April 7, 2014

Sibu Tales : Cloth Weaving during the Japanese Occupation

Tiong Puo Hung was an enterprising Foochow man of Sibu who during the Japanese Occupation (from the morning of 25th Dec 1941 -1945),  had a factory with several machines which turned natural fibres into coarse textile.

(The Japanese planes arrived on Christmas Day 1941. 9 Japanese bombers attacked Sibu. Many families moved from the town to hide in the rural areas. Some had to share homes with rubber tappers who were their relatives, while others lived in makeshift wooden shelters built within the rubber gardens.)

According to an aunt who was about 12 years old during the Japanese Occupation in Sibu, Tiong Puo Hung operated the textile factory to fill an urgent need for textile as during the period there was no importation of cotton materials from the UK or India. Most people bought the materials to make into basic wearable trousers when their old clothes were torn and tattered. This kind of cloth produced by Tiong was called JEH Buoh and was good enough to make simple rough trousers.

My aunt said that it was a good cover for farmers who were afterall doing extremely rough work.

Jeh Buoh was too rough for children to wear. Hence most boys and girls who were not yet toilet trained, did not wear underpants. They were bare bottomed until about 5 or 6. Parents who had to farm in the day time did not have the time to do so much laundry. Most kids below 7 did not have under wear in the villages right until the 70's according to the custom of those days. The Foochows have a special term for these bare bottomed children. They were "tong ku loi" and this also referred to the extreme practicalities of those days. It also reflected the frugality of the Foochows and perhaps other Chinese people in Sarawak. It was a win-win situation for mothers who had to rear farm animals, plant padi and cook. Kids could urinate any time they wanted and mothers did not have to do a lot of washing.

While the Chinese in Sibu did not have a domestic weaving culture, the indigenous people had their own weaving culture (pua kumbu) and several tribes even made bark cloth(, also called tapa or siapo - Wikipedia). The Lun Bawangs today in Lawas continue to make bark cloth, which is fabric made from the inner bark of certain trees like takalong (cousin of terap). Indigenous people from Sarawak like other indigenous people of the world, have made bark cloth for generations. They strip the inner bark from trees and beat it until it is thin. Then they dye it with plants found in the area. After it has dried, they use it to make clothing, bedding, or household decorations. Today several woven fabrics made from plant matter, such as rayon, are still called bark cloth.

Another uncle of mine said that towards the end of the Japanese Occupation, he actually saw many Iban men and women wearing clothes made from hard bark cloth. Those men who wore loin cloth or sirat had also "beaten" the bark until quite soft. He said that it was a very pathetic time for the Chinese because after three years and 8 months most of their limited clothes were quite tattered from daily washing. He said, "My shirt and trousers had more holes than cloth!!"

In fact,we can make our own bark cloth the traditional way if we learn the skill from the Lun Bawangs.

Courtesy of Sarikei Time Capsule

Many older people still shudder when they think of how rough it was to wear trousers made from Jeh Buo.

Some photos to show textile is made from different plants

photo by DKJ
A Russian woman showing how fibre can be twisted using a spindle whorl . Folklore Museum photo.http://dss.ucsd.edu/~dkjordan/arch/cloth.html

photo by DKJ
Traditional loom in Myanmar, "back strap loom"

photo by DKJ
This was proably the kind of weaving loom found in Sibu during the Japanese Occupation, operated by Tiong Buoh Hung.

guahibo indians
BARK CLOTH http://www.indiancultures.net/cultures/guahibo-indians

Vest made from bark cloth, Lawas. http://www.parenbonjour.com/2011/12/dayak-borneos-vest-ceremonial-jacket.html

So when the Japanese army started to burn all their uniforms and equipment near Lau King Howe Hospital before they escaped from the Allied Forces, many Foochows who lived in Sg. Bidut, felt that it was so wasteful to burn all those thick uniforms. They would have loved to recycle the army uniforms. For three days, the fires of all the burning materials and camps, went up to the skies of Sibu and smoke filtered the air, leaving a lot of bitter taste in the mouth of those who had suffered so much.

I would be very happy to hear from any one who has stories about Tiong Buoh Hung and his textile making factory in Sibu.


Anonymous said...

Many people tried to make cloth from banana stem....wonder how they could do it....Thanks for telling this story. My grand father used to tell us stories but I never really paid attention. Now too late.

Ensurai said...

Thanks for your comment. I am sure you will be able to get stories from other relatives too...especially those who remember significant episodes of bygone days. God bless.

Anonymous said...

Well, I think they make thread from the fibre of banana stem by stripping the stem. Then they us ethe thread to weave cloth. In fact there is a babana species for such purpose called Musa textilis or Manila hemp used for weaving in the Philippines.

Ensurai said...

Thank you. Banana stem has been used to produce a very good fibre for weaving. And the cloth is exquisite.

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