Sarawak unrivalled

State has amazing potential for festivals, with material not found elsewhere in the country

WITH an exciting mix of arts and cultural events, the inaugural Rainforest Fringe Festival has been a treat.

The ten-day festival, which began last Friday, was introduced as a prelude to the annual Rainforest World Music Festival.

Of its myriad exhibitions at the Old Courthouse, I was particularly drawn to the ones displaying the work of British photographer Jimmy Nelson and the late Sarawakian photographer KF Wong.

Nelson’s “Before They Pass Away” showcases his portraits of some 35 indigenous communities across Asia, Africa, Europe, South America and the Pacific. The festival gives people in Kuching a rare opportunity to see these photographs.

Similarly, the “Indigenous Grace” exhibition displays Wong’s photographs of Sarawak’s indigenous people and their culture, lifestyle and rural landscapes, showing them at work and at play. It is a valuable glimpse into Sarawak’s rich diversity and traditional heritage.

The one slight drawback is that in the captions, there is no mention of the place and date where the photographs were taken, which would have provided more information and context.

The festival actually offers plenty of things to see and learn about. For instance, I discovered that there used to be ceiling panels painted by Berawan artists in one of the rooms at the Old Courthouse which was formerly used by the State Legislative Assembly and Supreme Court. The artists were commissioned in 1955 for the job by the Sarawak Museum, which has now 40 of the panels in its collection. During the festival, you can see reproductions of the some of the panels in the room where they were once displayed.

An interactive exhibition on pua kumbu gives visitors a fun way to learn about the traditional handwoven textile of the Iban community through the Pua Explorer app. After downloading the app, visitors can use their mobile devices to scan the motifs on one particular pua piece and learn what they are, such as a warrior, maiden, monkey, peacock and tree.

With such a varied display of Sarawak’s culture and traditions, it is no wonder festival director Joe Sidek was excited about curating the show.

“Basically, what we wanted to do was to share the story of how wonderful Sarawak is beyond the Rainforest Music Festival, beyond the fringe festival, so that people come to Sarawak again and again.

“You have a gold mine here. I have never seen so much interest and potential in a state in the whole of Malaysia. What you have here I have not seen anywhere else in Malaysia,” he said when briefing the Chief Minister on the festival’s progress on Tuesday.

While the festival’s objectives include promoting the state to visitors, Joe underlined the importance of doing it first and foremost for the local people as their festival, something they can take pride in.

“If you get tourists to come, it’s a bonus, but every festival should be for your own people first and inspire them to be able to perform and travel.”

He also said Sarawak had “amazing potential” for festivals, with “unrivalled” material not found elsewhere in the country.

“You don’t need new things. You need to value the old things and you need to be able to share with people because what you have here nobody else can replicate.

“So keep your traditions. It is something that you should be really proud of,” he concluded.

The fringe festival shows us what we have so that we can begin to discover and appreciate the riches of our cultural heritage for ourselves.