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Joanna: Why Abaya not traditional costume
Published on: Wednesday, May 31, 2023
By: Ricardo Unto
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Joanna: Why Abaya not traditional costume
Francisca wears a Kubaya Tungkat at the 2019 State UNK.
Kota Kinabalu: A traditional costume must have a story to tell, whether on how it was made or its stitchwork, said KDCA Women’s Council Chairperson Joanna Datuk Kitingan.

Joanna, also State Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan (UNK) Organising Chairperson, stressed that claiming clothes as a traditional costume needs thorough research and reliable sources.

This led to the Committee not recognising Abaya as a traditional costume this year.

“There is no story on the costume (Abaya) to verify its authenticity as a traditional costume,” she said at the State UNK registration, recently.


“How can we accept Abaya as a traditional costume against the other woven or beautifully embroidered costumes?

“After the committee did our research, we found no story or proven records about Abaya.

Examples of Abaya worn during an event. – Photo: Hobut:Huminodun Bundu Tuhan/Facebook.

“When I look at old photos of my grandmother, yes, they had worn it but only as an everyday wear…furthermore, it was heavily influenced by external elements.”

The main characteristic of an Abaya is a plain black blouse – almost like a kebaya, with long sleeves or mid-length sleeves and often paired with a long black skirt. Among its accessories are belt coins and coin brooches.

It was popularised by certain quarters of the Dusun Bundu or Dusun Liwan communities in recent years.

Joanna said the Abaya trend started not long after 2019 State UNK Francisca Ester Nain wore a ‘Kubaya Tungkat’ at the final stage of the pageant.

“I told her that she needs to do more research on the costume and refer to the museum to see if there is any record of it,” she said.

She added, more kebaya-like costumes surfaced after that, and people accessorised them with traditional accessories.

Joanna said some quarters misinterpreted the State UNK Committee’s back-to-basics approach that they thought it meant going for an all-black costume.

“We emphasised the back-to-basics concept as we noticed that some costumes were overly decorated with sequins to the point they overshadowed the actual beauty of the costumes, for example, the ‘linangkit’ on the Suang Lotud costume.

“What we meant was more on highlighting the beautiful embroidery, stitchwork or weaving of the costume and let them shine without the distraction of the sequins.”

She stressed that the State UNK Committee must take drastic measures by not recognising costumes like Abaya to prevent matters from worsening.

“It became a fashion where everybody is wearing it…when I visited districts during UNK competitions, some district committee members even turned Abaya into their uniforms.

“I reminded them to showcase and preserve the unique identity markers for the ethnic group in that district.

“And that is why we must take a stern stand on this issue,” she said.

She disclosed that she had informed district UNK coordinators of the Committee’s decision.

“However, we did receive an argument from one of the coordinators who claimed the Abaya is a traditional costume at their place. They further claimed that it was a ‘forgotten’ traditional costume.

“And then I asked what the reference is as I do not see any records of it in the museum.”

She said the Committee would continue to scrutinise all the costumes worn by the UNK participants.

“That is why we have the Unduk Ngadau Gallery to look after the authenticity of the costumes which form the identity of the ethnic group or the district.

“In the case of Abaya, everyone can wear it as that was how it was those days,” she said.

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