Spotlight on Sarawak’s heritage


Wearing tradition with pride: A photograph displayed at the Ranee Museum in Kuching showing Ranee Margaret (seated second from right) and local Malay women wearing keringkam headscarves and shawls.

KUCHING: A 140-year-old keringkam shawl, which once belonged to Ranee Margaret – the wife of Sarawak’s second White Rajah Charles Brooke – will be shown at the London Craft Week, showcasing the traditional embroidery of Sarawak’s Malay community.

The shawl is now in the collection of the Brooke Trust, a British charity set up by descendants of the Brooke family.

Shimmer and shine: The 140-year-old keringkam which will be displayed at the London Craft Week.Shimmer and shine: The 140-year-old keringkam which will be displayed at the London Craft Week.

“We were invited to send one of Ranee Margaret’s keringkam for display as a showpiece in the Malaysian exhibition led by the Raja Permaisuri Agong at London Craft Week.

“This is an opportunity where Sarawak’s heritage will be getting the spotlight at a big international event and we’re happy to be supporting it,” says Brooke Trust chairman Jason Brooke.

He added that Ranee Margaret was known as a patron of keringkam and songket.

Some of her pieces are displayed at the Ranee Museum in Kuching, set up by the trust five years ago.

Ranee Museum manager Liza Sideni, who will present workshops on keringkam at London Craft Week, said it was an honour to share Sarawak’s heritage craft on the world stage.

If you have it, flaunt it: Ranee Museum manager Liza revealed that the keringkam shawls were a status symbol back then. — ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The StarIf you have it, flaunt it: Ranee Museum manager Liza revealed that the keringkam shawls were a status symbol back then. — ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

“Keringkam is like a state heirloom. It’s the embroidery of Sarawak’s Malay community using gold or silver thread.

“The thread is called clinquant, a French word meaning shimmery, that’s how keringkam got its name,” she said.

The embroidery is done by hand on sheer fabrics such as voile or rubia and the pieces are normally worn as a headscarf or selendang (shawl).

Liza said photographs of Ranee Margaret showed her wearing keringkam on social or formal occasions, such as afternoon tea with local Malay women.

“It was very much a status symbol in those days as only those who could afford it had keringkam, or if you were a family member of an embroiderer or you were given one.

“Nowadays, keringkam is usually worn only on special occasions like weddings, as the fabric is fragile and requires tender care,” she said.

Keringkam embroiderer Ros Salleh from Sarawak will be in London to demonstrate her craft, along with six other master craftsmen showcasing Malaysia’s various heritage crafts including basketry, beadwork and woodcarving.

London Craft Week takes place from May 8 to 14 and Malaysia’s heritage crafts exhibition will be held at the High Commission of Malaysia’s premises in Belgrave Square.

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