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
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.