Saturday, September 06, 2008

Common fabrics of Brunei Darussalam

By Johan Suhaimi

There are a variety of fabrics in Brunei Darussalam. The expensive ones are the Taung (fine silk), Satin Kina (Chinese silk satin), Kain Karang (line patterned fabric), Kain Kalang (chequered fabric), Kain Garimut (a kind of brocade from India) and so much more.

However these fabrics are imported and very expensive. The local ones are the woven fabrics of gold or silver, which are out of the reach of the common public.

The alternative are locally made fabrics which use techniques that have been tried and tested in the Brunei culture. In the past, the common colours were black, blue, brown, white and grey.

The fabrics for the mass public were coarse and stiff. But the barter trade infused with creativity, local technologies and the desire to own opulent fabric made it possible to own fabulous fabrics.

By the early 1950s, the opulence of Brunei Darussalam's economy permitted the public to afford fabrics of quality, which reduced creativity, and made as unnecessary need of making one's own fabrics. This marked the end of fabric colouring and the secret techniques designing the old styles.

The barter trade among Brunei's ethnic groups living along the river and the upland folks encouraged education, including obtaining colours from natural resources.

To obtain the latex, the beating of the banana stem produced rust red and deep brown colours. The ketapang tree bark produces a greenish colour. Turmeric gives the brightest to the faintest yellow colour. In experimentations, colours are mixed to obtain shades that are often uncategorised.

The local culture describes the orange colour as Pacah Talur (the broken egg yolk). The lighter shade is Kuning Muda (lighter yellow). Kuning tua means a darker yellow. These terms are applicable to all colours common in Brunei Darussalam.

The "Kain Pelangi" is a fabric decorated by stitched threads and then tied up. At times, a filling is inserted, forming a bulge inside the stitched fabric that produces an interesting, decorative effect. Banana leaves, mango leaves and fabric shreds produced different characters once the stitch is unraveled.

The hues used for this technique are in a variety of shades like the rainbow, thus the name Pelangi. The Pelangi fabric is usually cotton until the upper class saw it as something fine, thus creating the fabric from silk. The Pelangi fabrics are made in stages. Dipping the fabric in the colour vats takes a few days' work and effort before completing it into a wearable art.

The other way of decorating a plain fabric is by dipping it in a vat of yellow or red. This type of colouring is called Ubar (dipping).

The fabric using this technique was dampened before immersing it into the colour vat. This ensured an

even shade of colour all around the fabric. This fabric is dipped several times to get the lighter to the darker shades required.

The decoration of incorporated designs and patterns uses two materials to produce the Kain Cuai (carelessly decorated fabric). The fabric to be decorated is stretched on a frame that lay close to the floor. Usually this is done outside or under a porch. The creator would choose either clay or sago starch for decoration. The clay is taken from a termite's nest.

The patterns would be drawn using a "Kuas" (brush) made from plants. The design are usually big and stiff because mud or sago do not flow well. This is left to dry for a day. Then the colours are applied using a Churung (funnel). Colours would be absorbed more by the patterns made by the clay or sago and create a darker shade. The colours are applied in layers as required by the creator. The fabric is left to dry for a few days. The clay or sago would be scraped from the fabric.

The Kain Buruk-Buruk is one design not seen often in the Brunei Malay culture lately. This type of fabric decorating requires patience as the process is tedious and is only one done before weaving it. The threads to be made into the fabric are tied and dipped in dye. Unlike other type of weaving, pre-patterning is done on the threads before they go into the loom.

Both the horizontal and vertical fabrics are dyed this way. This type of fabric is known as Ikat Ganda or Ikat Dua. To beautify, metallic or coloured threads are laced between the designs of the fabric during weaving.

These types of fabric decorating are not restricted to small fabrics but are also applied to Tempisong Dastar (fabric for head gear), Sinjang (wrap round), Kain Sarung (tubular skirt), Selindang (Shawl), Arat (cummerbund), and even clothing.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Weekend

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