July 15, 2010

Disappearing Miri : Mother's love is a homemade Tikar Lampit

Years ago (before digital camera) when my father-in-law and sister-in-law came to visit they brought a whole bundle of rattan and some instruments for mat making. And right before us a mat of 16x10 was made over the weeks as my sister in law said that she could not just sit and be idle. She was making a mat for her son. In comparison being Chinese I was not able to make the same kind of mat for my son! It was a profound and humbling experience for me.

Behind that sitting down and making of the mat there is a hard and difficult prelude.

When an Iban mother makes a rattan mat it is a journey of mother's love. She first finds the rattan growing wild in the jungle and will cut them while suffering open cuts and wounds on her body as rattan is not easy to collect in the deep of the jungle.Sometimes it takes a good six months to collect all the rattan she needs to make just one mat. Sometimes if she is lucky she can collect a big bundle in just one day. With deforestation and oil palm growing all over Sarawak now rattan is getting very rare indeed. Rattan also takes a long time to grow and mature.

The processing of the rattan sigar takes days and even months. She will first remove the "skin" and sharp thorns of the raw rattan and then dry them carefully in the sun on the open platform. Whenever neighbours see a mother doing this they would be full of anticipation and admiration because they understand that a long journey of making a lampit (mat of the best quality) would be starting.

Once the rattan is ready the mother would bundle the rattan pieces and count them properly for the desired length of the mat. Each rattan would be cut to exactly the same length with the help of a wooden custom made ruler. This wooden ruler would have holes made into them at equi - distance for the "threading" of the rattan pieces.

A bundle of rattan vines already cleaned and ready to used when the mat is completed. These will be woven finely to become the "edges" of the mat. And the skill of weaving the edges will be evidence by the lastingness of the mat. Each of the lampit (mat) can last more than a life time. And often the mat is passed from one generation to another. Little repair work is needed as long as there are no rats to gnaw the rattan!! the more the mat is used the shinier it becomes. this is the beauty of the sigar rattan.

Rattan already spliced and  waiting to be  further refined. this is a slow process and a mat maker would only be able to do so after the farming is done for the day or when it rains.

Each piece is perfectly matching and selected for its good quality. Only the best is chosen. Sometimes nature has its tricks and some rattan are not perfect.

The  indented wooden ruler used to measure the lengths of the rattan and for marking the parts where the holes must be made for the "thread" to go through.

These are the equipment : strong pair of scissors - spectacles to see better - a special "pisau" with a rubber tubing for protection and a "strong cucuk" standing in a can of wax.

This is a very sharp blade.

Making a hole in the rattan. This is a step that requires meticulous handiwork.

Final end product - a mat that is perfect  with precise measurement! One cannot say that the longhouse people do not know practical mathematics.

A perfectly shaped mat "sitting" nicely in the living room of my sister-in-law's
bilik" She is a person who never rests - and is always busy making things if she is not out farming or gathering vegetables in the jungle.

If only there is a protected forest around Miri where rattan is allowed to grow and mature! And craftswomen like my sister in law could gather her raw materials for mat making.

But I do think that only a very rare breed amongst the next generation will be making mats for their children and grandchildren.

May God bless these crafts women abundantly.


Ghosty Nana said...

I like this kind of mat. hard to find a good one.

Ann said...

You and I have been captured by the computer virus and spend /waste too much time on the computer.

Sarawak mats are very famous and popular. Every time I visit Sarawak, my friends want me to buy one for them.

So you may find yourself a better pastime and a resourceful one too.

Ah Ngao said...

hi Sarawakiana,i slept on this type of mat when i was a kid,staying at the council flat(KMC).becoz this KMC 7th storey flats only have one bedroom and i living room. so i slept on the living room's floor on exactly this type of rotan mat(back then again...dirt poor,kekeke ),no tilam.but,it's cooling and you don't get backache.

Ah Ngao said...

oh yes,one more thing.have you received a picture of Paul the octopus predicting Malaysia in the world cup year 2114 ,in your emails ? - very amusing, hehe..

Uncle Lee said...

Hi Sarawakania, I love rattan furniture and my biggest regret was not bringing my rattan settee here.
But rattan in the jungle many times caused me injuries....they grow long on the ground, weaving all over and if not careful will trip and go flying.
That happened to me many times....rattan on the ground hidden by fallen leaves, and trip over it....ha ha. Lee.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ghosty Nana
thanks for dropping by. Yes this kind of rattan mat is hard to come by nowadays. The sigar is hard to harvest and one has to go far into the jungle where no one else has been or where a bush has suddenly grown without anyone's knowledge. My FIL has been a good rattan finder/harvester. He used also tobuild bridges for the timber company...(he looked the the rattan himself too etc...)

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Ann
Weaving stories using keys is my thing. Making rattan mats is too back breaking and I think my eyes are failing too. Furthermore I am clumsy and my fingers will be sliced by the rattan and the "poker" would poke me instead...hahaahh....and no one will pay for my medical benefits....so the craft is really too hazardous for me...but it is a good thought. On a serious note however =may be I will be a sample mat....from the leftovers.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao...I used to stay in 160 Pandungan Road...so your KMC flats - would be just quite near...never mind your past has given you a rich background you appreciate.
Good to be able to have a good back!! That's a blessing. My 00 year old late grandmother never complained of bad back because she slept on "planks" type of bed when she was younger. Later she chose a think copra mattress (which I really liked).

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao...nope...so far nothing about Paul the Octopus....my email is changyi@streamyx.com...thanks.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Uncle Lee
Sarawak jungle can be treacherous indeed. (Snakes e.g.) I am sure lots of young men did trip over rattans...We used to be told to throw a stick once in a while and listen....can hear slithering noises....or may be a heard of wild boars..but good trackers do not have to throw sticks.

You can also send for a container of rattan furnity via on line shopping....but may be you have grown to love your old sofa...Just kidding.

Whistle a tune while you still have teeth!!

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