Monday, January 02, 2017

One Rungus village fights to keep their traditions alive… one thread at a time

KUDAT — It’s a familiar scene: a group of women catching up on the latest gossip and sharing their news over coffee and snacks.

In this case, they are even wearing matching outfits; variations of a long black dress trimmed with white motifs and colourful threads.

The setting is an idyllic village in the middle of Kudat in Sabah’s northernmost district, in a traditional Rungus wooden home and the women have more in mind than just mindless chatter.

They call themselves Monungkus, the Rungus word for inheritors of heritage, and their aim is to revive and preserve their unique culture for generations to come.

Keepers of their culture

The Rungus of northern Sabah have long been known for their weaving and beadwork; their rich cultural and historical background is apparent in their handicraft.

Go to any souvenir shop in Sabah and it’s likely the most outstanding hand-stitched cloth or the dazzling colourful beads woven into a series of tribal motifs were made by the hands of an expert Rungus woman.

Exquisite hand-made costumes with intricate weaving and trimmed with chiming bells, solid hand-woven baskets called Rinago made with the lingkong fern plant, and boldly-coloured necklaces called the pinakol that drape across the body are all trademark of the Rungus’s culture which has been proudly passed on to each new generation for decades.

Despite the rapid development that has affected many traditional practices in Sabah, the Rungus have managed to retain much of their traditions and intangible heritage including their language, folk tales, songs, dances and handicraft.

But much of the handicraft is now confined to the more common ones like stringed beads and basketry – those with high commercial value.

Inahami Magupin, one of the members of the group, said that certain crafts like hand-loomed textiles are increasingly rare today.

The ladies of Monungkus in Kampung Inukiran, who are incidentally all related either by blood or marriage, aim to bring as much of the traditional handicraft and art into the mainstream... to make sure their children inherit their forefathers’ skills and culture.

“We want to make sure as much as possible is retained, and that it is passed on to our children who are beginning to lose hold of their roots. Even my generation has to learn a lot of the craft – the traditional motifs and how to do certain tougher weavings.

“Because children nowadays are losing interest in the traditional crafts, we want to start them young and get them involved. We are already teaching them the basics now, and they will also need to learn the language,” she said.