Sabah is famed for attractions like the majestic Mount Kinabalu, orang utans, fresh seafood and pristine islands. But did you know the Land Below The Wind is well known for ethnic handicraft too? (Also read: Preserving Sabah’s crafts)
Here are Sabah’s top five traditional handicraft. These beautiful pieces are made in Kota Belud, a town about 70km from state capital Kota Kinabalu.
At Kota Belud’s Tamu Besar (weekend market), keep a look out for Bajau machetes, a popular tool for general work and chopping trees.
The sheath is made from durable wood like Kayu Malam (diospyros maingayi), Kemuning Hitam (Black Gold Wood) and jackfruit tree.
“These machetes come with carvings on its wooden sheath. Customers prefers carvings with designs like fishing nets, bamboo shoots and mythical dragons,” says machete maker Ebin Adim, 78, who sells his handiwork for between RM100 and RM1,500.
The father-of-seven adheres to strict rituals when handcrafting the sharp blades. One of them is never cross any blades.
“Nanti parang makan tuan (The machete could injure its owner). Always start with the word Bismillah (In The Name of God) when creating a new machete,” says Ebin from Kampung Siasai, Kota Belud. He has been a machete craftsman for over six decades.
One of the most popular souvenir items in Sabah is the tenduang, a food cover in bright colours like magenta, pink, yellow and blue.
Weaver Sharifah Hartini Ajmain, 35, says the tenduang is woven using dyed serdang leaves. The serdang tree, which resembles palm trees, grows wild in swampy areas.
“The brighter the colour, the more attractive the tenduang is. It takes anything between a day to three days to complete a food cover. These items can be reversed and used to carry food for weddings or prayers at the mosque,” says the mother-of-two from Kampung Pengkalan Abai, Kota Belud.
A pride of the Bajau community, the covers come in various sizes ranging from 12 inches to 24 inches. They are priced between RM20 and RM120. Sharifah’s mother taught her the art of weaving when she was 12 years old.
If weft-faced weaving appeals to you, check out the Iranun community’s handwoven tapestry pieces.
Iranun women take pride in creating designs like Mugah, Dastar, Ampik and Sambitan.
Each tapestry piece costs between RM300 and RM2,000, depending on the level of intricacy.
“Designs are mostly inspired by floral motif like lotus flower, cotton flower and wax gourd flower. These handwoven pieces are the choice fabric for weddings. It can be also be used as wall decor and table furnishings,” says weaver Pandaian Sulaiman, 67, from Kampung Rampaian Laut in Kota Belud.
The Dusun community from Kampung Melangkap Nariou, Kota Belud are known for their rattan work. They pride themselves in creating a range of woven rattan craft like baskets, floor mats and miniature sepak takraw keychains.
“Items are woven using pliable rattan sourced from around the village. Baskets are one of our best selling items. They come in various sizes and designs like snowflake, honeycomb and herringbone. It takes anything between a day and four days to complete a piece,” says Empin Galing, adding who has been in the business for 15 years.
Sepak takraw balls and miniature sepak takraw balls are popular souvenir items too.
Tree bark craft
You should not leave Sabah without treebark craft like pencil cases, wooden boxes, hats and keychains (Also read: Continuing the tradition of tree bark crafting). A prized craft of the Dusun community, these souvenirs are made from the bark of the tuguson tree. Items are priced between RM3 and RM300.
“Treebark jackets and hats are used by Dusun and Murut men during traditional ceremonies, including weddings. They make great souvenirs thanks to their durability,” says wood tree bark entreprenuer Julita Ukor, 45, from Kampung Tuguson, Kota Belud.