going to Bukit Rambai to meet Koh Kim Bok, a non-Malay top-maker. 

As we turned into his place, I spotted a sign with words “Straits-Born Chinese Association of Malaysia” and this threw some light on his background. In fact, Koh is the chairman of the Straits-Born Chinese Association of Malaysia, the Malacca’s Tops Association, the Baba-Nyonya Arts Society and Malaysia’s Tops Referees Association.

In fluent Malay, Koh, a 65-year-old retired teacher, introduced himself as Baba tulen, or a pure Straits-born Chinese man. The Straits-born, or Peranakan, form a distinctive Chinese community that evolved in Malacca, Penang and Singapore in the 18th century. Growing up and playing tops with Malay friends since young, the affable Koh proudly declared that he was the Baba with the most Malay friends in the world!

Koh and his top-spinning friends
Koh’s skills and passion for playing and winning a string of competitions with his team progressed into a deep interest in creating Malay tops that met with competition standards in the region. Involved in making wooden tops for more than 50 years, his pleasure is in the skill of creating and playing tops as well as in making more friends. In recognition of Koh as a top-spinning icon, some of Koh’s prized tops are displayed at the Malacca Tops Museum in Bandar Hilir.

Today, Koh works with five apprentices, teaching them the finer points of creating quality wooden tops to meet orders, locally and from other states. With the help of a lathe, Koh skilfully sculptures each top by hand to create tops shaped like a plate or berembang — a shape that looks like the fruit of a seaside tree.

To encourage this sport, Koh has opened an adjacent court for the public to practise but he lamented that youths today were not aware of the true pleasure of playing this game. His workshop is located at 9594, 7th Milestone, Bukit Rambai, Malacca. Tel: 06-335 2815 and 013-656 3069.

Beaded Slippers
In anticipation of more delicate craft at the end of our first day of the southern craft trail, we were ready to be impressed by Maszni Abdul Aziz, believed to be the only Malay woman in Malacca skilled at sewing beaded slippers.

Maszni Abdul Aziz showing off her beaded slippers
It is unusual for a Malay woman to be involved in this handicraft because this exquisitely handmade footwear is traditionally crafted and worn by Peranakan women. It used to be a leisure activity for unmarried Nyonyas to sew their kasut manik so that the beaded slippers could be presented as part of their wedding dowry.

So how did Maszni get herself into this craft? Listening to her story, it was clear that it was the result of much determination and commitment.

Ten years ago, when she lived in Malim, Maszni used to watch her Nyonya neighbour patiently string and sew tiny beads on small pieces of fabric. It was a painstakingly slow process but Maszni was captivated and keen to acquire this skill. After a year of persuasion, her persistence paid off when the reluctant neighbour finally agreed to teach her.

A pair of Maszni's elegant woven slippers
For some time, she worked with that neighbour. In 1998, Maszni, 34, started working from her own home, getting orders for the shoes from all over. In 2001, she received further exposure in this industry when she was a participant of a workshop organised by the National Museum. The advantages of working from home convinced her to move back to her kampung. There, she trained her neighbours who shared her passion for sewing glass beads in intricate embroidery.

Today, Maszni creates her own designs under Sparkle Bead Enterprise and works hard to complete at least six pairs of beaded slipper uppers a month. Prices start from RM100 per pair depending on the designs. But customers must be prepared to wait patiently before they can wear these fine works of art.

With a determined glint in her eyes, Maszni hoped her children, when older, would help put her ambitious business expansion plans into action. For now, she is content to work from her workshop at Km14, Jalan Haji Minhat, Kg Berangan Enam, Umbai. Tel: 012-630 8253.

Join PEGGY LOH next week for Day 2 of her exciting Southern craft trail, a trip organised by Kraftangan Malaysia under the Ministry of Unity, Culture, Arts & Heritage. The trail leads her to see the One District, One Industry (SDSI) initiative of Kraftangan Malaysia or Handicraft Development Corporation of Malaysia, which aims to improve the quality of craftsmanship of local products and services unique to a particular district.

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Travel Times on 14 April 2008

1 comment:

  1. Any chanve to get google maps directios for the rattan workshop?