by Jane Chan

Just like the United Kingdom’s Stonehenge, we too have megalithic structures in Malaysia.   The most common type of megalith found here is the menhir which is basically a standing stone.  Known locally as ‘batu hidup’, they come is varying heights ranging from 2 to 8 feet.

Megaliths 2In general, there are two configurations of menhirs.  The first type comes in clusters with one large menhir known as the ‘ibu’ or mother surrounded by smaller menhirs.  The second type comes in pairs – aligned side-by-side either in a North-South or East-West orientation, with one usually larger than the other.  In Northern Melaka and Negeri Sembilan, the menhirs have been erected on earth mounds.  Over time, the earth mound gets eroded thus exposing more of the menhir and giving the illusion that the menhir has grown longer.  This is the reason the locals refer to the menhirs as ‘batu hidup’ or living stones.

These sites are believed to be sacred or ‘keramat’ by locals as they believe that the megaliths are erected on grave sites.  However, excavations have not yielded any skeletal remains.

Replicas of the 'Sword' and the 'Rudder' at Muzium Negara
Replicas of the ‘Sword’ and the ‘Rudder’ at Muzium Negara

Megaliths in Malaysia are mostly plain and hence the three sculptured menhirs found at Pengkalan Kempas in Negeri Sembilan have drawn a lot of attention.  These have been nicknamed Sword, Rudder and Spoon after their distinctive shapes.  Carvings on the Sword and the Rudder include mythical creatures prompting the belief that these menhirs date to the Hindu period.  The Sword also has the word ‘Allah’ on it inscribed in Jawi characters and this is believed to have been added much later.  The Spoon does not have any carvings but has been sculptured into an arched top.  Replicas of the Sword and the Rudder can be found at Muzium Negara.

Petronas came across a group of menhirs in Negeri Sembilan during excavations to lay a gas pipeline.  These were excavated and re-erected in a stretch of land between Dayabumi and the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station and the area was named the Petronas Megalith Garden.  The megaliths have now been relocated to a permanent home at the Laman Megalit in Taman Putra Perdana in Putrajaya.  Here, the visitor is presented with over 80 megaliths including replicas of the Sword, Rudder and Spoon.  This is a place worthy of visit.

The Man behind the House

by Maganjeet Kaur

Tin, a silvery metal that is non-corrosive and non-toxic, was ideally suited for the food canning industry and its great demand in America and Britain spawned an industry that saw thousands of Chinese coming to Malaya with the hopes of leaving poverty behind. Many died in malarial swamps and many more were exploited by unscrupulous employers and agents. But many millionaires were also born and success stories like Yap Ah Loy and Loke Yew made it into the history books and onto road signs.

Chan Wing was one of the millionaires born in the heydays of the tin mining industry. Reticent in public with a preference to stay in the background, Chan Wing may well have been forgotten if not for the house he built. The Big House, as it was called then, has an interesting history of its own culminating as the abode for kings.

Chan Wing (1933). Taken from the book “From Poor Migrant to Millionaire” by Chan King Nui

Chan Wing’s was a typical rags to riches story. Born to poverty in China in 1873, he was the fourth son among six boys and two girls. With a father that squandered his money, time and energy on opium, it fell on their mother to provide for the family. The family lived at subsistence level and school was a luxury that they could ill-afford.

An opportunity to better their lot came with the arrival of agents to their village with stories about a land called Nanyang and a metal called tin around which tales of great riches were spun. Fourteen year old Chan Wing and his younger brother, Loong, were dispatched to this fabled land with the hopes and dreams of the whole family riding on them.  While Loong would return home a year later ridden with malaria and unable to cope with the harsh working conditions in the tin-mines, Chan Wing would go on to make their wildest dreams come true. But this dream had its roots in tears and sorrow as the only way the family was able to raise the money to send Chan Wing and Loong to Malaya was by selling the youngest son, who was still a babe in arms. Their mother was devastated but did not stand in the way.

