Villagers keep traditional mat weaving art alive

Giving it a go: Tourists trying their hand at weaving their own mats at the Walai Penyu Conservation Park.

KOTA KINABALU: Villagers involved with the Walai Penyu Conservation Park in Libaran, Sandakan, are branching out further in an effort to preserve their heritage and wildlife.

Beginning with turtle conservation, beach clean-ups and recycling programmes several years ago, they are now venturing into mat weaving and birdwatching activities.

Park general manager Alexander Yee said traditional mat weaving was a dying craft in Sabah and only a handful of older people, including a family in Libaran, were keeping it alive.

Seeing the potential of this activity, he roped in these villagers to join the Walai Penyu Conservation Park community programme.

He said mat weaving had been incorporated into the village walk programme where visitors get to interact with locals to learn about their food and culture, including traditional activities such as mat weaving.

“They can have a hands-on learning experience and try to weave their own mat,” he said.

The mat is made using rattan, among other natural materials, he added.

Yee noted that both villagers and visitors would benefit from such activities economically, culturally and socially.

The main goal of the mat weaving activity, he said, was for locals to better understand the potential of sustainable economic development and tourism activities on the island.

As for birdwatching, he said this was also a new product that was recently incorporated into the programme list for visitors.

“We have a fisherman whom we know only as Eddick, who owns budgie birds (common parakeet).

“The budgie is native to Australia. Eddick has a nice birdhouse and the idea of monetising this hobby of his came from his son,” Yee said.

He added that the fisherman was able to earn extra income by charging patrons to view his birdhouse and pets.

Yee said this was especially helpful because Eddick’s income as a fisherman was not fixed and at times, it was not enough to meet his family’s needs.

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