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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Brunei Weaver

Zhang Jin of the China Daily wrote this on 2nd September 2009:-


Brunei weaver keeps skills alive
By Zhang Jin (Chinadaily.com.cn)

KAMPONG AYER, Brunei: At a time when machines can do the job, Hajah Siti Aidah Pengarah Dato Paduka Haji Othman still weaves and sews by hand.

The fifth-generation heiress of the traditional weaving skills deems it her duty to keep the diminishing art alive and kicking.

Operating a wooden spinning wheel, she swiftly separate cotton spins into threads ready for her co-worker to weave into pieces. They were performing to the wow of a group of foreign diplomats visiting the Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery in Brunei on Wednesday.

“My family has been using this kind of wooden spinning wheel for more than a century, and the technique is carried on from that time,” Hajah Siti Aidah said, who will hit 60 on Oct 30.

Hajah Siti Aidah had a great feeling of the gallery, because it was built exactly on the place where the largest primary school in Kampong Ayer stood.

“I became a teacher of the school in 1967 and I took over the family business only after I retired,” she said.

Brunei weaver keeps skills alive

“The business is good because people still love traditional hand-made goods,” she said.

Sometimes orders are so many that they have to work extra hours, because a worker can only make 2 m of brocade a week.

Hajah Siti Aidah said she has never specially learned the skills from her parents. “I was born into a family of handicraft in Kampong Ayer. I mastered the skills by watching my parents working.”

Kampong Ayer, the world’s largest water village on stilts, was a trade hub for centuries in Brunei.

Handicraft products were among the most traded goods in the country until oil and gas took the front seat decades ago.

In modern times, Hajah Siti Aidah said, crafters have to publicize their products to preserve the traditional skills. Therefore, she would perform at the gallery at the invitation of Tourism Development Department.

And she is talking with the department to make this a daily show. The back-breaking handicraft job may appear less attractive to youngsters, but Hajah Siti Aidah is not bothered about finding a successor for the family business because some of her six daughters are very interested in it.

If the industry is considered, however, she was a little bit worried. Young people can learn skills at Brunei Arts and Handicraft Training Centre, but some may have little chance to practice after the courses are over.

“If the skills are not practiced, the art cannot be relayed to the next generation,” she said.

The best way to keep the skills alive is to commercialize them, Hajah Siti Aidah said. “The government should earmark more capital to help young crafters start their business,” she said.

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