On arrival in Malaya, the brothers got jobs at a tin mine in Sungai Besi but Chan Wing would change jobs many times including being a shopkeeper for two of Loke Yew’s shops in Sungai Besi. At the age of 24, he joined forces with four of his clansmen to form a ‘kongsi’ (syndicate) to mine for tin ore next to the tin rich Sungai Besi Mine. A European group and at least two other Chinese kongsi had previously mined on this plot of land with no success.  The kongsi formed by Chan Wing and friends operated for 9 months without finding any ore.  Savings dwindled and hopes plummeted but they dug deeper and their perseverance paid off when Chan Wing saw a darkish patch in one of the boxes of sand that he was washing. The kongsi had struck very big as the place was subsequently found to be littered in tin and the rest, as they say, is history.

With the years of scrimping and saving behind him and money no longer a major concern, Chan Wing’s attention turned to marriage and he requested his mother to find a bride for him. Low Ming Ching, simple, pleasant, timid and barely sixteen, would become the first in a line of wives to come.

Chan Wing would go on to venture into other businesses including banking (he sat on the board of Kwong Yik Bank), rice and rubber.  He became a respected and accepted member in Malayan society and now had an important decision to make – where to make his permanent home.

At the time of Chan Wing’s birth, China was under the rule of the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1912). This was not the rule of the majority Han Chinese but the dynasty was founded by the Jurchen Aisin Gioro clan, a Manchu tribe from northeastern China which usurped power from the Ming emperor. The Manchu had a unique hairstyle where the hair on the front of the head until the temples were shaved off every ten days and the rest braided into a long pigtail. This pigtail is also known as a ‘queue’. During the Qing Dynasty, the Manchus imposed this hairstyle on the Han Chinese and cutting off the queue was considered an act of treason. Chan Wing took the decision to live permanently in Malaya and as an act of defiance against the Manchu government, he cut off his queue.

Meanwhile, his family had grown into 8 wives with 21 children living at different locations. Chan Wing bought 13 acres of land and commissioned Swan and Maclaren to design a house that will bring his whole family under one roof and in 1929, the family moved into what would become known as The Big House. It might have been the biggest house in Malaya at that time, but for the family it was not big enough. As his daugher Chan King Nui recalls in her book ‘From Poor Migrant to Millionaire’, although the mothers had a room each, the children had to share rooms – four to a room. The number of children by now had swelled to 25. Chan Wing and his family stayed at the Big House until 1941 when war came to Malaya.

Chan Wing got separated from his family during the war and he stayed out the war in Australia while his family was evacuated to India where his twenty-sixth and last child, a boy, was born. He reunited with his family when they returned to Malaya after the war but was diagnosed with cancer and in spite of the best treatment succumbed to his illness in 1947 at the age of 74.

During the Japanese Occupation (1942 – 1945), the Big House became the residence of the Japanese Governor and after the war, it was commandeered by the British. In 1950, the Selangor state government rented it from the owners and it became the palace of the Sultan of Selangor until 1957 when the federal government bought the property from the owners. It was renovated and extended to become Istana Negara, the official residence of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (king of Malaysia). In Dec 2011, Istana Negara moved to its new location at Jalan Duta and the Istana Negara Lama, as the property is now called, has been turned over to the Department of Museums, Malaysia.

Most of the information on Chan Wing in this article comes from the book ‘From Poor Migrant to Millionaire’, written by Chan King Nui; one of Chan Wing’s daughters.

Flor de la Mar

by Eriko Shima-Tsuno

Flor de la Mar_gallery C
A replica of the Flor de la Mar at Gallery C in Muzium Negara

Flor de la Mar, laden with treasures stolen from the Melaka kingdom, sank in 1512 in the Aru Strait in the region of North Eastern Sumatera.  Although marine archaeologists and treasure hunters have made numerous attempts to recover the ship, its location remains a mystery.

Flor de la Mar is entwined in the history of the Portuguese endeavor to control the maritime trade in the East and as such, is also part of the history of Melaka.

Melaka was founded around the year 1400 and its strategic location between the maritime trade routes of East and West enabled it to grow into an internationally known port city. The economic power of Melaka depended on trade and the most important commodity traded was spices. At that time spices were very much needed, not only to add flavors in cooking, but also for preserving raw food such as meat, especially for winter. As such, spices fetched a very high price in Europe; for example, 1kg of pepper had the same value as 1kg of gold, and 1 ounce of nutmeg was equivalent to 7 oxen.

