Jewellery is more than just adornment. Every creation, more often than not, has a backstory — from the history of a particular design to the emotions expressed through the materials used.
Preserving cultural heritage through modern fashion
Lucille Awen Jon is a well-known Sarawak beader. Pungu Borneo, her accessory label that focuses on the ethnic handicrafts of Sarawak’s indigenous communities, has expanded its wings.
From brick-and-mortar stores in her hometowns of Bau and Kuching, as well as a home-based studio in Shah Alam, it is now also available in Metrojaya in Kuala Lumpur and the Straits Designers Gallery (SDG) in Melaka, as part of the SDG platform created to help young Malaysian designers.
Lucille’s collection drew our attention at a festival presented by Shengtai International at the Mid Valley Exhibition Hall in Kuala Lumpur.
There were three consecutive afternoons of fashion shows, and hers was featured on the first day.
Her Pungu Borneo label’s ‘Ethnic Affair collection’ was inspired by the traditional design and motifs on jewellery worn by the indigenous women of Borneo.
According to Lucille, a Bidayuh, it is significant with her ambition in preserving heritage through arts and crafts, so this collection showcased the best of traditional cultural expression with a modern touch suitable for any occasion.
For this collection, she works to promote the creations of other artisans, including ceramic beads made by hand in Sarawak by artisans like Nabilah Abdullah, Joy, and Helena Kalum.
It also included the use of semi-precious stones, handmade Dayak and Venetian glass beads, and Japanese glass beads.
Housewives and single parents make up the community involved in her initiative, and Pungu Borneo also collaborates with a number of local artisans, including Raben Beads, Hadrien Attay, Amy John, Nusantara Collection, Abot Gudang, Kodek Collection, Sibuluh Crafts, Fedro Lance, Julia Livan and others.
According to her, it is a difficult task for our indigenous people to promote and preserve our local heritage crafts in a significant way.
“We want to promote our products globally, but we also want to protect them from misconceptions and misinterpretations as we move towards modernisation,” said Lucille.
She added, “Promoting and preserving heritage products must be done without prejudice and with the acceptance of the indigenous people.
“It is important that we understand the distinction between traditional, contemporary, and modern crafts and avoid becoming confused by any of them.
“More research should be conducted and published for the public to learn and gain a better understanding of their traditional culture as well as modern arts.”
It certainly helps to be open to new ways of marketing our beautiful Sarawak beadwork.
It was delightful to see her beautiful wearable beadwork on the models as they strutted down the runway.
“I am so glad it turned out well. We can be creative, but we must keep this in mind when telling the story of each art piece to avoid misunderstandings and misconceptions,” she said, grinning from ear to ear after her show.
Since her first day in the industry, she and her team at Pungu Borneo have pledged to preserve the traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions of indigenous peoples of Borneo, while also remembering that they must move forward responsibly in order to promote our culture and heritage.
Pungu Borneo is currently discussing and planning to be a part of the development of technology into the traditional crafts ecosystem.
According to her, this is crucial in order to raise awareness of the importance of protecting makers’ creations and product segmentation from being exploited by major players, as well as for the best interests of small enterprises and independent crafters in moving forward globally while protecting their creation rights.
To ensure the great future of intellectual property for traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expression for indigenous crafts and arts, it is hoped that many government bodies and corporate agencies will participate in this initiative.
That day, her message rang loud and clear: “Cultural fashion must move forward while not forgetting or embracing the origins of each tradition.”
Most of the Pungu Borneo products are available online through social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as in physical stores such as Metrojaya Mid Valley in Kuala Lumpur, The Museum Gift Shop (Sarawak Cultural Museum), Pungu Borneo Gallery (Waterfront Kuching), and SDG, Melaka (Ayer Keroh).