Alpakah Hamah, a Bajau from Semporna has been in the business of making Lepa- Lepa ships for about 40 years already but now he spends his time carving detailed smaller model handicrafts for tourists in the State to take home as souvenirs.
When met at the Kadaiku Sinsuran as part of their month-long Sabah Fest Handicraft Showcase, he was busy demonstrating to tourists how to carve the Lepa2 handicraft.
"My skills in making the Lepa2 handicraft ships was passed down to me from my father who was a skilled Lepa-Lepa maker in the 60s and 70s in Semporna.
"My father knew how to make the Lepa-Lepa ships, so when I was small I hung around and eventually picked up the skills to make the ships as well which I then applied into carving these handicrafts these days.
"Now I have also passed down these skills to my children. One of my sons also is quite good at making these carvings but now he is working with the government. But I have some friends as well in addition to some youths there who are also making these handicrafts."
He said there are four carvers in his village who are also engaged in the handicraft trade.
"They have learnt the art of Lepa-Lepa handicraft carving from me and now their skill are about the same as mine. They are now also selling their own handicrafts.
He said it would take him about two days normally to finish carving a one and a half feet sized model in a workshop and he can makes a range of sizes range up to five feet long.
"Pricewise it can cost up to RM250 for this one and a half feet Lepa-Lepa model. The wood used is what is known by Bajau people in Semporna as 'Tambo tambo' wood or 'Kayu Nyiri' by the Malays.
"It comes from a species of trees that grows in the mangrove areas. The wood is good for carving as it is not easy to split and has good grain pattern.
"I normally source it myself and select the timber myself. This wood can also be used to make the Lepa-Lepa ships as the wood is also saltwater resistant.
"Most of my buyers are tourists both from overseas and from the peninsula not so much locals.
"Normally I produce my pieces based on orders as normally the buyer will ask for a certain number of pieces, but I can finish making about 30 such models in a month."
He said the Lepa-Lepa making and carving was mainly a small scale home industry as there are many who want to learn and take up the skill but there is no school or workshop place to teach it.
"There are skilled craftsmen in Semporna who can teach the skills but there is no work place to teach it.
Continue reading at: Keeping the art of Lepa-Lepa carving alive.