The bus turned into Kampung Sayong Lembah in “Kuale”, as it’s known to the locals – or Kuala Kangsor in the local dialect. A group of us were on a media trip organised by Tourism Malaysia and Destination Perak to the royal town of Kuala Kangsar recently. The town is famous not just for its many historical places of interest, but also its traditional handicrafts.

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Labu sayong (gourd shaped water vessels) produced at Kampung Sayong Lembah.

In The Potter’s Hands

There are many cottage industries in Kuala Kangsar, and Sayong is where the traditional gourd or pumpkin-shaped water vessels called labu sayong, vases, coin banks and other pottery are made from river clay. It gives new meaning to the saying “being in the potter’s hands” as we watched Pak Win skillfully fashion a labu sayong on the potter’s wheel using his hands.

The vessels were originally only made by hand, which caused his hands to become “fat and thick”, Pak Win described. After the demonstration, some of us tried our hand at clumsily shaping our own creations, much to his amusement.

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Pak Win fashioning a vase at the potter’s wheel.

Patterns are carved onto the soft clay and the shaped vessels are then placed into the kiln to be baked at high temperature. The labu sayong are not just decorative but functional too, as the porous clay filters the water and keeps it cool and fresh for drinking, explained Pak Win.

Symbol Of Strength And Authority

In Kampung Padang Changkat, Lenggang, we watched as a pandai besi or blacksmith fashioned a keris, a symbol of Malay strength and authority. Pak Mazin has been in this family business since he was 12, learning the art from his grandfather.

The process is a long and complicated one with many stages. He walked us through part of it, starting with carving wood for the sheath and handle/hilt, then heating, forging and shaping seven layers of metal many times to form the keris.

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Pak Mazin, a blacksmith, fashioning a keris in Kampung Padang Changkat.

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It takes a lot of skills to create a good keris.

According to Pak Mazin, it is not just a sacred traditional weapon, but a demonstration of perfect engineering balance because a properly made keris can stand on both ends. He has crafted many keris for the royal family as well as both local and foreign dignitaries.

Inspired By Nature

Near his workshop was a group of women seated on the floor working deftly at low tables in a kampung house. Tekad (gold thread embroidery) is another traditional craft produced by cottage industries in Kuala Kangsar.

Only gold thread imported from Japan is used in the making of the tekad, said Tengku Cik Rahimah, who has been in the industry for three years. Using a cardboard cut-out base, the gold thread is hand sewn onto pieces of velvet used to produce decorative boxes, wall decorations, cushion covers, beddings and other items.

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Cottage industries in Kampung Padang Changkat produce tekad (gold-thread embroidery) products.

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Tengku Cik Rahimah demonstrating the art of tekad embroidery.

The designs are inspired by nature and their surroundings, and are hand drawn first onto the cardboard.

Traditional Headdress

At the handicraft market bazaar, Raja Ahmad Akasihah or Ku Kashah, greeted us. He is a tengkolok (traditional Malay headdress) craftsman.

Also known as the destar or tanjak, the tengkolok is believed to originate from the Melaka Sultanate. It is made from an 81cm x 81cm piece of starched fabric (usually Grade A songket), that’s folded, ironed and stitched to form the tengkolok, said Ku Kashah.

He sat in a chair, demonstrating how to shape and fold the fabric by first wrapping it around his knee to make the headdress. He revealed that the reason behind this is that the size of one’s knee equals the size of one’s head.

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Tengkolok (traditional Malay headdress) are believed to originate from the Melaka Sultanate.

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Raja Ahmad Akasinah, a tengkolok craftsman, demonstrating how to fold a tengkolok.

He then showed how to tie, style and wear the tengkolok, which also comes with the sampin (waistcloth) and bengkung (belt) which are made from the same material. Ku Kashah learnt the art of making tengkolok from his father and his services are often sought after by royalty and dignitaries.

According to him, there are about 10 style variations in Perak, with several preferred by royalty such as the Ayam Patah Kepak, Pucuk Pisang Patah, Balung Ayam and Alang Iskandar. Each come with specific folds and curves to reflect their name.

The tengkolok is usually worn as part of the traditional Malay costume for ceremonial functions. It is also worn by grooms at traditional weddings.

Medals And Trophies

If you’ve ever won a medal or trophy, you might wonder how they are made. At Mariwasa Crafts, we saw how premium items like pingat kebesaran, selempang, pedang and trophies are fashioned out of precious metals like gold, silver, and copper.

There were also a variety of other premium items such as Faberge eggs, epaulet (ornamental shoulder pieces for military uniforms, coats or jackets), ribbons, and badges displayed in the showroom.

We were taken through the process of how the premium items were crafted at the factory, including processes like moulding and pressing, furnacing and filing, and stamping and laser cutting.

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Moulds used in the production of items like medals of honour at Mariwasa Crafts.

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A craftsman at work in Mariwasa Crafts.

Manager Ramellia Falyza Ramly said that the name “Mariwasa” comes from a Tagalog word meaning “prosperity”. She laughing adds that it is also a play on the Bahasa Malaysia words “Mau cari wang saja”. They have been in the business for 40 years and produce items to be sold all over Malaysia and overseas.