In those days, the Portuguese bought spices from the Venetians, who bought spices from Muslim traders in Egypt and Syria. The tight control that the Venetians had over the flow of spices into Europe was the reason for the high prices making the Portuguese determined to find a direct route to the source of the spices.  Thus in the 15th century, Portuguese rulers initiated voyages of discovery.

In 1498 Vasco da Gama reached the Malabar Coast of India – the source of pepper.  Here, he heard about Melaka and of the spice islands further east.  In 1511, Portugal attacked Melaka with 18 ships; one of which was the Flor de la Mar.  The Portuguese made their first attack on the port of Melaka on 25 July 1511 but failed.  On 10 August 1511, they tried again and on 24 August 1511, the Portuguese finally captured Melaka. At this time, the armada was led by Alfonso de Albuquerque.

A replica of the Flor de la Mar which houses the Maritime Museum in Melaka
A replica of the Flor de la Mar which houses the Maritime Museum in Melaka

After looting Melaka, Albuquerque wanted to send the looted treasure to the court of the Portuguese king, King Manuel 1.  The Flor de la Mar, at 400 tons, was the largest ship in the fleet and hence it was chosen to transport the treasure back to Portugal.  The treasure included bronze lions, jewelry, gold-plated palanquins, precious stones, Melakan embroidery as well as young slaves. The Flor de la Mar, along with 3 other ships, namely the Enxobregas, Trinidade and Jong Jawa sailed for Goa, India on 20 January 1512 with Albuquerque at the helm. It never made it to Goa. After 6 days at sea, it was caught in a storm and sank just off Sumatra, taking down with it the riches of the Melaka kingdom.

Till today the location of the ship remains a mystery. Some maritime archaeologists say that their team’s ultimate challenge would be to embark on the recovery of the Flor de la Mar. I really hope that this shipwreck would be found and the treasures restored to the Malaysian people someday.



The term “Batik” is an Indonesian-Malay word (Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malay are the official languages of Indonesia and Malaysia and are linguistically similar).  Batik has come to be used as a generic term which refers to the process of dyeing fabric by making use of a resist technique; covering areas of cloth with a dye-resistant substance to prevent them absorbing colors.  The technique is thought to be over a thousand years old and historical evidence demonstrates that cloth decorated with this resist technique was in use in the early centuries AD in Africa, the Middle East and in several places in Asia.  Although there is no sure explanation as to where batik first was “invented”, many observers believe that it was brought to Asia by travelers from the Indian subcontinent.

Despite the fact that batik may have originated elsewhere, most observers believe that batik has reached its highest artistic expression in Indonesia, particularly in Java.  The art of Batik was later spread to the rest of the Indonesian archipelago and to the Malay Peninsula where the popularity of the cloth led to the establishment of many other production centers.  Batik has become a very central means of artistic expression for many of the areas of Asia and a deeply integrated facet of Asian culture.

Much of the popularity of Batik can be tied to the fact that the batik technique offers immense possibilities for artistic freedom as patterns are applied by actual drawing rather than by weaving with thread.  Another factor in its popularity is the fact that it is so durable.  The colors in Batik are much more resistant to wear than those of painted or printed fabrics because the cloth is completely immersed in dye and the areas not protected by resist are allowed to absorb hues to the extent that the colors will not easily fade.

As we noted at the first, batik is now a generic term.  Because of the popularity of batik designs, many batik patterns are used in a wide variety of fabrics.  Many fabrics are called batik although they were not made in the resist method.  Most purists believe that such cloth has a batik like design but is not true batik which is confined to fabrics made through the application of the originally conceived Javanese methods of resist dyeing.  Modern designers in Indonesia, Malaysia and to a lesser extent Thailand, the Philippines and elsewhere often use batik design elements and often the actual batik clothe in their clothing and accessories.  Although most batik fabric is now decorated and tailored by machine, there still remains a considerable market for high-quality, hand-made batik. 


