Bornean marathoner crafts brass jewellery to relieve stress


Running is therapeutic, Jassica says, because it allows her to detach from her thoughts and attain mental clarity. Photo: Instagram/jessboubie

Ultra marathoner Jassica Lintanga, 40, is also a metal crafter who proudly features her Dusun Tobilung roots in her works, and strives to showcase its rich cultural heritage to the world.

Whether through participating in international long-distance races or making exquisite brass jewellery, the Sabahan seamlessly weaves her culture into her fitness and creative pursuits.

“My mother (Sainah Mading) is a seamstress, and since I was a child, I have admired all her creations. Even now, I still proudly wear the clothes sewn by her, especially the traditional Dusun Tobilung attire,”

“She is a huge inspiration and to me, she is the greatest woman in the world. I never thought I would come this far, from a village runner to the global stage where I get to showcase my rich heritage,” says Jassica during a Zoom interview from her home in Penampang, Sabah recently.

Jassica (left) with her mother Sainah, who is her inspiration and ‘the greatest woman in the world’.Jassica (left) with her mother Sainah, who is her inspiration and ‘the greatest woman in the world’.

Passionate about raising awareness about her community, Jassica deliberately gives interviews in her mother tongue, Dusun, during international events.

“There are less than 20,000 people from the Dusun Tobilung community. Very little is known about us, especially our culture, food and tradition. By speaking in my mother tongue, I hope to bring more awareness about my community and share our unique heritage."

'I have found immense joy in sports, which has transformed my perspective of the world,' says Jassica. Photo: Instagram/jessboubie'I have found immense joy in sports, which has transformed my perspective of the world,' says Jassica. Photo: Instagram/jessboubieRunning is therapeutic, she says, because it allows her to detach from her thoughts and attain mental clarity.

“I wasn’t an athlete, or even active in school. However, 2015 was a challenging point in my life when I had to overcome some personal issues. I wanted to be seen and heard, and I found immense joy in sport, which transformed my perspective of the world,” reflects the single mother, who has been an ultra-marathon runner for nearly a decade.

She has participated in long distance runs spanning between 50km and 100km. They include the Borneo Ultra Trail Marathon in Kiulu Valley, Sabah, The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT) in Tamparuli, Sabah, MesaStila Peak Challenge in Indonesia and Asia Trail Master Championship in Thailand.

Woman power

In that same year, Jassica decided to learn to make brass jewellery as an added source of income. Before this, she was a part-time make-up artist and wedding planner.

“I learnt the art of crafting brass jewellery under the guidance of renowned Sabahan metal artist Adam Kitingan, a revered craftsman famously known as Sang Tukang (Crafter Mentor) among artisans. I learned from him for three months, and eventually, I was invited to practise in Adam’s Sang Tukang School studio in Kota Kinabalu,” she says.

Jassica hopes more women will venture into brass jewellery crafting because it is therapeutic and can be a means to support their families.Jassica hopes more women will venture into brass jewellery crafting because it is therapeutic and can be a means to support their families.Metal crafting, Jassica says, is a traditionally a male-dominated field. Undaunted by gender stereotypes, she wholeheartedly immerses herself in the craft. Each meticulously crafted brass accessory is a testament to her determination to challenge norms and push boundaries.

“While there are other women who have learned from Sang Tukang, most did it only out of interest and did not intend to go into the industry seriously. As a pioneering woman in brass accessory crafting, I hope more women will venture into this field in future because it is therapeutic for the mind and is another means to support ourselves.”

The mother of three boys aged between 11 and 16 says making traditional metal craft also allows her to preserve her indigenous culture for future generations.

Jassica is on a mission to weave the tapestry of her heritage into her art.Jassica is on a mission to weave the tapestry of her heritage into her art.“Since I was small, I have been taught by my parents about the benefits of wearing brass for health, as it is said to balance minerals in the body.

“People in the village often say it helps to ‘buang angin’ (or get rid of ‘wind’ in the body). More importantly, brass is an important metal in Dusun culture because it serves as a connection between humans and spirits in the other realm.

