Fong wearing a rattan face mask. Photo: Tanoti

KUCHING: Since the Covid-19 outbreak, people around the world have been wearing different types of masks against the virus. These masks include surgical masks, N95 masks and fabric masks. 

Now, Sarawak has produced face masks made of rattan, one of the most durable jungle products found in the forests of Borneo.

The creative idea of using rattan to make face masks came from a social enterprise, Tanoti House.

Fong showing the rattan face masks which are available in two colours. Photo: Tanoti

“The project was an extension of our personal protective equipment (PPE) project. After the movement control order (MCO), we decided to do research and development (R&D) on rattan to see whether we can actually use rattan to make a face mask,” said Tanoti Sdn Bhd’s director Jacqueline Fong.

“The rattan masks are safe to use because they are made of natural materials,” she added.

Tanoti, she explained, had been helping the Penan in Sarawak by encouraging their skilled women to weave rattan products.

The company helped to promote the products to the world market while the profits from the sales went back to the Penan.

During the Covid-19 outbreak which saw a high demand for PPE from the medical frontliners, Tanoti worked with its volunteers to sew the protective garments.

On the rattan face masks, Fong said the rattan pieces were hand plaited by the Penan women while the elastic string ties and ear loops were sewn by the volunteers who made the PPE.

“We have been working with the Penan since 2014. In 2016, we worked with the Penan in Kubaan-Puak region of Ulu Tutoh. We have reached out to 18 villages there and they have been producing rattan products for us to bring to market since then.

“During the MCO period, it was very difficult for us to help them financially. We found it hard to do retail sales but we knew that by making rattan masks, we would be able to help them,” she said.

A closer look at a rattan face mask.

Fong added, “The rattan mask is a three-ply mask. First it consists of a rattan ply, then the interface ply and the cotton pocket to be inserted with any filter.

“Rattan grows in the jungle for 15 to 20 years before it can be harvested for weaving. 

“We can do a lot of things with rattan. It is a sustainable material which can withstand any kind of weather.  

“That is why we can put the rattan mask in hot water and wash it with detergent daily before and after use.” 

The rattan masks are available in three sizes — small, medium and large.

They come in two colours — natural glossy beige rattan and dark which is achieved by using natural forest leaves.

For the finishing touches, the elastic ear loops and string ties come in various colours including maroon, green, blue, brown and black. 

Fong said since she started promoting the rattan masks last week, she had already received more than 20 orders from the United Kingdom.

“I will be going back to the Ulu on July 6 to meet the Penan, to get more rattan materials and hopefully, after selling more of the rattan masks, bring more money back to them.

“Each piece purchased will be packed in a sealed packet. The weaver’s name will also be included in the packaging, which makes it very special,” added Fong.

To purchase or for further inquiries, contact Fong at 019-2810098 or Tanoti’s office at 082-239277.

You can also visit its official Facebook page at Tanoti or Tanoticrafts on Instagram.

Each rattan mask will have the name of the Penan weaver.