Published by: (

Wayang Kulit

Magic of his shadow play

By Satiman Jamin


Wayang kulit master Eyo Hock Seng mixes traditional tales with modern ones to tell the tale of the Mid-Autumn festival at Kampung Cina here. — Pictures by Satiman Jamin

Wayang kulit master Eyo Hock Seng mixes traditional tales with modern ones to tell the tale of the Mid-Autumn festival at Kampung Cina here. — Pictures by Satiman Jamin
(From left) Alex Kenyon, Priya Punatar, Meg Perry and Molly Smith are mesmerised by the wayang kulit performance.

(From left) Alex Kenyon, Priya Punatar, Meg Perry and Molly Smith are mesmerised by the wayang kulit performance.


KUALA TERENGGANU: Wayang kulit or shadow play master Eyo Hock Seng gave the Mid-Autumn Festival celebration in Kampung Cina here a decidedly 1Malaysia

 flavour on Friday night.  Local and foreign visitors who thronged the carnival stopped in their tracks and converged near an abandoned two-storey building that

 had been turned into a wayang kulit stage as the sound of traditional Malay music signalled the start of the show.  Eyo, 55, and his five accompanying musicians were

specially brought in by the carnival committee to tell the story of the Mid-Autumn Festival origin.  His 30 years experience as a wayang kulit master or tok dalang

showed through as he artfully mixed the use of traditional characters like Wak Dogol and Sri Rama with kebaya-clad puppets to give his performance a contemporary

touch.  “This is the first time ever that i performed in a Mid-Autumn festival celebration,” the only Chinese in Malaysia to master the art of being a tok dalang said in thick

Kelantanese dialect.  “I have been dabbling in wayang kulit since I was 9. My parents and the Malay community from whom I learnt the art were very supportive of my

inclination to become a tok dalang,”  It was the first time American citizens Molly Smith, 23, Priya Punatar, 23, and Alex Kenyon, 24, saw a wayang kulit performance.

Smith said she had known about wayang kulit but had never come across a live performance.  “I came to see the Mid-Autumn festival celebration. It is a pleasant surprise

 for us to watch wayang kulit performance here.”  Kenyon, who turned 24 on Friday, regarded the show as one of his best birthday gifts. “The shadow play performance

will always be remembered as the highlight of my 24th birthday.”

Read more: Magic of his shadow play


Baba Nyonya Wedding

Thursday October 7, 2010

A colourful wedding steeped in tradition


IT had all the trappings of a traditional Baba Nyonya wedding although it was just a demonstration.

The one-hour showcase was complete with traditional costumes, decorated bridal bed, tea ceremony, Nyonya dance and a joget session.

It was beautifully staged by Focal Concepts Sdn Bhd at the central atrium of Queensbay Mall in Penang as part of The Star’s Now & Forever – A Carnival of Love bridal event.

The Peranakan Bridal Showcase started off with the groom’s entourage, comprising five Babas, going on the stage with siah nah (dowry trays) containing jewellery,

a pair of dragon and phoenix candles (hong leng chek in Hokkien), wedding biscuits, rock sugar and charcoal.

The charcoal is to remind the bride to boil water to make tea for her parents-in-law and for them to wash their face in the morning while the rock sugar is to bless her with a sweet marriage.

Five Nyonyas then went on stage with their siah nah containing four pairs of slippers, hong leng chek, wedding biscuits and liquor to exchange dowries with the Babas.

The groom and umbrella man (best man) then led a troupe of sedan chair carriers, banner holders and musicians on a procession to fetch the bride at her ‘house’.

After consuming a birds nest drink, the groom passed his bride the flower ball and led her to take her seat on the sedan chair before the troupe left for his ‘house’.

Full-fledged ritual: (From right) The bride, arriving on the sedan chair, being received by the groom and his entourage during the demonstration at Queensbay Mall yesterday.

During the unveiling ceremony, the bride unbuttoned the groom’s collar button to symbolically undress him while the groom untied her red waist sash that symbolises virginity.

The couple then sat on a bed under which the matron of ceremony placed a basket containing a cock and a hen.

According to traditional belief, if the cock comes out first, it signifies that the first born will be a boy, but if it is the hen that emerges, the first born will be a girl.

The spectators stretched their necks in anticipation. After much prompting and when the hen finally emerged, with feathers shedding, the crowd burst into laughter as the shy cock

remained crouched inside the basket.

