SARAWAK: Mystical Chants of the Rainforest

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Tanoti Sdn Bhd  brings the wonders of the Sawarakian native culture  to new heights focusing on  heritage craft preservation, women empowerment and rural community building recently at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019. They have provide a platform for people with the skills  for traditional crafts to take what they are good at and turn it into something that would help improve their lives. Through their aid, they  help the craftsmen in   finding  ways to monetise their work with the crafts.

One of the programmes that Tanoti has  is the production of a performance called “Sarawak: Mystical Chants of the Rainforents”. The  performance showcases the talents of an ordained weaver during the time she is weaving a traditional ritual cloth called a ‘pua kumbu’. The master weaver name Halen will also be chanting the sanggai, poetry unique to the Iban, while she is weaving the pua kumbu.

The pua kumbu is said to be a ritualistic textile because it is believed that hidden within its beautiful and artistic patterns, there pua kumbu has spirits and powers of its own. An example where the cloth is traditionally used is they would wear the cloth to protect them and to ward off evil spirits.

Only a certain handful of people are able to weave the pua kumbu. Helen, the performer and master weaver, and her sister are the only ones from her long house who are able to weave the cloth. “She was taught to weave by her mother but her grandmother was the one who was ordained to be a master weaver and the legend is that, under the grandmother, there will be 7 generations of gifted weavers. Helen is the third generation”, said Jacqueline Fong, member of Tanoti.

The most important ritual is the ‘ngar’ which generally means the dyeing of the threads. It may seem like it is an easy process as on the surface it looks as though it is a simple dyeing of the threads using natural ingredients. However Jacqueline states that there are hidden dangers to those who are not ordained. “There are stories of people who did the ngar ceremony and end up dying because they were not supposed to do it”.

The performance  certainly showcases the uniqueness of the traditional Sarawakian craft of weaving the ritual cloth. However that is not the only thing that is unique about Sarawak. Tanoti hopes that the performance would spark an interest for people to visit the state of Sarawak and experience the beauty, graceful elegance and the majesty of these traditional crafts made by its inhabitants in its entirety first-hand.

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