February 19, 2010

Bead Craftswoman from Mukah

Magdalein Ngoh is an Iban beading artist from Mukah. Her Chinese husband passed away about 9 years ago leaving her with 8 children. In a way she is very glad that she has a skill to fall back on these days. She has been to many exhibitions all over the country representing Sarawak under Kraftangan Malaysia. If the expenses are too much she said she would not go. She really appreciates it if she has a shared room paid for which is often the case. She would not mind at all to pay for her own food. Her pride is that she can represent Sarawak and its craft and heritage.

Unknown to perhaps many she was a trained teacher who graduated from Rejang Teachers' Training college. But because she got married and did not want to be transferred to the ulu primary schools she resigned in order to look after her children in the town. That is indeed a huge sacrifice for her.

For many years she was the caretaker of St. Joseph's kindergarten as she raised her 8 children while her husband was away on business. However she continues to make good bead work for her customers. Here in the picture she is making a beaded bag for a Ngajat dancer. She now owns a small bead and native crafts stall in the Miri Heritage Centre.

But it is the very fine craftswork that has made her a very popular figure amongst the traditional craftsmen and craftswomen of Sarawak. These are her small purses made from selected beads. Fine work needs equal size beads. That is the first step of her bead work - choosing the beads and putting them in boxes before she threads them.

This is the Iban lady's manik empiang - a bead collar to be worn over an inner blouse. This takes about 3 weeks to make but it is for sale at an average price of RM250-300 depending on the size and number of beads. Traditionally every Iban bride would have one for her wedding day.

This is the special beaded "collar" worn by Iban beauties. This set of colours is very traditionally Iban.

Magdalein also makes necklaces like these. She also takes orders to make items using beads.

Customers are always welcome to visit her at the Heritage Centre of Miri. You can find her making them most of her time. Her fingers are always busy with beads and in no time she will complete a very pretty beaded item. She said that she continues to miss her husband very much and as a widow bead making has been a kind of spiritual journey for her. She continues to have faith in God to grant her peace and having a harmonious life amongst her fellowmen.

It is a pity that her crafts are not really fetching much because people are bargaining too much. For example a pencil case was bought at only 8 ringgit after much bargaining. But it took her two days to make it. It should be at least 20 ringgit. She has a good heart and knows how much her customers love Sarawak craftswork and tourist items.

There are a few fine bead craftspeople now in Sarawak who give their whole life to such a craft . In other places craftspeople like Magdalein are considered national treasures and receive a national pension in their old age. A Malaysian swimmer who swims across the English Channel gets a Datuship in recognition of his unusual feat. Craftsmen and artists in Malaysia (and Sarawak especially) who give their life to their art need a tiny recognition.

"We are often neglected and are taken out dusted and put on a roadshow when are are suddenly remembered" one elderly craftsman said. According to him he would need to go fishing in the past to supplement his income. Now that he is too old his children gives a bit of handouts.

We must support our traditional craftsmen and craftswomen. Their numbers are getting fewer by the day.

I wish Mag a "Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year" as she too celebrates the new year for the last 30 over years.


P A U L I N E said...

i think i saw her before.. somewhere at miri.. =)

Sarawakiana@2 said...

She has a stall in Miri Heritage Centre. Should have one of those Manik Empiang custom made by her!!

Thanks for visiting.

Anonymous said...

Craftsmen and women are not earning enough in Sarawak as far as I know.

Thanks for posting this.


Ah Ngao said...

it's incredible for her age,she still can do such tedious bead works.i think she don't have any "lau hua " or long sighted .

Ann said...

I would love a manik empiang . May be you will give me one, and I will pretend to be an Iban wife on my wedding anniversary.

When I wen to Mulu, I bought some pencil holders.

I also got some pretty beads, http://ann-mythoughtsandphotos.blogspot.com/2010/01/ruby-red-red-sarawak-beads.html

(though I think are modern ones.) Must support the arts of my native country.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ah Ngao
Mag is quite unusual. I see that she can make a different kind of pattern without her glasses on. But with another type she has to wear her glasses. This has I believe to do with the size of the beads and needles....yeah she does have lau hua...

Sarawakiana@2 said...


That's really interesting to wear the manik empiang for your wedding anniversary...when is yours?

We must support our own native craft...

There is a Government owned magazine called Sarawak Craft which I get to read in the public library occasionally...

Lots of money is being spent on that magazine to make it very beautiful but people only can get to read it in libraries..not for sale or individual subscription.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks for the pointers...our crafts people are definitely not earning enough...and so often they have to find other part time jobs too.

At best many are hobbyists with good children to support them.

Chinese have a saying "Poor artists can never fill their stomachs....."


ecoGear Canada said...

can someone contact her for me? would like to see if she can make some to mail to Canada

Sibu Tales : Liver in the Noodles and other stories

I grew up in Sibu where the butchers' corner was the most significant "part" of the old market. It was where many people wo...