Master ofceremony Michael Cheah, who is also Focal Concepts’ Baba Nyonya wedding consultant, said a typical Baba-Nyonya wedding used to last a whole month.

“However, the ceremony is cut short these days with only the key elements being practised, ” he said.

During the tea ceremony, Penang Tourism and Culture Committee chairman Danny Law Heng Kiang, The Star’s regional manager (operations) Chung Chok Yin and his wife were invited

on stage as the ‘parents’ to symbolically launch the bridal event.

Also present were Japanese deputy consul-general Hiroko Matsuo and The Star’s regional editor (North) Choi Tuck Wo.

Law said Penang, with its affordable cost of living, was one of the best wedding destinations for local and foreign couples.

He said the heritage buildings within the George Town World Heritage Site provided unique backdrops for wedding photos, adding that the state’s beautiful beaches were also good for photo

shoots and a perfect place for wedding dinners.


Sunday October 10, 2010

Pieces of heritage

DR Zulkifli Mohamad has had a life-long affair with the sarong. The 46-year-old not only wears it, he dances in it and collects it.

“I’ve been wearing the sarong since I was small,” says Dr Zulkifli, better known as Zubin Mohamad, currently a Fulbright scholar at the dance department (Southeast Asia) of University of California’s Arts Faculty.

He started wearing it to religious classes. “I can’t remember clearly when, but in Kelantan we had to study the Quran from kindergarten, if not earlier,” Zubin says in an email interview.

What he remembers well is that because his mother had a little business in textiles and jewellery in the village, “we got to wear the best pelikat – Chap Gajah – from Arab Street, Singapore. I got my first sampin songket, a songket Terengganu, probably when I was


 Zubin Mohamad dances and sleeps in his sarong. He also gives talks and presents papers on textiles. – National Textile Museum

In 1985, Zubin bought his first songket – an all-black bunga penuh songket Kelantan from Che Bidah Penambang (a songket brand). He paid RM400 for it.

By then, he knew quite a bit about kain batik Jawa (Javanese batik), tulis (handwritten technique for material) and kain pelikat, having accompanied his mother on shopping trips – “more like work, actually” – to Singapore during the school holidays.

It was a matter of time before he started his own collection, by digging into his cupboard for the pelikat, songket and tenun which he had been wearing.

“I got my first collection of pua kumbu from my student’s mother in Kuching. Apparently that was how he paid his fees every semester. I was in Sarawak for five years and travelled all over Borneo as part of the Borneo Research Council group.”

Naturally, he picked up textiles/sarongs from Brunei, Pontianak, Sambas, Banjarmasin and Samarinda.

“Then I started writing for textile conferences in Java, the World Batik Conference in Jogja and the Singapore Textile Conference at Nanyang Academy. I started looking at Indonesian and Malaysian batik and collected more along the way.”

Men go for kain pelikat with checked patterns, and Ooi Poh Khoon has many such pieces in his collection.

Zubin’s collection expanded when he moved to Bangkok in 1998.

“I was passionate about research on Langkasuka, as my mother was originally from Pattani. My ancestors were probably from Champa – typical of many Kelantanese. It then that I went on a textile adventure along the Mekong river, and all over Indo China, getting to

know not only textile scholars, collectors and dealers but also weavers.

“I would go to Scot market in Yangoon and buy a gunny sack of sarongs as they are so beautiful and so cheap. Or, I would go crazy in Vientienne and Luang Prabang, the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, the Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok and smalls markets like

Batambang in Cambodia.

“First, you will want to get new pieces for their colours and patterns. Then you’d get one piece of an old textile to keep,” he adds.

Presently, his focus is on Southeast Asia. But nothing can compare with the kain limar (limar cloth) given him by his mother, “the most valuable piece” he owns.

“She said it would be mine before she passed away. She asked that we cover her with the kain limar. She is gone, but she is always with me.

“I’m trying to develop my collection with pieces from Kelantan, Pattani, Terengganu and Pekan, the kain limar, songket and tenun. What I would like to do is compile a book on my collection.

“Now that I am in California, I’m also trying to understand the Indian and Mexican textiles. I wish to visit the Mayan Temple in Cancun and, hopefully, organise a Mexican textile exhibition in the future!”

