Getting to know your kasah
Story and photos by KERNI PUAH
However, this Bidayuh mat-making heritage is dying slowly as the new generation has no interest in learning the art.
Because of this, the kasah is being overtaken by mats from Kalimantan.
It is the most-sought-after item at the Serikin weekend market near Serian, especially among visitors from Peninsular Malaysia.
But as the mats become part of a lucrative business, their quality has declined noticeably.
The Indonesian traders seem to be out to make a fast buck due to the demand.
In the old days, when the mats were not highly valued or sought after, the craftsmanship was superior. The Bidayuhs used the mats to dry harvested padi in the sun.
The mats sold at the Serikin market is not as durable to the real kasah and should rightly be called tikar Kalimantan.
Buyers should learn how to tell between a good and poor-quality rattan mat.
The highest-quality mat is the sagah emas which can last between 20 to 30 years, depending on how it is used. Another type of mat is made from a low-quality rattan called kelasah, which can break easily and is not durable.
Buyers should also know of the reasonable prices for the mat, so that they don’t get ripped off.
Usually, a 10 x 12 feet mat made from sagah rattan is sold for between RM180 and RM250 a piece.
A rattan mat trader at the Serikin market said recently the mat producers had come op with a new design which could fetch up to RM250 a piece.
Trader Hadran Effendi from Seluas in West Kalimantan said the lowest price for a sagah emas mat measuring 7 x 10 feet was RM200.
Mats made of kelasah measuring 7 x 10 feet would cost about RM120 each.
On a normal weekend, there are about 12 rattan mat traders in Serikin.
Due to the brisk business, each trader rakes in thousands of ringgit in sales every weekend.
Some of them are specially weaved with black-dyed rattan.
Hadran said the colour was extracted from a wild plant called daun anyam.
He said the rattan was boiled with the daun anyam and the sap from the plant turned the rattan black.
The black rattan is used to produce designs on the kasah mats.
On how to take care of a mat, Hadran said that varnish should not be applied and it should not be washed with water and detergents.
“The finished product belies the challenges of gathering the rattan. It can be arduous and dangerous and the processing is hard work,” he added.
In the jungle, the gatherers pull down the rattan in coils and sometimes dislodge wasp and ant nests. They also risk being lacerated by its spines and barbed whips. The leaves and leaf sheaves are removed by pulling them around or over a tree trunk.
While the women split the rattan, the mat weaving is usually done by the men. In the past, it was done between the rice planting seasons.
The unique design is achieved by laying split strips of rattan of about one centimetre wide, side by side. The strips are pierced and bound by braiding them with rattan fibre.
To secure the edge, the ends of the strips are crushed and plaited into a decorative border. The mats can be rolled but never folded.
A creatively woven mat will have designs that are spectacular, although of only two colours — black and beige of the undyed fibre.
Rattan mats have stood the test of time and becoming popular with modern decorators and homemakers seeking unusual, beautiful and long-lasting floor coverings.