The Iban community in Sarawak is well-known for their weaving skills, which are normally passed down from generation to generation.
The “Pua Kumbu”, which is a traditional hand-woven textile, rattan baskets, trays, as well as mats are among the unique and beautiful handicrafts created by the community.
Angelia Bengi from Serian, who learned the skill from the elderly when she was a teenager, has been weaving mostly mats and baskets, using “bemban” plant and bamboo.
“Personally, I prefer using “bemban” to weave the mat as the material is softer and it is cooling. It’s very comfortable to sleep on it during hot days,” she said.
For baskets and trays, she would opt for bamboo which is more durable.
Although the Iban community still keep the culture of using “bemban” mat for traditional weddings, festive celebrations and other ritual ceremonies, the 63-year-old realised the need to be creative in order to preserve the traditional art and further promote the identity of the Iban community.
Therefore, she began produced handbags, clutches, coin purses, pencil cases and other souvenir items using the “bemban” mat weaving method.
“Instead of weaving a big piece (for a mat), I do it in smaller sizes and sew it with cloth as the inner and compartment, completed with a zip and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) handles for handbags,” she said.
Priced at RM35 each, the “bemban” clutch with the size of 25cm x 15cm, was one of the top-selling items among the local and foreign customers.
“It is a bag for all occasions, where you can carry it to the wet market, to the beach or even a dinner, no problem! It’s unique and durable,” she said when met at the Sarawak Craft Festival held at the Kuching Waterfront here.
“As for the handbags, it took me about three to four days to complete one and I’m selling it at around RM100, price varies depend on the size and design,” she said.
Meanwhile, the smaller items such as the pencil case and coin purse are priced at RM23 and RM10, respectively, which are very affordable.
Angelia, who has five children and 11 grandchildren, is a home-based weaver where she sells her handicrafts to friends and families and set up booth at various functions and bazaars.
Apart from that, she also weaved several items such as “chepang” (winnowing trays) in miniature size as souvenir items.