For Zubin, the sarong represents civilisation. He says: “We were travellers of the world; the Malays were a civilised race, well travelled, well mannered. An old textile give us a taste of tradition and heritage. Looking at old works reminds me of our glorious past.”

Penang-based graphic artist Ooi Poh Khoon became interested in the kain pelikat when, as a young boy, the bus that took him to school daily passed by Tanjung Tokong, a predominantly Malay community.

“What I liked seeing was the men wearing kain pelikat around the house or the surau. Or, sarongs hanging on fences to dry. I admired their colours and designs. Of course I wanted to buy one for myself, but I couldn’t afford it then. I was too short to wear it too.”

Today, 12 years after he started buying sarongs, he has 350 pieces in his collection.

“I have to hold myself back from buying more. There are just too many to keep in my room and my mum nags me about, saying, ‘Even the Malays don’t have so many sarongs as you do!’”

Ooi, 30, likes the bigger checked designs, and favours the colour blue.

“The material is the most important factor when choosing what to buy,” he says. “In our climate, cotton sarongs are preferable to the tetron/polyester/cotton combinations. Cotton sarongs are mainly from India while the mixed fabric ones come from Indonesia.”

But Indian cotton sarongs are slightly narrower and shorter than those from Indonesia, thus they may not be as comfortable for those who are bigger. The colours for Indonesian sarongs are more vivid too, he adds.

Ooi gets his sarongs from the Penang Bazaar at Penang Road. To him, the sarong transcends borders.

“It can be part of a heritage or tradition depending on your culture or race. It’s the uniqueness of wearing the sarong that makes us all Malaysians.”



The Baju Kurung, or more specifically, the Baju Kurung Teluk Belanga, is the Pahang traditional Malay costume for women.


And in more “modern” times, we have the Baju Kebaya, more specifically the Baju Kebaya Turki (also known as Baju Riau-Pahang or Baju Belah), become another popular and favorite attire for ladies in Pahang.

Well, just go to any Malay house, open the cupboard of the lady in the house, and you can definitely find at least one Baju Kurung dress in the wardrobe, if not a full line of the traditional Malay women costume.

This is because even though some women prefer modern western attires, the Baju Kurung is still an elegant and sweet dress for women in Pahang and Malaysia.

And worn with matching shoes and handbag, well the lady will look… should I say… demure… charming and… with a well mannered poise — ahh, a real lady.


That is why in Pahang and in fact in Malaysia, we will find not only the Malay women dorning the Baju Kurung, but other Malaysian races too, like the Chinese, Eurasians, Indians, Ibans and Kadazans.

They put on the Baju Kurung not only when attending formal and ceremonial occasions, but also for the office.

Besides adding extra elegance, simple beauty and style to the wearer, the Baju Kurung, since it is loose fitting, is very comfortable to wear in the hot and humid weather of the equatorial climate.

Being a very loose fitting attire, even fat or pregnant ladies will look smart and elegant in the Baju Kurung.

So although it is the traditional Malay costume and appropriate wear and attire for traditional occasions like weddings, engagements and public functions, the Baju Kurung is also popular and worn daily by the masses for comfort.

More so to the Muslim women, the Baju Kurung also fits and conforms with the Islamic requirement to enclose the body (except the face and hands) and that clothes should not be tight and body hugging as to show the outlines of the wearer’s body.


The Baju Kurung for women, like the Baju Melayu for the men, is said to originate from the Malaysian state of Johore about 200 years ago and is said to be styled and fashioned by the late HRH Sultan Abu Bakar of Johore in 1866.

It was said that HRH fashioned and popularized the attire to reminisce and leave a legacy following the change of the Johore state capital from Teluk Belanga to Johor Bahru (new name for Bandar Tanjung Puteri).

This Baju Kurung Teluk Belanga for both men and women was popular during the Sultan’s reign as he regularly wore this style, and made it the official attire of the Johore Malays.


Teluk Belanga is located on the island of Singapore and was the administrative center of the Johore Sultanate before it moved to Johor Bahru.

Singapore was made a crown colony of Britain in 1867 and became part of Malaysia in 1963 until it left to be on its own in 1965.


