Welcome back to our feature on the shopping scene in Malaysia!
Most travelers are into buying souvenirs… especially us Filipinos! It’s one of the first few things that we look for when visiting a new place. In Malaysia, it’ll be nice to know what signature arts and crafts are available. They’re the perfect gifts for family and friends back in your home country.
Given the diversity of ethnic groups in Malaysia, these vary from place to place. Because of this, many resort to going to Kuala Lumpur’s Central Market at the end of their trip to fill their suitcase with items from all around Malaysia. However, you should always be on the lookout whenever you’re out and about the places in Malaysia. One huge tip is to find artisans and buy directly from them so you’ll get better prices and you’re assured that your money goes to the creators directly.
|Craft stalls in markets like Kuching, Sarawak are good places to pick up locally made products.
Photo by Joanne Lane.
Here are five main crafts to look out for during your travels:
Batik and other fabrics
Yes this is inherently an Indonesian craft, but batik is also prevalent around Malaysia and somewhat different in style to its neighbor’s. Batik is basically created by drawing or printing a pattern on fabric with wax. It is then dyed. This design is often reproduced on anything from clothing to tablecloths or cushion covers, but you can equally find it simply as wall hangings or art works.
The best places to find batik crafts are on Malaysia’s eastern coast in Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu but you can also find it in Penang. In Malaysia most of the batik designs are floral motifs and quite colourful and the patterns tend to be simpler.
The Malaysian government is actively promoting the development of batik patterns and promoting it as a national dress. There’s also a biennial convention, Kuala Lumpur International Batik (KLIB) Convention and Exhibition, that brings in anything related to batik. The last event was held in December 2011.
Another kind of fabric to keep an eye out for is kain songket. This textile with hand woven silver and gold threads was once reserved for members of royalty only. Now anyone can wear it but it’s usually only used for special occasions. Kelantan, Terengganu and Khota Bharu are where you’ll still find small cottage industries making this product. A songket factory is located at Kampung Penambang north of Khota Bharu. Try the Buluh Kubu Bazaar, also known as Bamboo Fort Bazaar, for a variety of other textile products in Khota Bharu.
|Malaysia is renowned for its many fabrics and woven materials. Photo by Joanne Lane.|
If silverwork is your metal of choice you may want to look out for the silversmiths of Kelantan where their work is generally considered intricate and of superior quality. They use two techniques here – filigree and repousse – and you’ll find everything from tea sets to brooches and bracelets. Visit the silvercraft factory at Kampung Sireh, Kota Bharu.
If brasswork is more what interests there are ample industries producing various work in Kuala Terengganu. Silverwork, textiles, woodcraft and kites are also produced here, particularly in the waterfront district of Kampung Cina.
Various weaving methods are used around Malaysia to produce an array of gift boxes, mats, bags, hats, shoes, fans and more. You’ll see many of these practiced as a cottage industry all around the country.
Pua kumbu weaving is common in Malaysian Borneo amongst Iban people for producing ceremonial items for use in birth, marriage, funeral and other rituals. For example a child may be cleaned when first delivered and then laid on apua kumbu, or a corpse may be screened with such a cloth. Pua kumbu are also used to veil structures. To produce the pua kumbu a special dyeing process called ikat is used by which the designs are dyed onto the threads before they are woven.
Mengkuang is the practice of weaving the strands of the pandanus tree that grows in mangrove forests and jungles. The leaves are stripped, split into strands, soaked, dried, boiled and dyed with vegetable colours. The colourful woven fragments are then used to make various products. This practice still thrives in the eastern states of Peninsular Malaysia.
The Kenyah and Kayan peoples of Malaysian Borneo are generally considered very skilled carvers. In places like Semporna you’ll also find designs of lepa boats, a traditional wooden-hulled single-mast boat.
|A carved lepa boat in Semporna, Sabah. Photo by Joanne Lane.|
Woven baskets are commonly found in Malaysian Borneo and produced by a variety of ethnic groups including the Iban, Kayan, Kenya and Penan. Here you’ll find baskets, mats, seats and other materials made from rattan, bamboo, swamp grass and pandanus. These are commonly sold in markets around Borneo such as in Kuching but you’ll also find them in longhouses where they maybe available for purchase.
Now that you know what to look for when it comes to souvenirs in Malaysia, it won’t be difficult to shop your way around.