A visit to Lawas in Sarawak is not complete without getting your hands on unique local handicrafts like the Baju Talun and ceramic beads that are traditionally made by the Lun Bawang community.
The Baju Talun vest is made from Talun tree (Artocarpus hirsuta) bark and was worn daily by the Lun Bawang men. It is now one of the most popular handicraft products in Sarawak.
The traditional attire-making process involves delicately-nuanced work that still maintains the use of traditional methods to preserve the authenticity of the hereditary treasure.
A visit to the Kampung Tang Itong Handicraft Centre in Lawas will give you a chance to see how the Talun bark is processed. The place is now a tourist attractions in the district.
Kampung Tang Itong village head Su’ut Kurus, 84, said each Talun vest is normally sold between RM150 and RM300 (depending on the design) but there are also some that have been sold for as much as RM500.
“We make the Talun vest traditionally. We go to the forest and strip the bark from the Talun tree before soaking it in water and putting it in a latex processing machine to flatten and stretch it. We will then dry it in the sun.
“Although we can use ovens to dry the bark, the results will not be the same,” he shared. Su’ut is one of the few locals who is still actively producing the traditional attire.
He added that once the bark is dried, it will be cut according to the wearer’s size and sewn together with red fabric as the inner layer of the vest.
“Originally, Baju Talun is made without fancy designs, however, we are now using various designs, motifs and colourful beads to add its artistic and commercial value,” he said, adding that the process of making a Talun vest can take between four days and a week.
Su’ut said nowadays, the Talun vests are worn as a traditional attire during the Irau Aco Lun Bawang festival that is celebrated on June 1 every year.
Apart from Baju Talun, the Lun Bawang community is also famous for other tree bark handicraft products such as hats, bags and paintings; they are often in high demand among local hotel operators who sell them to tourists.
Another must-visit place is the Ceramic Bead Handicraft Centre in Kampung Long Tuma, which is located 7km from Lawas.
Its coordinator Patricia Busang, 48, said the ceramic bead jewellery accessories such as necklaces, bracelets and earrings, produced at the centre are not only in high demand among locals but also in the international market, including in China and Europe.
She said that visitors will have the opportunity to make their own ceramic bead accessories when visiting the centre.
“This small industry helps about 10 housewives here to earn additional income. This product has always been the choice of the state government to be exhibited at handicraft or tourism festivals in the country or abroad,” she said.
Patricia said the state government through several of its agencies had provided various assistance including financial grants, upgrading facilities and infrastructure at the centre as well as in terms of promotion and marketing to help boost the handicraft industry in the district.
She also said that although the spread of Covid-19 has affected the industry, the use of various digital platforms has helped them to promote and sell their products online. Focus on Johor
Meanwhile, traditional villages and Orang Asli villages in Bandar Penawar, near Kota Tinggi in Johor should be promoted as tourist attractions to provide for a balanced development in the area.
During the Johor State Assembly last week, Datuk Sharifah Azizah Syed Zain said that tapping the potential of these villages would boost development in the western part of the district, to balance the growth – currently, there is a lot of focus on the eastern region in Desaru.
“The Tanjung Buai traditional village and Kampung Orang Asli Sungai Layau 2 also have special heritage values based on the ecosystem of the beautiful Sungai Johor.
“They are particularly suitable to be developed for ecotourism, to complement (existing) tourism products,” Sharifah Azizah said during a debate.
Sharifah Azizah added that there is an Orang Asli museum in Kampung Orang Asli Sungai Layau 2, which can attract local and international tourists to learn more about the culture of the community.
“We hope the state government will build more infrastructure, including raft houses, to provide an opportunity for tourists to visit, which can help to promote local food and souvenirs,” she said. – Bernama