Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sabah Beads, a tourist’s love Sabahans may take for granted

Beads, once worn by men and women to show their status in society, have evolved to become a global fashion trend. In Sabah, it only comes second in popularity as a heritage, after the traditional tribal attire. Perhaps changing of the times has altered the cultural regard for the importance of beads as a symbol of wealth and social status.

“In the old days, these beads were used as adornment, endowed with spiritual power and used as collateral or currency and even as a healing implement. Beads were worn as a display of beauty and indicator of wealth and prominence in society as a currency and as methods of counting and reckoning,” said Sabah Museum Director, Joanna Kitingan.

According to her, back then, beads were made from precious material, such as fossil, coral, pearl, amber, iron, gold, silver, copper and even animal teeth. In contrast with today, beads are mostly made from plastic and rubber. From being highly valued accessories, beads are now commonly seen as tourist trinkets given to visitors as souvenirs and as trendy accessories for the “hip” youth.

“It’s a good thing if you look at it from a different perspective. Seeing many people wearing our local beads means more than just living the Sabahan culture,” said Joanna. Many local women earn their livelihood by selling the beads as accessories, she added.

Recently, Joanna gave a talk on Sabahan beads entitled, “Importance of beads in our society” at the Sabah Society secretariat in Damai. The talk was attended by locals as well as foreigners. She said beads are treated as heirlooms and played a major part in the cultural history of Sabah having existed through many civilisations.

Knowing that beads played a very significant role in Sabah’s history, the Sabah Museum has been collecting original beads since 1965 while tracing the sources of these beads.

“We have collected more than 100 beads so far and we are still locating and tracing some other beads,” she said adding that it is the role of the museum to preserve the historical objects and to create a safe and trusted haven for objects that have cultural and spiritual potency.

It is also our duty to make sure the public will gain the utmost access to these historical treasures,” said Joanna.