Malay Weaving

Weaving has Pandan weaving and Mengkuang as well as Bamboo weaving

The art of screwpine weaving has flourished for generations at various levels of sophistication and in varying degrees of intricacy throughout the Malay peninsula. One of its most obvious manifestations among the Malays is in the form of mat‑weaving. Trengganu Malay women have been known for both the fineness of their plaiting and the variety of their patterns. In traditional Malay society, a woman was not con­sidered well prepared for life unless she developed a skill in the art of mat‑weaving. Hence this skill formed an integral part of character and personality development.

A vast variety of mats are created to serve different functions, decorative and functional. They are woven in traditional fashion from pandaunus (daun pan­dan) as well as from the screwpine (mengkuang) leaves. Those woven from daun pandan are regarded as of superior quality, for daun pandan are softer and more easily shaped compared to those woven from mengkuang, which however, are more lasting.

The process of mat weaving passes through several stages. First the pandan or mengkuang leaves are cut at the base and at both ends. The thorns and the spine of the leaves are removed and the leaves measured so that there is an even length of all in a set. This is to facilitate weav­ing. The strips are then passed over a slight fire to soften them. Some weavers beat the mengkuang leaves with cudgels or clubs (belantan) to make them softer and easier to handle. Once softened, they are soaked in cold water for about 48 hours with the water being changed on the second morning. This is done to remove any natural elements likely to attract insects to the mats.

Following this, the mengkuang leaves are dried and once dry a por­tion is removed for dyeing while the remaining ones are kept aside to be used in their natural colour. When the dye has been dissolved in boiling water, the strips are soaked in it for a period of 30 minutes to an hour. The leaves are removed to dry and passed through a wooden or bamboo smoother (lurut) to make them even and soft. The whole pro­cess of curing and preparing the leaves up to this stage takes two to three days.

The weaving process begins at the centre point and proceeds diagonally towards the edges. Kelarai or ragi are named and shaped after flowers, bamboo as well as other rural elements or pursuits. Kelarai Pucuk Rebung, Kelarai Siku Keluang, Kelarai Bunga Cina, Kelarai Bunga Cengih and Kelarai Jari Kedidi are some of the tradi­tional designs still in use today.

The weave for the edging has its own names according to colour, design, or weaving techniques. Interesting colour combinations are to be seen in the final products. Standard colours appear to be green, dark blue or purple. Pink and yellow may occasionally be encountered. The process of weaving a mat takes between ten and fifteen days depending upon its size and the expertise of its weaver.

Mengkuang and pandan weaving, however does not end merely at mats. Other products include fans, baskets, pouches or purses, sun­hats, as well as dish covers, which enjoy a special place in most Malay kitchens.

ANYAMAN BULUH (Bamboo Plaiting)

Bamboo or buluh is an easily grown tropical plant that comes in a large number of species. For the Malays, the bamboo is a necessity not only for the making of houses, but also to fabricate weapons (senjata) traps (perangkap), and containers to hold objects of a wide assortment, both functional and decorative. At the same time ancient beliefs maintain that bamboo, depending upon its use, can be the source of good luck or conversely of misfortune. The types of bamboo usually used to make decorative items for daily usage are the buluh akar, buluh betong, buluh Minyak, pandan and buluh gading.

Bamboo mature enough to be utilised in the making of handicrafts is selected and cut according to measurement as per the object to be created. It is then soaked (rendam) in muddy water containing tamarind (asam) for a period of about a week to make it usable. The aim is to remove the sugar in the bamboo to enhance the life of the product eventually created, while also protecting it from in­ sects. After this treatment, bamboo is smoke or gently heated over a slow fire to enable it to be properly cured. Only when it is completely dry does the next stage begin. This is the paring of the bamboo into thin strips. A pen‑knife or a special blade known as pisau raut is used. Sometimes dye is added to the bamboo strips. Once the bamboo strips have been prepared the process of plaiting Begins, usually the weaver taking the initial step by creating a diamond shape (kelarai) at the centre and thence proceeding outwards. The pat­tern may be developed in a variety of shapes and sizes from this point on. Common bamboo products include food covers (tudung saji), wall decorations, baskets, platters or trays (dulang), wall panels (dinding). .In the art of bamboo plaiting (anyaman buluh), there lives an ancient tradition, an artistry that has come down to modern times almost uninterrupted over the centuries, utilising techniques that have changed little despite modernisation that has during the past two hundred years or so considerably altered Malay society.