Keepers of tradition: Anyu (left) and Anat decked out in traditional ‘ruyang’, which symbolises the distinctive Semban culture.
KUCHING: Four years ago, Anat Ugom embraced the age-old Bidayuh tradition of becoming a “ring lady” as there were only four of them left in the whole of Sarawak.
At the age of 40, Anat put on the ruyang for the forearms and rasung for the calves to honour the tradition which embodies the distinctive culture of the Semban, a sub-tribe of the Bidayuh.
Her interest was piqued by her mother-in-law Anyu Daik, 70, who is one of the last living “ring ladies” today.
She was fascinated by the beauty and prestige associated with the wearing of the rings.
“Seeing how proud and at ease my mother-in-law was, I started to wear the rings too.
“However, I will not force my children to adopt the tradition,” Anat told The Star yesterday at her village in Bengoh Resettlement Scheme, some 45km from here.
Anat and Anyu come from the 300-year-old Kampung Semban, better known as “a paradise in the cloud”, nestled among the mountains of the Bungo Range.
The family prefers to stay at the resettlement for its convenience, as it is nearer to town.
“Staying at the resettlement scheme makes it easier for us to travel, especially when we are invited to be part of tourism or cultural programmes,” Anat said.
Semban ladies start putting on the rings from around the age of 10, depending on their parents’ social status and financial standing.
These coiled gold-coloured rings are made of copper.
“Wearing them is a tradition passed down through generations. The copper rings came from traders from China who passed by our village back then, as payments for goods procured from our ancestors,” Anat said.
Anyu said it was painful to wear the ring in the beginning and the ring ladies would grow up with atrophied limbs. But she didn’t mind “as beauty precedes everything else”.
The rings have now become part of their daily attire.
“Some of my friends will take off the rings when they catch a flight to visit their children in peninsular Malaysia. I take them off when I visit a doctor.
“Otherwise, I use them daily. The process of taking them off is quite tedious,” Anyu said.
She added that other ornamental accessories for the Semban women included the bangles, tumbih (beaded necklace), silver belts and headgear.
While noting that modernisation had made it impractical for women to practise such traditions, Anyu said she hoped that the younger generation would be open to the idea of wearing the rings on special occasions.