Promoting the arts and culture in Malaysia is never an easy task, but Tuyang Initiative co-founder Juvita T Wan – who is active in preserving the arts and heritage of Sarawak’s indigenous communities – isn’t backing down.

“We want to continue innovating how we deliver aspects of our cultural heritage, ensuring it is world-class, without affecting its spirit or authenticity,” she said.  “Working closely with our communities and cultural guardians, we continuously learn new things about the people and cultures.”

Tuyang Initiative, which Juvita co-founded with her father John Wan Usang, works with Sarawak’s Dayak communities to develop and promote cultural heritage talents, products and services.

It collaborates with various organisations to showcase their performances, introduce talents, as well as their wealth of knowledge, their unique language and traditions.

Tuyang Initiative’s mission is to provide sustainable economic opportunities for these communities, to ensure the preservation and development of their Dayak cultural heritage.

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John Wan Usang and Juvita T Wan with their Star Golden Hearts Award 2018.

“We’re in the midst of developing major performance pieces and new services for 2019 and 2020,” Juvita said. “We’re excited because we get to involve a lot more members of the community in delivering these products and services, and share them with the world.”

She added, “This allows capacity building for our community members, so they can become cultural entrepreneurs on their own. This process has been made possible through the support of Shell Malaysia’s Sustainable Development Grant.”

Juvita hopes to debut at least one of their music performance pieces in a major Japanese festival in August 2019. Tuyang Initiative’s efforts have already received recognition, most recently at the Star Golden Hearts Award 2018.

“We hope to share our methods and work with more Dayak communities across Sarawak, Sabah, Kalimantan and even the Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia, as we’re facing similar challenges in preserving traditions, arts and culture,” said Juvita.

“I hope more people will appreciate the importance of arts and culture in Malaysia, especially in a globalised world. The arts gives us a chance to experience things that are different from us. It helps us to look at things from various perspectives.”

She added, “We’re rich in culture with so many talents from different communities across the country, in various art forms. Imagine if we cultivate that, arts can potentially contribute to the economy, while uplifting under-served minority communities.”

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A Tuyang Initiative talent at work during a craft demonstration.

Juvita said what makes Malaysia unique is the diversity of its people. “What’s missing is the component where we all truly care to listen to one another’s stories. We have forgotten how to listen, especially in the era of social media. Things have sadly become superficial or individualistic.”

She added, “Because of that, I feel it’s especially important that we don’t continuously harp on how many different races we have or our differences in religious beliefs. More importantly, we have to appreciate and embrace the differences among the people.”

This year, Juvita hopes to see more people who will listen and care. “When we open our eyes and hearts, and listen to people from different levels of the society with the intent to understand, we will start to see things in a different light,” she said.

“And maybe even feel compelled to stand up for those who are truly under-served or marginalised. Less about ‘me’, more about ‘all of us’.”