Although HRH Sultan Abu Bakar was credited as the designer of the Teluk Belanga style, there are also views that the loosely fitting Baju Kurung had been in existence and had been worn by Malay ladies since the times of the Malacca Empire in the 15th Century.

Perhaps it may be noted that in the old days, for protocol reasons, the wearing of attire during official ceremonies involving the Sultan and palace officials are guided by a dress code.

For instance, Malay women are prohibited from wearing the “takwa” dress. This is a long dress like the modern Baju Kebaya, and it has a row of loops for buttons at the front and also at the end of the long sleeves.

The Malaysian Songket

The Star

By Mae Chan | Sep 25, 2009

The Malaysian Songket: The Precious Gift of Heritage

Company/Seller Details

Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahirah (YTNZ) was founded in 2007 under the Royal patronage of Her Majesty the Queen of Malaysia, Seri Paduka Baginda Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Nur Zahirah. It aims to improve the lives of artisans, weavers and craftsmen by raising the level of skills and creating fair employment opportunities for them, also introducing contemporary designs and innovation in local crafts to enhance their value and to expand the Malaysian crafts market. Employing 60 weavers from both Terengganu and Sarawak in their pay-and-train scheme, the Foundation believes in empowering these weavers to be independent and all-rounded. YTNZ also supports single-mother weavers by buying songket from them as well as providing financial aid to improve and upgrade their work infrastructure. Selling their products under the Royal Terengganu Songket brand, the Foundation aims to open a flagship store in Kuala Lumpur, to educate and expose the art of songket to the Malaysian people, with plans to take this Malaysian art to the world.

Royal Terengganu Songket
Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahirah
No.83, Jalan Telawi,
59100 Kuala Lumpur
+603 2284 8253

Songket is traditionally a luxurious hand-woven cloth, which is historically associated Malaysian royalty. Intricate patterns are painstakingly woven with gold and silver threads into silk or cotton yarns, yet the inspiration for songket often reflects the simpleness of the surrounding nature. Leaves or flowers such as the Orkid or Pucuk Rebung are common motifs. Fashioning a songket is a laborious and tedious process that requires a high level of skill, each thread repeatedly woven through a method called the supplementary weft technique to create patterns on the cloth itself.

The Terengganu songket weavers believe that the technique originated from Indian traders during the time of Srivijaya, who brought along their weaving looms and introduced it to the local people. From then, this precious art form has become an important part of the Malaysian identity.

As with most traditional art forms, songket weaving has been gradually overlooked and the number of weavers has dwindled over the years. The Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahirah (YTNZ) is founded to address this problem, raising the standard of living for artisans and weavers as well as to create viable means to support and expand the usage of songket, making it a sustainable art.

A major achievement by the Foundation is the production of the light-weight contemporary songket that breaks away from the typically thick and stiff materials of traditional songket, its technique allowing for lighter and thinner materials to be woven without breaking. This “new generation” songket maintains the traditional elements of the art while also creating new uses such as the songket shawl and modern clothing fit for the local weather.

Apart from just producing raw materials, YTNZ also produces a wide range of products through their Royal Terengganu Songket brand, widening the usage of songket through collaboration with various designers both local and international, such as Tom Abang Saufi, Radzuan Radziwill, Melinda Looi, Jovian Mandagie, Rizalman Ibrahim, Tangoo, Pink Jambu, Annick Goutal and Bagatelle.

Through some of these collaborations, the Foundation is able to produce unique and creative home and lifestyle products, a varied range that currently includes cushion covers, place mats, table runners, songket wall panels, curtains, songket wall frame, songket chairs, gift boxes and upholstery.

Combining traditional and modern designs, these songket products are of not only great artistic value, but also a timely reminder of our proud heritage, a great gift of inspiration not only for us, but for our future generation. Passed on through Indian traders who introduced the traditional weaving looms, using fine Chinese silk brought in from the ports of Malacca, shaped by the Malay community and influenced by our surrounding nature, the art of songket weaving is a truly Malaysian legacy to be cherished.

Lacquer gift boxes (Oval Silver)

Price: RM1,800
Intricate songket gift boxes that are perfect as gifts or to add a touch of elegance to any festive occasion. Available in silver and gold, with round, oval, square and rectangular shapes.