Weaving tradition into modernity

Product produce by Rita .

In the face of modernity, traditional handicraft such as handwoven mats and bags are still very much sought after and appreciated. As the skills were passed down to her, handweaver Rita Sering’s passion for weaving never falters as she continues to produce the traditional handicraft, along with a steady income on the side.

A challenging but feasible art

Among the many cultural heritage upheld by the indigenous people of Sarawak, weaving is one of the most popular one. While it is cheaper to purchase factory-made bags or mats, a handwoven product will always have that special place in the heart of every Sarawakian.

Proud of her mother, Melissa Kelang holding one of her mother’s masterpiece which she uses herself.

Speaking to Melissa Kelang Barat, she said that it is important to keep the tradition of weaving alive. “My mum and I maintained the traditional outlook when it comes to our handmade products. This is because we want people to appreciate the original aspects of the design.”

Admitting that the craft is a lucrative source of income that upholds cultural sentiments, Melissa said that surprisingly, there are a lot of people who are still on the lookout for handwoven crafts.

She even said that her mother Rita Sering, often have a long list of customers who are willing to wait for their turn, just to get their hands on genuine traditional handmade baskets and mats.

The 31-year-old Melissa said that initially, her mother’s venture into weaving started as a hobby.

“She learned all about weaving from her home in Lubok Antu. Everything is made from scratch. From raw materials she bought at the market, to its beautiful final product.” Melissa explained to the New Sarawak Tribune during a private interview.

Eventually, as people start to notice her handicraft, the hobby turned into a part-time business, as she starts to receive orders from relatives and friends.

Melissa said her mother would often visits the Sri Aman market with her father to buy the materials needed for her craft. “She uses plastic woven strings (tali anyaman plastik), and she always emphasised the quality. She would remind me to not go too soft or too hard, to make sure that the end product would come out nicely.”

Rita Sering is passionate in what she does. Though working hard in the farm, she would never forget to bring the current bag she is weaving so she could continue during her rest time.

Apart from that, the art of weaving can be challenging, Melissa said. Recalling a time when she would observe her mother’s crafting process, there were always times where errors would occur, “When my mom realised the mistake she had done, she would undo the weavings and start over.”

A bag in the making.

Just like mathematics, her mother, Rita would have to count her way to a perfect product. “And she would often redo it again if there are any miscalculations. I saw her weaved a bag before. She would count five boxes to the left, then 10 boxes to the right for the design to unfold. missed one and she had to start over.”

Mellissa added that her mother always said that the secret to a good woven bag is the focus of its creator.

“It takes a lot of effort and time too. A bag can take an average of four days to complete, while a mat can take more than a month, depending on the size,” Melissa revealed.

Nonetheless, Rita’s passion for weaving never falter. As a housewife, Melissa said that Rita took care of her and her siblings while her father went to work. “Now that we are all grown up, Mom finally has ample time on her hands to do handicrafts which has always been her hobby. Apart from farming at the family’s rubber and oil palm plantations, my mom loves weaving very much.”

The tools Rita uses to weave a good mat or bag.

Rita’s talents and skills in weaving were passed down to her from her mother, and she started weaving since her teenage years. “It has always been a hobby that she is very passionate about.

If you go to our longhouse in Lubok Antu, you can see that the place is filled with her ‘experiments’ — handwoven mats and baskets she did in the past.

“Besides that, even on trips to the plantations, my mother would bring along her weaving materials. When she stops to rest, she would continue weaving her baskets,” Melissa added.

Some of the products Rita had produced over the years.

Looking back, Melissa said that her late grandfather used to weave using rattans gathered from the nearby forest. However, when the skills was handed down to Rita, plastic strings were used to replace the rattans. The alternative was said to have developed once modernity progressed.

“Furthermore, using plastic strings to weave is so much easier and cheaper. Pure rattan produce would cost more as the material is harder to process. Even rattan itself is scarce nowadays. Hence, it is harder to produce,” said Melissa.

Now, it is up to Melissa to inherit the skills. Despite her busy schedules, Melissa admits that she will always make time in order to learn the art as she felt that it is always important to remember where you come from.

A photo pose with Melissa’s family.