“In today’s modern world, it’s common for people to adjust to modern ways.

“But this adjustment can sometimes result in the loss of important cultural knowledge, passed down from the older to the younger generation,” says the metalsmith who was born and raised in Kota Belud, Sabah.

She adds that engaging in crafting offers her solace and is a personal avenue for emotional expression. Meanwhile, running helps her stay focused and manage stress.

“As an athlete of this extreme sport, taking a break to create jewellery brings a different kind of calm. The careful designs and attention to detail in each craft feel like a fleeting escape, offering a soothing contrast to the intensity of long distance running. It brings balance to my life.”

Metal alchemy

Jassica operates her metalsmith business from her home in Bundusan, Penampang. She buys materials from hardware shops and metal suppliers from Kota Kinabalu.

The intricate process of crafting jewellery, she says, involves numerous steps and is known for being time- and labour-intensive.

Beginning with a rough sketch, she meticulously selects materials, tools and techniques for each piece.

Her designs, meanwhile, are inspired by her culture.

'The combination of sports and art has enabled me to live life to the fullest,' says Jassica.'The combination of sports and art has enabled me to live life to the fullest,' says Jassica.

“I take pride in my heritage; hence, many of my accessories are inspired by traditional motifs of Sabah, particularly those of KDMR (Kadazan, Dusun, Murut, Rungus) communities. I also incorporate contemporary designs to attract the younger generation to wear these accessories.”

She initiates the crafting process by cutting the required materials and subjecting them to annealing in gas fire. This annealing process softens the metal, making it more malleable for shaping.

Jassica then repeatedly heats and beats the metal until she achieves the desired forms, so she can shape them into necklaces, rings, hairpins and cuffs.

Jassica’s accessories feature traditional motifs of Sabahan culture, particularly from the KDMR (Kadazan, Dusun, Murut, Rungus) communities.Jassica’s accessories feature traditional motifs of Sabahan culture, particularly from the KDMR (Kadazan, Dusun, Murut, Rungus) communities.The starting price of her brass accessories is RM30 and most of her creations are shared on Instagram.

“I never expected my crafting hobby to resonate with so many people.

“It started as a personal therapeutic outlet, and now it has become a means of connecting with a broader community, including marathoners and art enthusiasts,” shares Jassica, the second child of eight siblings.

The process is time-consuming, and along the way, the crafter has to endure many cuts and scrapes on her fist and palm from working with her tools like hammers, chisels, and pliers.

“Being really careful is crucial in this job because it involves hot metal, sharp tools and fire. It’s important to pay close attention to avoid accidents,” shares Jassica, who takes about two hours to complete a brass hairpin.

Despite the demands of the task, Jassica sees blacksmithing as a part-time hobby that brings her happiness and extra income.

“Personally, delving into this field has significantly helped my mental health, sports performance and family management. My main challenge is fatigue because I still practise traditional way of crafting and the process is time-consuming.”

“Additionally, I face the common struggle of a small business needing consistent online marketing to convince buyers of the quality of my handmade products,” explains Jassica, who, like many other home-based crafters, has started to make video tutorials which she posts on YouTube.

Jassica makes it a point to wear some form of jewellery or clothing that reflects her Dusun Tobilung heritage whenever she competes in races.Jassica makes it a point to wear some form of jewellery or clothing that reflects her Dusun Tobilung heritage whenever she competes in races.

Balancing the responsibilities of being a devoted mother, a dedicated businesswoman overseeing her brass accessory venture and a committed marathon runner is undoubtedly a formidable task.

Yet, Jassica not only faces these challenges head-on but also manages to stay resilient and strong in the pursuit of her passions.

“I have never graduated from university, and my education only goes up to Form Five.

“Running marathons and being a craftswoman have taught me to be a wholesome person and have solidified my self-confidence.

“Now, I have found inspiration to generate income through metal crafting. The combination of sports and art has finally enabled me to live life to the fullest,” she concludes. Delving into this field has significantly helped my mental health, sports performance and family management.


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