Songkok makers keep heritage craft alive

  • Nation
  • Saturday, 08 Jun 2019

Pro at work: Bachtiar sewing a songkok at his shop at the Urban Transformation Centre in Keramat. — Bernama

KUALA LUMPUR: The shop is simply named Kedai Songkok and inside, an elderly man can be seen hard at work at a sewing machine.

Where this city’s songkok makers are concerned, Bachtiar Mustafa, 82, is probably among the last generation that is involved in this trade.

While carefully putting the final touches to the songkok he was making at his shop at the Urban Transformation Centre (UTC) in Keramat, he told Bernama that he learnt to make the Malay traditional cap during the 1980s purely by observing the songkok makers who operated in Kampung Baru here.

“I would go to their shops back and forth just to study their songkok-making techniques. I got drawn to the art of making the songkok after observing the dexterity and skillfulness of the craftsmen.

“I then decided to take up the trade and earn a living,” he said.

After he gained enough confidence in his craftsmanship, he started his own songkok-making business at Pasar Datuk Keramat, before moving to UTC Keramat.

Bachtiar, who has been in the industry for the last 40 years, recalled it took him three days to make his first songkok under the tutelage of an experienced songkok maker.

When he was at his peak, he could produce 15 to 20 pieces within a day but now age has caught up and he can only manage to make five a day.

“It’s getting more and more difficult for me to join and sew the top and side edges of the songkok,” said Bachtiar, who has to squint while sewing.

His songkok are priced at between RM20 and RM50 each, depending on the size and quality of material used.

Lamenting that the demand for his songkok was waning, he said: “The youngsters these days are not interested in wearing the songkok, not to mention the art of making it.”

His own children, he added, have their own jobs and were not likely to inherit his trade.

Second-generation songkok maker Mustafa Maarof, 50, whose shop is located at Pasar Datuk Keramat, said he inherited the trade from his late father Maarof Mohd Syarif and started to learn the ropes when he was 12.

He can make up to 20 pieces of songkok a day when the orders pile up, especially just before Hari Raya Aidilfitri when he has to supply the traditional Malay cap to other retailers and bazaar Ramadan traders.

His sells his songkok for as low as RM35 each and up to RM120 if it is specially ordered.

Like Bachtiar, Mustafa too runs his business on his own and is unsure if any of his children would take over the trade.

“I think the younger generation has no interest in this craft due to its complicated work. To make a good songkok, one has to be patient and conscientious.

“One cannot possibly get it done in a hurry because it will affect the appearance of the person wearing it,” he said.

Although the trade does not yield a lucrative income, both Bachtiar and Mustafa said they would continue making them as they want to keep the heritage craft alive. — Bernama

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