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Showcasing Sabah's ethnic costumes
Published on: Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Tuaran: Chanteek Borneo Gallery, synonymous with ethnic costume dolls, is beginning to stamp its mark as yet another ideal destination for both domestic visitors and international tourists.Founded in 2011, it is located at Kg Lakang, Jalan Telibong-Tamparuli, here. It houses a tailoring section where all the miniature costumes (worn by dolls) were designed and sewn.

Apart from display, the wide array of costume dolls is for sale too as a personal collection, for home decoration or as great souvenirs for friends and visitors. For children's cultural education, there is a special area at the gallery for play-doll dressing-up time.

The woman behind this magnificent creation to showcase Sabah's rich cultural heritage is none other than enterprising Anne Antah who was adamant about adding variety to local products as souvenirs, especially for the tourism industry. Her forte is making the ethnic costume doll.

One common question asked is the meaning of Chanteek. "This is the fist question people would ask me. Well, 'Chanteek' is derived from the word 'cantik' which means beautiful in Malay. However, the Sabahan tongue and slang are quite unique.

"To describe 'very' or 'most' for something is to emphasise the word itself. Therefore, 'Canteek' means very beautiful. Sabah indeed is very beautiful not only with its nature but also with the existence of 200 ethnic and sub-ethnic groups. Thus we have huge and beautiful collections of costumes," she explained in her briefing for visitors from the Sabah Women Entrepreneurs & Professionals Association (Swepa).

The visit was organised by Swepa Membership Sub-Committee headed by Karen Wong.

Antah's endeavour began with making the costume ethnic doll, Humee (female) and Akee (male) "for the purpose of giving the actual representation of the real costume."

"Actually, it is not the dolls that we want to promote but rather Sabah's cultural heritage that we aspire to preserve, promote and showcase to our visitors.

"But we are using the doll as our medium of cultural preservation as we believe that early cultural education should start with the children," she said, adding that the costume doll is a great reminder to connect them to their roots.

Asked how she managed to get all the correct costumes, Antah said : "Many of the elders, especially from the minority ethnic groups, came to the gallery to share their knowledge with us about their costumes. From here, we began to improve our display from time to time as we gain more knowledge from the locals.

"Interestingly, people of the Dusun Tombonuo, Nabai, Gana, Sukang and other ethnic groups that some of us have never heard of, came to visit us to see their costumes donned by dolls."

She recalled that the first eight collections were the easiest to make as the actual costumes are among the popular costumes. Her challenge was how to sew the mini costumes with the accessories. "It took me half a year to learn and to improvise the sewing technique. Some costumes can be prepared in four hours while others may take one week to complete, depending on the complexity of the accessories."

After making up to 14 ethnic costume collections, the next challenge was how to market her wares. Most of her customers only recognised up to eight costumes, according to Antah.

"The remaining costumes were very alien-looking to them as local Sabahans only saw them probably once a year or once in a lifetime during Harvest Festivals.

"So it posed a real challenge for me because by the end of 2012, I had discovered up to 25 ethnic costumes all through my own research for three years," she related.

Research entailed reading books and articles, meeting with the locals and talking to them, getting them to send her photos of their costumes, watching Youtube and looking for photos in the Internet.

With the realisation that not many people can identify the costumes, it struck Antah that her children would grow up without knowing their roots or would never get to know their own culture.

She continued : "So I began to dream about having my own place where I could display the costume dolls that I made, for the public to enjoy viewing, especially for children and the future generation."

Lamenting that some of the costumes are about to become extinct, she attributed this to the many inter-ethnic marriages among the locals in Sabah. "In fact, some don't really care about their traditional costume until they reach a certain level in life."

By the time Chanteek Borneo Gallery was opened in 2014, it boasted a collection of ostume dolls for some 50 ethnic groups with 200 variations of costume for both male and female.

It is open from Tuesday to Saturday (9am-6pm) and on Sunday (9am-5pm). Antah can be reached at 088-792018. Bookings for private tours, traditional games and traditional food can be pre-arranged.

President of Swepa, Datin Jeanette Tambakau described the educational visit as an "eye-opening" experience, especially for those not from the Kadazan-Dusun-Murut-Bajau community.

"In our 45-minute guided tour, Anne enlightened us on many aspects relating to the culture of this indigenous community. We were fascinated by the owner's amazing collection of costume dolls. It is most informative and educational."

It was a rare opportunity to get a close-up view of the various types of accessories worn by ethnic groups such as the Himpogot, Tangkong, Hamai, Simbong, Titimbak, Paun, Kaking and Gohong.

Kudos to Anne Antah for her great research and photographic memory in remembering all the 70 over ethnic groups of our native community, their costumes, behaviour, etc, said Organising Chairperson Karen Wong. The uniqueness of the place reminded her of those places that she had visited in other people's country, and she had asked herself, "Why don't we have a similar one in Sabah?"

"I am proud that we in KK have such a place now for tourists to learn about our ethnic groups and traditional culture, not to mention the local delicacies which added a special touch to our visit.

"We were delighted with the friendliness and warm hospitality of the staff. This is a great place for us to bring our friends and associates from far and near for a valuable visit," she said.

In the words of retired principal Peggy Chan, the Chanteek Borneo Gallery is a treasure trove of traditional ethnic costumes of the 75 tribes and sub-tribes of the natives in Sabah.

"We (Swepa members and friends) were enchanted by the display of hand-stitched costumes showcased by the dolls," she said.

This gallery, she pointed out, will go a long way to preserve the cultural heritage of Sabahans and is definitely a "must stop" in a tourist's itinerary.

"The owner of the gallery, Anne Antah, has obviously done intensive research on the origins, designs and the predominant black colour of the costumes. She has catalogued and displayed the dolls according to their ethnic community and habitats throughout Sabah," Chan observed, adding that each costume is exquisitely detailed and painstakingly hand-stitched, right down to the tiny buttons and gold trimmings.

A comment from civil servant Faridah Malai – "If it was not for Swepa's educational outing, I wouldn't know there is such a great cultural heritage gallery at our backyard. It is so well-organised, well-researched. Simply, the beautifully handcrafted dolls complete with costumes are eye-boggling.

I am amazed how much time was consumed to preserve the State's rich heritage that could be extinct one day without efforts like those put in by Anne." Her question of why the Kadazan traditional costume is always black has been answered. The cultural story is so rich, she added.

Said Tay Peck Lan: "It's interesting to know that Sabah has got so many traditional costumes and ethnic groups which many of us were not aware until this visit.

"Thanks to Anne, we get to understand the characteristics as well as the colour and design of the dress and material representing each of the different ethnic groups.

"We are lucky now that Sabah have such a place to be added to our list of tourist attractions from now on. We should keep this tradition alive. Sabah Boleh," she remarked.

Ann did a great job in creating this gallery showcasing Sabah ethnic groups, preserving their culture, Chai Moi Len noted.

"What I find enlightening is the evolution of the costumes from the colour of the cloth to the intriguing design of braidings and beadings. She should compile all this valuable information into a book before it dies a natural death," she suggested.



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