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Plant used for weaving now harder to find
Published on: Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Kota Kinabalu: Development has come at a heavy price as it threatened to wipe out the "bemban" plant used by locals for weaving handicraft.

The reclamation of lands for development has destroyed large swathes of the plant also known scientifically as "Donax Canniformis" growing mostly in marshy areas near the paddy fields.

"The 'bemban' is used to make the 'bayung' (traditional multipurpose basket)…but nowadays, it is quite difficult to find them. It is a wild plant and it grows near swampy areas or paddy fields," said 41-year-old local craftswoman Juvita Gani.

"I was met by a customer who ordered 1, 000 units of little 'bayungs' to be used as her wedding door gift but I had to cancel the order because the 'bemban' used to make the bayungs were destroyed after a reclamation of land at my village…it is where they usually grow," she said, adding she tried to plant it on several occasions.

She said the bemban plant can be found elsewhere in Topokon but it is quite far from her village and getting them would mean intruding other people's lands.

Her statement was echoed by another craftswoman, Julitah Kulindid of Kg Kinabaan in Tambunan.

"For me, I would need bamboos to craft the 'sirung' (traditional hats) and 'wakid' (traditional basket). I don't simply get the bamboos. If the bamboos grow on someone else's land, then I will have to ask the owner's permission to get them," she said when met during a demonstration of local handicrafts at Kadaiku in Sinsuran on Monday in conjunction with the Sabah Fest 2015.

Juvita who hails from Kg Kosusu Kionsom, Topokon said she had acquired the skills of crafting the "bayung" from her mother at age 20. However, she only started to sell the products when she was 35.

"I learnt from my mama…at first, I was not really good in it but after looking at mama doing it, I slowly learnt the skills. Mama learnt how to make the bayung from my 'odu' (grandmother). I think there are the only two persons who know how to craft the bayung in my village," she said, adding that it took her a year to learn the skill.


"In the old days, the Kadazandusun crafted the bayung as part of their basic needs and not for sale. My mama, for example, would weave the kinobong, bayung, mats or 'barait' (traditional bag). The barait is used to place our food when we go to the paddy fields whereas the mats were used as part of the process of collecting the rice," she explained.

Reita Rahim who is the Coordinator of Gerai OA, Kuala Lumpur, specialising in Malaysia indigenous crafts explained that they would assist local artisans in raising the price of their products based on their quality.

Gerai OA that is founded by Reita in October 2004, is a volunteer-run travelling store selling traditional crafts made by the Malaysian ethnic group whereby 100 per cent of the money collected from the sales would be given directly back to the artisans.

The finished products will be brought for sale in at Publika in Kuala Lumpur, French Christmas Sales Bazaar Sales at Sri Carcosa Negara and even during the National Crafts Day, she said.

"The price for a large bayung sold at Gerai OA would reach RM140 but it costs only RM100 at Kadaiku here and for the smaller bayungs, it would cost around RM16.

"We also encourage them to modify their skills and to be innovative to make their products more saleable. However, the crafting technique will be maintained.

"You can actually flatten the bayung. It is very flexible as it changes in shape and dimension making it easy for one to bring it almost anywhere they travel," she said.

Juvita would not sell her finished products during tamu but is open to bookings from customers or handicraft demonstration invites by related agencies.


However, Julitah, who was also invited to do demonstrations of the crafting of 'sirung' and 'wakid' at Kadaiku said she learnt making traditional handicrafts from her mother as well.

"I was taught by my mother since 14. We would craft mostly during our free time. My mother rarely crafted the sirung but would craft 'nyiru' and traditional baskets occasionally using bamboo and rattan to be brought along to the paddy fields.

"After I became good at it, we started to sell our finished products at the tamu and I remember the sirung were each sold at the price of RM1," she said.

"We cannot totally depend 100 per cent on selling traditional handicrafts due to the uncertain income…doing it for side income purposes is okay. It is difficult because for now, only Yayasan Sabah as well as Sri Pelancongan would order from me," she said, adding that both she and her husband are farmers.

Julitah, 55, who has eight children said younger generations nowadays refuse to learn to make traditional handicrafts.

"I have only three children who are interested to learn to craft the sirung. Some of them are working and two of them are still studying. They don't really have the time to learn or make traditional handicrafts," she said. There are two types of sirung, namely tinoriou and sirung kinombunan.

The sirung kinombunan is part of the Kadazandusun traditional costume worn in the past by couples during their wedding day but today people usually have them as decorations.

"My children only know how to make the tinoriou ones. It would only take one and a half days to finish it excluding the process of collecting the resources and preparation of items whereas the sirung kinombunan would take about a week to finish," she said, adding that the most expensive ones sold are worth between RM60 and RM80.


Juvita chipped in saying that she would bring along her young nieces and nephews to watch her weave traditional handicrafts.

"They enjoy looking at me weaving. I think it is good that they are showing interest in it because there is a potential for them to make use of their talent to earn side income."

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