August 4, 2009
Lemba - Indigenous twines and dyes
Did the lemba inspire this design?
Lemba (Curculigo latifolia)
My children's grandmother was an intense traditional pua weaver. She was patient and very determined to finish a piece of art in her hands. She left behind many of her woven pua to her children. In spite of the the fact she had to walk miles and miles in the most difficult terrain to find the right tekalong and lemba to help in her weaving and having to complete all her domestic chores with the least of household appliances (wood for her fire was collected by herself) she managed in her life time to pass on her art and her stories to her children but unfortunately not to her grandchildren and great grandchildren as she passed away too early and too untimely a victim to beast cancer.
I am just amazed how she and her peers had such "an intimate and direct relationship with the renewable natural resources of their environment." (Shaari)
According to my sister -in- law Pantang who now uses raffia (too much work to look for lemba)my late mother in law used to process lemba fibres late into the night in the dim kerosene lamp light to fashion little strings for every day use (tying hair for example) and for her weaving.
Yves St. Laurent and many fashion leaders could have been inspired by plants when they designed their various styles of lovely pleated skirts!
According to local folk lore and historical records other Malaysian elders besides the Ibans used the lemba very prominently as the leaf fibers were made into fishing net, ropes and twines. In fact I have also found out that in Japan, curculigo latifolia from Malaysia also has been identified as a natural sweetener that gives a very sweet taste/sensation when its seeds or parts of the plant are chewed. So I do hope that the new generation in Ulu Medamit in particular and in Sarawak in general would value such indigenous knowledge from their forefathers.
The lemba plants grow about 1 meter tall and the petiole up to 1 meter long that consist of blade elliptical leaf, 30-100 cm ×5-10cm, subglabrous. The leafstalks are one-third the length of the leaves and they overlap one another at their bases to form a thick stem. Lemba fibers are very strong, durable, lightweight and thin.
Grandmother Sendi and Great Grandmother Chula used to process the lemba fibres for dyeing their pua. And this everyone must remember before it is forgotten.
1. N. Shaari, "Lemba (Curculigo latifolia) Leaf as a New Materials for Textiles,"
3. Oral Tradition /folklore of Rh. Aling of Nanga Medamit(Ulu Limbang). Story Tellers : Madam Pantang anak Jiram and Madam Jelia anak Jutie who are also traditional pua weavers.